Activist featured in "Honor Diaries" discusses film

Friday, October 16, 2015 - 2:14am

The University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom hosted a screening of the film "Honor Diaries” Thursday evening. The event aimed to educate, raise awareness and encourage action on honor-based violence occurring in the United States and abroad.

The documentary follows nine women’s rights activists, some with roots in the Muslim world, as they discuss their personal stories and efforts to break the silence of suffering women across the world, while exploring violence against women in honor-based societies. These societies maintain social order by shaming those who bring dishonor to a family.

Raheel Raza, one of the activists featured in the documentary, took the floor after the screening to answer questions about potential solutions moving forward. Raza is also the president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, an author, journalist and a frequent speaker at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“Muslim women across the world are being silenced and oppressed, and very few in the West care to listen,” said YAF chairman Grant Strobl, an LSA sophomore. “This screening is about liberty, freedom and equality of all people around the world. This is a human rights issue, and human rights transcend culture, nationality and ethnicity.”

The event screened the film’s condensed 30-minute version. The full hour-long documentary is available for streaming on Netflix.

Raza said underage marriage, honor killings — when someone kills a family member for bringing shame to the family — and female genital mutilation fall under a “large rubric of honor-based violence.”

“The issue became very real for me,” said LSA sophomore Roxanne Ruiz. “I had to step out because it was overwhelming. It’s very scary that FGM and honor killings are happening here, and I think that’s what scares people, too, and that’s why they don’t want to talk about it.”

The documentary has garnered some controversy since its release in 2013. The Council for American Islamic Relations has heavily criticized the film, arguing the movie’s advocacy for women’s rights is a veiled attempt to promote islamophobia.  

In April 2014, “Honor Diaries” was scheduled for a screening at the University’s Dearborn campus, but the showing did not occur.

“The screenings were not canceled by CAIR,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told Fox News in April. “They were canceled by the screening sponsors after they were informed of the hate agenda and Islamophobic history of the film's producers. Replacement events dealings with this issue are now being planned with the screening sponsors and actual representatives of the American Muslim community.”

“I find it absolutely offensive to know that anybody would shut down a screening in a country that prides itself on freedom,” Raza said. “You don’t have to like the film. It’s not a warm fuzzy Disney film, but it’s something that has moved and touched thousands of people. If it doesn’t that’s fine, too, but why shut it down?”

After the screening, Raza answered questions about actions she feels could be taken to combat acts of honor violence.

“We have seen that as education comes to societies, as and when women and young girls are empowered to stand up for their rights, that’s where the change comes. The change has to come from within. We have to dialogue, we have to speak, we have to lobby, we need laws, of course, but the change needs to come from the grassroots level. Change takes time, and it’s a slow process, but this is the first step.”

According to the Population Reference Bureau, more than 3 million females are at risk of FGM around the world, though most are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the BBC, more than 20,000 honor killings occur annually worldwide. Raza said it was only about five years ago that the United Nations made honor killing a national criminal offense.

“Universities are bastion of freedom, and it’s a place for students to think and become activists,” Raza said. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from, whether its culture or religion, it happens across the board. It is important because the future of my children and my grandchildren depends on how we deal with this issue.”