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Condemn the powerful elite over 'honor' murders

By Dania Gharaibeh for CNN
August 24, 2012 -- Updated 0408 GMT (1208 HKT)
This woman in Pakistan was killed by her husband after he had accused her of flirting with other men.
This woman in Pakistan was killed by her husband after he had accused her of flirting with other men.
  • Dania Gharaibeh: Condemning the act and its perpetrators does little to end the murders
  • As an aid worker, she blames the wealthy, powerful elite for failing to humanize the masses
  • She says feudal system in Pakistan is preventing equality and the chance to battle ignorance
  • Gharaibeh: Dehumanizing living conditions breed dehumanized people

Editor's note: Dania Gharaibeh works for U.S.-based aid group Relief International and has previously worked in the Middle East and North Africa for USAID, Freedom House and the V-Day organization. Her work has focused on working with activists to pressure governments and policy makers to tackle issues such as honor killings and other human rights crimes and violations.

Islamabad (CNN) -- The spotlight on so-called "honor" murders in South Asia and across the world in recent days has raised awareness about the deaths of countless innocent victims, but condemning the act and its perpetrators does little to end the murders or address the root causes of the problem.

I started my career as a gender specialist working in many countries where "honor" murders and other acts of violence against women often found considerable public support.

As a naïve and newbie rebellious activist, I never asked "why?"

Instead I set out on my activism by loudly condemning the culture of violence against women in these regions as if it were an isolated phenomenon from other longstanding gender-racial-religious injustices I witnessed.

Dania Gharaibeh
Dania Gharaibeh

British court convicts parents of murder in "honor" murder

Expressing my horror and repulsion of "honor" murders with like-minded colleagues made me feel righteous and involved.

But the more I focused my outrage on the perpetrators, the more I sensed a growing divide between "them down below" and "us up above."

Husband issued death sentence after I asked for divorce

Of course, I was part of the "us" -- the humane, the educated, the egalitarian.

Today, I am an aid worker in Islamabad, Pakistan. It's a job that has exposed me to the dehumanizing effects of war, poverty, economic disasters, and natural calamities.

'Honor' victims have new defender
Killing in the name of 'honor'

I have seen dehumanizing living conditions breed dehumanized people.

The outcome is a nation where tens of millions of people live without their most basic needs being met. Every day I see Pakistanis robbed of their dignity, their hope, and ultimately their sense of significance.

I believe every human being instinctively yearns for a sense of significance -- a reason why their absence or presence matters.

In a culture where systematic dehumanization through corruption-fueled poverty makes a sense of self virtually impossible, I have found that it's useless to merely condemn those seeking it by being an "honor" killer or a "protector of the Holy Book" or even a "suicide bomber."

Instead, I blame the wealthy, powerful and educated elite for failing to humanize the masses. Not with charity and altruism -- which are acts that still preserve the "us up here" and "them down there" divide -- but by demanding true political, economic and institutional change.

I am well aware of the stakes at hand.

A large section of Pakistan's powerful elite is made up of landlords exploiting a deeply rooted feudal system. Today, the feudal elite is entrenched in Pakistan's political system.

For the feudal elite to eradicate poverty and ignorance, they must conjure the political will to create equality by pushing for land reform. They must pay for education and social welfare programs by enacting new tax laws. And they must demand transparency in government to end corruption.

These drastic policy shifts are likely counterintuitive to the power elite's longstanding views on governance, but a solution to "honor" murders and the many injustices and inequalities in Pakistani society starts here.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dania Gharaibeh.

Part of complete coverage on
'Honor' murders
August 22, 2012 -- Updated 2244 GMT (0644 HKT)
From behind the steel bars of his jail cell, Muhammad Ismail described with uncanny ease how he shot and killed for honor his wife and two relatives. And he says:
From his jail cell, Muhammad Ismail described with uncanny ease how he shot and killed his wife and two relatives.
January 30, 2012 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
New York University's Irshad Manji says Muslims must learn to differentiate between culture and religion to end the killing.
"This idea that 'somehow a girl has besmirched our honor and therefore the thing to do is kill her' is bizarre," one expert says.
August 23, 2012 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
One woman's death alerted Palestinians to so-called "honor" murders, and led to harsher laws. CNN's Diana Magnay reports.
August 24, 2012 -- Updated 2135 GMT (0535 HKT)
A woman who escaped being forced into marriage as a girl campaigns in UK schools against arranged marriages and so-called "honor" crimes.
August 20, 2012 -- Updated 0502 GMT (1302 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert takes a look at the 'honor' murder of Shafilea Ahmed, a teen of Pakistani descent who lived in England.
August 24, 2012 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
A woman tells CNN how she is living under the threat of death because she asked for a divorce.
January 30, 2012 -- Updated 0405 GMT (1205 HKT)
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva talks with Engy Abdelkader of Karamah about "honor" killings in Muslim communities.