In a lecture sponsored by the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) on October 25, 2010, Professor Lila Abu-Lughod drew on her ongoing research on the global enterprise of "saving Muslim women" to warn that an obsessive focus on the so-called honor crime may have negative repercussions. Alongside recognizing the positive legal or social reforms international and national campaigns might bring about, Abu-Lughod explained why people should be wary of classifying certain acts as a distinctive form of violence against women.
An anthropologist with extensive research experience in the Arab world, particularly Egypt, Professor Abu-Lughod outlined some troubling political effects of using this special cultural category to describe violent acts.
Examining popular novels, human and women's rights reports, and scholarly works, and drawing on her own ethnographic research, Professor Abu-Lughod revealed that the concept of the honor crime subliminally uses fantasies of sex and violence to encourage simplistic civilizational thinking. It makes it appear as if there are clearcut divisions between cultures. Imprisoning rural and immigrant communities in timeless cultures, the concept simplifies reality and distracts attention from very real and historically specific circumstances that today shape actual women's and men's lives. She concluded that talking in terms of honor crimes leads both scholars and activists to ignore important contexts for violence against women: social tensions, political conflicts, forms of racial, class, and ethnic discrimination, religious movements, government policing and surveillance, and military intervention.
Abu-Lughod concluded that the easily sensationalized category has the political effect of stigmatizing Muslim societies, something never intended by feminist campaigners. She called for careful studies of the social and political roles of global projects being conducted in the name of "Muslim women's rights."
Professor Abu-Lughod is the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University where she teaches anthropology and gender studies and co-directs the Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference.