So, like the pope with his fond references to hell and eternal punishment, that German judge made some things clear.

[T]he case brought before Frankfurt’s family court was that of a 26-year-old German woman of Moroccan origin who was terrified of her violent Moroccan husband, a man who had continued to threaten her despite having been ordered to stay away by the authorities. He had beaten his wife and he had allegedly threatened to kill her…According to the judge, there was no evidence of “an unreasonable hardship” that would make it necessary to dissolve the marriage immediately. Instead, the judge argued, the woman should have “expected” that her husband, who had grown up in a country influenced by Islamic tradition, would exercise the “right to use corporal punishment” his religion grants him. The judge even went so far as to quote the Koran in the grounds for her decision.

The woman should have expected it, therefore there was no rush about getting a divorce. That’s an interesting idea. You would think she’d married a grizzly bear, not an adult human being. And if she had married a grizzly bear who kept devouring pieces of her, would a judge say she should have expected it and that there was no rush about getting a divorce?

Germany’s only minister of integration at the state level…sees the Frankfurt ruling as the “last link, for the time being, in a chain of horrific rulings handed down by German courts” – rulings in which, for example, so-called honor killings have been treated as manslaughter and not murder. This, says Berlin family attorney and prominent women’s rights activist Seyran Ates, is part of the reason one should “be almost thankful that (judge Datz-Winter) made such a clear reference to the Koran. All she did was bring to the surface an undercurrent that already exists in our courts.” Out of a sense of misguided tolerance, says Ates, judges treat the values of Muslim subcultures as a mitigating circumstance and, in doing so, are helping pave the way for a gradual encroachment of fundamentalist Islam in Germany’s parallel Muslim world. It’s an issue Ates often runs up against in her cases.

It started awhile ago.

a few years earlier, an Islamic legal opinion dubbed the “camel fatwa” had been added to the professional literature. Amir Zaidan, the then chairman of the Islamic Religious Community in the state of Hesse, wrote the opinion. He argued that a Muslim woman could travel no more than 81 kilometers (50 miles) from the home of her husband or parents without being accompanied by a male blood relative. The opinion came to be known as the “camel fatwa,” because this was the distance a camel caravan could travel within 24 hours in the days of the Prophet Mohammed. Zaidan even defended this position at a 2001 conference of Germany’s protestant churches in Frankfurt. His argument was that a woman who traveled farther would run the risk of being raped.

Well that’s quite a good argument. Clearly a woman who travels 80 kilometers from home runs no risk of being raped, because there is a magic energy-zone around her which disintegrates when she crosses the 81st kilometer. Also clearly it is up to the law to imprison women to prevent them from running any risks. Also clearly it is up to men to decide what risks women can be allowed to take. Und so weiter.

It is by no means unusual for people put on trial for honor killings in Germany to be convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter in the end. In 2003 the Frankfurt District Court handed down a mild sentence against a Turkish-born man who had stabbed his German-born wife to death. She had disobeyed him and was even insolent enough to demand a divorce. The court argued that one could not automatically assume that the man’s motives were contemptible. He had, after all, acted “out of an excessive rage and sense of outrage against his wife” — who he had regularly beaten in the past — “based on his foreign socio-cultural moral concepts.” According to the court’s decision, the divorce would have violated “his family and male honor derived from his Anatolian moral concepts.”

And yet – one hears often that no one ever says that honour killing is acceptable because it’s ‘their culture.’ Well, yes, someone ever does say that, and throngs of other people don’t say that but are mysteriously and profoundly silent about such things – except when they summon up the energy to say that no one ever says that honour killing is acceptable because it’s ‘their culture.’ It is not the case that there are no well-meaning people out there who make this mistake.

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