Protecting the Nation from 'Honor Killings': The Construction of a Problem

34 Constitutional Commentary 133 (2019)

37 Pages Posted: 29 May 2019

See all articles by Leti Volpp

Leti Volpp

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: February 20, 2019

Abstract

In the attention given to Trump's Muslim ban, overlooked by many critics was the fact that two of Trump's executive orders creating the ban invoked the idea of "honor killings." The term "honor killings" appeared in the Purpose section and the Transparency and Data Collection section of the first executive order. It also appears in the Transparency and Data Collection section of the second executive order, a section that has not been superseded by subsequent executive actions. In this article I examine the role of "honor killings" in these executive orders, in litigation against the Muslim ban, and in judicial responses to the ban.

I also sketch a genealogy of how "honor killings" became a problem for U.S. governance, through the efforts of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's AHA Foundation and the linking of Muslim immigrants with terrorism, gender subordination and threat to sexual liberty made visible in Trump's presidential campaign speeches. In Trump's executive orders, rhetoric and data work together to create the vision of "honor killings" as a problem in the United States.

The use of the phrase "honor killings" in the executive orders can be understood as evincing a professed concern for violence against women, while actually functioning to reinforce a perception of Muslim barbarity and inferiority. The invocation of "honor killings" thus functions as the kind of coded signal called a "dog whistle." This cynical deployment of feminist concerns as a proxy for xenophobic exclusion is troubling enough. But what may be even more disturbing is that the notion that "honor killings" are a problem in the United States has been constructed through false and misleading claims about data. As explained in the article, the idea that there are "23 - 27 honor killings" occurring annually in the United States was circulated by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was a Senator, and is expressed in the report produced by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security in response to the current Transparency and Data Collection mandate of the second executive order. This number is invented and invalid.

This submerged story about the contribution of "honor killings" to the Muslim ban has been largely missed. But the part played by very specific ideas about gender in creating anti-Muslim animus deserves a central place in our scrutiny. The specter of violence against women has played an important role in the Trump administration's executive orders seeking to bar Muslims from entry, and continues to rationalize the notion that the nation must be protected through their exclusion.

Keywords: Muslim, Ban, "Honor Killings", Immigration, Islamophobia, Gender, Sexual Liberty, Homonationalism, Violence

Suggested Citation

Volpp, Leti, Protecting the Nation from 'Honor Killings': The Construction of a Problem (February 20, 2019). 34 Constitutional Commentary 133 (2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3381433 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3381433

Leti Volpp (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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