By Myra Jafri
Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men, —
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.
Antony, scene ii
The above is an extract from Julius Caesar – a tragedy by William Shakespeare. After Brutus and Cassius’s brutal assassination of the Roman General, Caesar, Antony – a close friend of Caesar’s – delivers a funeral oration over Caesar’s body, he spectacularly persuades the audience to withdraw its support of Brutus and instead condemn him as a traitor. He refers to Brutus and the conspirators sarcastically as noble, ‘honorable’ men, men who feel they must uphold their ‘honor’ at the expense of others – others’ lives. This sheds light on the concept of ‘honor killings’, where men construct a false sense of dignity, respect and honor by asserting their power and authority through the subjugation of another human being, most commonly women. Other such acts induced by ‘honor’ include acid-throwing; it is defined as ‘the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person with the intention of injuring or disfiguring him or her out of jealousy or revenge’.
According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, Pakistani attacks are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have “dishonored them’. It is, however, ironic how such criminal, violent, manic, aggressive, unjustified and immoral acts can be performed in the name of honor. Hence the question arises, if not these self-righteous perpetrators who are those that are truly honorable? These heroic individuals include both the victims of these acts of cruelty and injustice, as well as those who have established non-governmental, non-profit organizations and campaigns defending the rights of these suppressed victims. A current prominent example of such heroism and dedication is that of Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and American director Daniel Junge’s Oscar-winning documentary, Saving Face. The film highlights the plight of two women, Zakia and Rukhsana, involved in acid attacks and their subsequent struggle for justice and healing. To this day, Sharmeen’s efforts to analyze and empower the marginalized sections of society and their struggle to integrate with the mainstream, have taken her to ‘over 10 countries around the world where among other things she has had the opportunity to connect with refugees, women’s advocate groups and human rights defenders’ writes Malavika Kamaraju.
One cannot help but wonder how much courage it must have taken the victims of these acid attacks to come forward and reveal their circumstances. When questioned by Malavika Kamaraju about how eager and forthcoming Zakia and Rukhsana were to reveal their stories, Sharmeen stated that “Zakia and Rukhsana had one primary aim throughout the making of the film — spreading awareness about the prevalence of acid violence in Pakistan. They invited us into their lives and were willing to use their stories to illustrate the permanent damage caused by acid assaults on one’s lifestyle, future prospects and family. Over the course of filming, I had the privilege of being with them when they experienced formidable milestones in their pursuit of justice. I feel lucky to have met and spent time with them”.
One of the most troubling and unexpected revelations to the crew and directors was that when interviewed, the perpetrators did not believe at all that they had done wrong; they felt on the contrary that the acts were those to uphold justice and ‘honor’. How then does one deconstruct such deeply-rooted and warped codes of ethics, how does one engage in an alternative world view? The documentary, Saving Face, is rooted in an empathic understanding of the suffering and the subsequent courage of two women, and by virtue of this, the masses of women who have experienced similar circumstances. This documentary may perhaps allow men in particular a more sympathetic and tolerant view of the victims, and women in general; and allow us all to have an alternative when earlier there was none. Henceforth, honorable are those who in the face of adverse circumstances find resilience and strength.