Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced a new executive order to ban refugees and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. Hidden in the new order is a clause that says the United States government will begin tracking and publicising, “honour killings” committed by foreign nationals in the US.
The idea draws upon a programme Trump unveiled last week that will track crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, part of an effort to show the unique threat they pose to American lives.
Both proposals draw directly upon fear of immigrants to whip up a frenzy of xenophobia. The first is shockingly similar to the lists and articles published under Adolf Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany, where newspapers were encouraged to focus on crimes committed by Jews in order to convince the public of the need for anti-Semitic legislation.
It is not as if Jews did not commit crimes in Germany; of course, they did, just like Germans of all backgrounds and religions committed crimes in Germany as well. The point, however, was to convince Germans that Jews were uniquely criminal and needed to be punished.
Trump ‘ s proposals, similarly aim to convince the public of the unique threat posed by certain kinds of criminals, highlighting one form of crime and one form of victim that fit a narrative of a helpless America beset by violent, criminal foreigners.
Why should an undocumented person who commits a crime be treated differently from an American? Given that the vast majority of crimes in the US are committed by Americans, how does deporting the tiny fraction of undocumented criminals keep Americans safe?
But what of the Germans who have viciously attacked refugees? In 2016, more than 3,500 attacks on migrants happened across Germany alone, a figure that works out to a rate of 10 per day.
Among these are attacks was the 2015 rape and murder of 4-year old Bosnian refugee child named Mohamed Januzi i n Berlin by a German national. How would deporting more refugees protect the lives of children like Mohamed?
The answer, of course, is that they won’t. Nor will they protect the Houston woman and recent immigrant from Iran who was raped in front of her children by an American neighbour earlier in March.
These laws are not intended to protect these lives. They rest on the idea that human life has a different value based on nationality, and that the life of an American killed by a foreigner has greater worth than a foreigner killed by an American. There is no other way to justify a law that intends only to highlight victims based on the national origin.
The proposed “honour killings” record plays upon the same racist fearmongering as the undocumented criminals list, but with a new twist.
By focusing on the phenomenon of “honour killings” by foreigners – which is basically unknown in the US – instead of tackling gender-based violence committed by anyone, including American citizens, Trump’s proposal reveals its clearly discriminatory intent.
US government surveys report that around 45 percent of American women experience some form of sexual victimisation during their lives, with around 20 percent reporting rape (PDF). It’s safe to assume, given that sexual assault is mostly committed by an assailant known to the victim, that the vast majority of perpetrators are American citizens.
Husbands in the US kill far more women every year than terrorists, and it is white men who commit t he vast majority of rapes (and violent crime more broadly).
Are the American women killed, raped, and abused by American men not worthy of the same support and protection as those “honour crimes” by foreigners? Given that the first affects millions of women while the latter affects almost none, which should be a priority?
The ludicrousness of Trump’s proposal is even more clear when we consider that Trump himself has famously bragged about sexually assaulting women – with no consequences – and has been accused by at least a dozen women of doing so.
But this is all, unfortunately, beside the point. Trump’s proposal to track “honour crimes” is rooted in good, old-fashioned bigotry.
Isn’t a man who beats his wife on suspicion of cheating on him doing so for reasons of “honour”? Could it be that the many different horrible and violent ways that American men have been abusing their wives, girlfriends, daughters, and sisters for decades are actually “honour crimes” as well?
Indeed, focusing on the term “honour crimes” underscores just how much Trump’s proposal is rooted in a long history of racist Orientalism.
It is based on the idea that Muslim or Middle Eastern domestic abuse is somehow more terrible or more evil than Western domestic abuse or Christian domestic abuse, and by focusing on the idea that crimes based in “culture” are more terrible than others it erases the fact that cultural justifications exist in all times and places.
‘Honour killing by any other name’
In the US, for example, it is possible for men accused of murdering their wives to receive reduced sentences if they can prove that they committed a ” crime of passion “, meaning a crime committed while overcome by anger or rage.
“Crimes of passion” defences are often invoked in cases involving spousal infidelity – revealing that they are essentially “honour crimes,” albeit with a less exotic-sounding name.
“Honour killing”, however, conjures up images of the Middle East – and the way the right-wing media has used the term to describe domestic violence among Muslim immigrants in the US and Europe points to the racist way it will most likely be deployed in the US.
Misogyny and sexism are problems the world over, and attempts to blame foreigners for violence against women in the US are an attempt to protect the American men who commit the vast majority of violence against women in this country.
If Trump is really serious about protecting women, he should be bolstering penalties against domestic abusers, investing in shelters for victims of abuse, and strengthening laws protecting victims of sexual assault across the country.
The “honour crimes” proposal, just like the list of crimes committed by “illegal immigrants”, is a racist distraction, and needs to be seen as such. The key to protecting American women is defeating American sexism and racism, not scapegoating migrants or Muslims.