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Leti Volpp '86 said Trump's Muslim ban doesn't target countries that have business ties to the president. Photo courtesy of Asian American Studies.

Using the term “honor killings” betrays a form of Islamophobia said Berkeley School of Law professor Leti Volpp ’86 in the latest iteration of the weekly Asian American Studies lecture series. In Thursday’s lecture, Volpp examined the Trump administration’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and discussed inherent Islamophobia concealed in the surrounding rhetoric.

Volpp — Robert D. and Leslie Kay Raven Professor of Law at the UC Berkeley — began the lecture by observing the current wave of Islamophobia in the greater context of discrimination against Asians and Asian-Americans.

Noting the similarities of the travel ban with the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, she said that the travel ban was reminiscent of prior legislation banning certain Asian nationalities from entering the United States.

She said this travel ban differs, however, in a key way — though ostensibly focused on certain countries in the Middle East, Volpp argued that the travel ban was the realization of the “Muslim ban” which President Trump had proposed during the 2016 election.

Some Muslim-majority countries, however, were excluded from the executive order’s final draft, though they seem to have an important commonality, according to Volpp. She said all of the countries omitted from the travel ban have alleged business ties to the Trump Organization — notably, Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were citizens.

In the second half of her lecture, Volpp looked at the nomenclature of “honor killings” and how the term betrays the Islamophobia hidden in the travel ban.

“Honor killings” are a form of gender-based violence often against women who have brought a perceived dishonor to their family — though this definition, in Volpp’s view, is not entirely precise.

“I have trouble portraying it as a unique form of violence,” she said.

Trump included language in his executive order condemning honor killings through excluding “those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred,” especially against women, said Volpp.

However, Volpp explained that in the same text, Trump also writes that honor killings constitute “fundamentalist teachings,” which Volpp translated as an Islamophobic dog-whistle for his supporters.

She also noted the flaws in the administration’s claim that, annually, 23 to 27 Americans are victims of honor killings.

After viewing the sources of this statistic, Volpp discovered that none of the murders described in the reports specifically constitute honor killings or, in some cases, gender-based violence at all.

Many audience members found Volpp’s lecture both informative and convincing. 

“This wasn’t a topic I had necessarily explored before, so I found it really interesting to get a deep dive into something new,” said Jordan Dixon, Undergraduate Administrator in the Program for American Studies.

The lecture was delivered in Lewis Library at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18. Talks in this series are held on Thursdays.

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