Trump's mentions of 'honor killings' betray the truth of his 'Muslim ban'
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Is President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order barring refugees and banning citizens from seven countries from entering the United States a Muslim ban?

Critics have compellingly pointed to statements made by Trump and Rudolph Giuliani, which speak to Trump’s intentions. But there is an additional and little noticed piece of evidence within the executive order itself, which buttresses the idea that the order is indeed a ban on Muslims, and not merely a “geographic” restriction.

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The executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” invokes, twice, the idea of “‘honor’ killings.”  

 

Honor killings first appear in the “Purpose” section.  Here the order states that the United States should not admit “those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.”  

Honor killings also materialize in section 10, on “Transparency and Data Collection,” which mandates the secretary of Homeland Security to regularly collect and make publicly available information regarding “the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including honor killings, in the United States by foreign nationals.”

Why is this significant? Honor killings, defined by anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod as "the killing of a woman by her relatives for violation of a sexual code in the name of restoring family honor," are mistakenly thought to be a uniquely Muslim practice and specific to Muslim communities.  

A glance at the website of Pamela Geller, famous for her anti-Islamic invective, makes clear the key role honor killings play in fueling condemnation of Muslims.  

Honor killings stand in for the idea of Muslim barbarity. Their invocation in the executive order helps make apparent that the “foreign nationals” whose entry poses a terrorist threat are Muslim.

But the category of honor killings is problematic.  Gendered violence is a problem around the world, including in the United States, and violence against women in the United States is not only perpetrated by immigrants.  

Women in the U.S. are routinely killed by their husbands, boyfriends, ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends.  These incidents are typically experienced as individual cases, and not folded into a broader phenomenon of urgent concern, with blame attributed to a particular religion or culture.  

Different explanations surface for cases of violence against women, depending upon the identity of the perpetrator.  Bad acts by Muslim immigrants are blamed on “Islam;” bad acts by white non-Muslim Americans are ascribed to individual deviancy or psychological pressures.  

Gendered violence by Muslim immigrants is attributed to the category of honor crime, fortifying the presumption that there is something unusually misogynistic about Muslim societies; the same categorical attribution does not happen with gendered violence by white non-Muslim Americans.

Reading the order, and its statement that the United States should not admit “those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation” makes one wonder about the special requirements this country imposes on immigrants, and what percentage of U.S. citizens would pass this kind of “extreme vetting.”  

The Republican Party platform, with its attack on same-sex marriage, its defense of merchants who would deny service to LGBTQ customers, its opposition to adoption by gay parents, its invocation of state’s rights in determining which bathrooms transgendered people may use, and its opposition to abortion, certainly would not pass this test.  

Yet this irony goes unremarked, as Muslim immigrants and refugees are banned, both as putative terrorists and as a purported threat to gender equality and sexual liberty.

Trump has now proclaimed that he plans to replace the executive order with a new one, designed to avoid potential constitutional concerns identified by several judges.  We shall see if any new order continues to seek extreme vetting with the language of “honor killings.”

Leti Volpp is the Robert D. and Leslie Kay Raven Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.


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