The Struggle against Honor Killing
Honor killings are the slaying of women due to their alleged deviance from the sexual norms imposed by society. Victims of honor killings are believed to have brought [shame] upon their families by engaging in [sexual promiscuousity]. They are killed for flimsy reasons that include refusing an arranged marriage, divorcing an abusive husband, getting pregnant out of wedlock, experiencing sexual abuse or even just becoming the object of gossip over their sexual activity (Meeto & Mirza, n. pag.). What makes honor killings noteworthy is that these are usually carried out not by the victims’ husbands but by their male relatives, with the consent and support of female family members (Reimers, n. pag.).
According to the United Nations in 2007, an estimated 5,000 women are subjected to honor killings each year. In the same year, cases of honor killings have been documented in countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom (Meeto ; Mirza, n. pag.). Many researchers believe that honor killings are specific to these regions because of either their culture or migration factors from cultures that support honor killings. Most of the aforementioned countries have an insular culture that emphasizes a collective sense of identity (Emery, n. pag.).
Communities in these nations are very tightly-knit, each of which are composed of families that have lived in the same village or neighborhood for their entire lives. Everyone knows the history of each family, rich and poor alike. Hence, they considered the protection of clan honor and reputation to be very important. Furthermore, the collective sense of identity that is very prevalent in their culture manifests itself particularly through the family. The accomplishments and dishonor of each member is the pride and shame of the entire clan, respectively (Emery, n. pag.).
As these societies are also patriarchal, the concepts of [family], [honor] and [reputation] are based on what men feel is important. In Islamic cultures, for instance, safeguarding a woman’s virginity is regarded as the responsibility of her entire family. In addition, her entire life is to be dominated by men through her father, husband and sons. Unlike boys, girls are pressured into arranged marriages. While men are allowed up to four wives and may divorce them by merely saying “I divorce thee” three times in front of witnesses, it is very difficult – if not virtually impossible – for Muslim women to obtain a divorce without their husbands’ consent (Emery, n. pag.).
A woman who is believed to be [unchaste] puts her entire family to shame, including her distant relatives. It doesn’t matter if she was raped or the rumors regarding her [immorality] are not true – the [shame] that she had caused will severely compromise her entire clan. Her unmarried sisters will end up having difficulties in getting themselves married and her male realtives will be the objects of scorn and ridicule throughout the entire community. In order to save the entire family from further humiliation, her male relatives will have no other choice but to kill her (Emery, n. pag.).
As a result, many Muslim women are beaten, burned, strangled, shot or stabbed by their husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins or sons. Those who run away to escape are hunted down by family members until they finally succeed in killing her. Despite the suspicious circumstances surrounding their deaths, their relatives bribe police and government officials to rule their demise as an [accident] or a [suicide]. Women who die of honor killings are buried in unmarked graves, with their names permanently deleted from clan records. Male family members who commit honor killings are hailed as [heroes] in their communities (Emery, n. pag.).
Aside from [preserving family honor], Islamic fundamentalists often argue that honor killing is a practice that is demanded by the Koran. But Cinnamon Stillwell countered this assertion in her article Honor Killings: When the Ancient and the Modern Collide (2008) by writing that certain passages in the Koran regarding chastity were intentionally misinterpreted to justify honor killings (Stillwell, n. pag.). Below are some examples:
“If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four (reliable) witness from amongst you against them; if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them. Or God ordain for them some (other) way” (Koran 4:15, n. pag.).
“The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication—flog each of them with hundred stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the last day” (Koran 24:2, n. pag.).
“Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils)” (Koran 17:32, n. pag.).
Stillwell further argued that “the Koran does not authorize honor killings” (Stillwell, n. pag.). However, Islamic fundamentalists want to make it appear that their religion mandates honor killings because the element of religion would instantly justify the existence and perpetuation of honor killings. Honor killings, in turn, would perpetuate male dominance over women. These observations are true, especially in cases of honor killings that occurred in Western countries that have large numbers of Muslim immigrants. In his article Honor Killings an Expression of Immigrant Alienation (2008), David Rosen asserted that honor killing is often the fatal outcome of Muslim immigrant families caught between retaining pre-modern cultural traditions and embracing an increasingly postmodern secular society (Rosen, 13).
Muslim immigrants, particularly those coming from traditional backgrounds, often encounter difficulties in integrating themselves in mainstream Western societies. Problems such as language difficulties, residential segregation, limited job opportunities and poverty contribute to their feelings of alienation and demoralization. Once considered as the family’s providers and authority figures, male family members, particularly husbands and fathers, find it unacceptable and scandalous for their wives, daughters, sisters and nieces to adopt Western ways. Frustrated over their inability to provide for and exert control over their families, these men opt to kill their female relatives under the guise of [protecting] them from [corrupt] Western values (Rosen, 12). Honor killing is a growing problem in the West – in the United Kingdom, for instance, 20 honor killings occurred between 2001 and 2003, 12 of which happened in 2003 alone (Meeto ; Mirza, n. pag.).
Although honor killing is already a well-known issue both in the Middle East and in the West, its elimination will most likely remain distant due to the half-baked manner in which it is dealt with. In 2003, the Jordanian parliament voted to reject the passage of a proposed law that will impose stricter penalties for honor killings (Jordanian law penalizes honor killings with only a six-month prison term) (BBC News, n. pag.). In 2002, the Kurdish parliament ammended its existing honor killings law to allow honor killings to be treated as murder cases. However, the maximum punishment is still two years’ imprisonment, which can be lowered if the defendant has no prior record of crime (Mahmood, n. pag.).
Mainstream Muslim groups in the United States and Canada, meanwhile, downplay the religious and cultural factors behind honor killings. These organizations dismiss honor killings as [domestic violence], an issue in which color and creed are irrelevant. Worse, they threaten parties that criticize honor killings with boycotts, libel suits and accusations of “Islamophobia” (Stillwell, n. pag.). As a result, Stillwell warned readers that the misguided notion of multiculturalism is allowing honor killings to claim more innocent lives (Stillwell, n. pag.).
The first step in the elimination of honor killings is the honest acknowledgement that it is a grave human rights concern that is associated with Muslim religion and culture. People must veer away from the [neutrality] and passivity of cultural relativism and multiculturalism – human rights are more important than religious and cultural sensibilities. Political correctness should never be used as an excuse to tolerate honor killings. Despite all the religious and cultural justifications, honor killing is simply murder in the name of patriarchy.
Emery. James. “Honor Killing among the Palestinians.” 2003. WorldAndI.com. 5 June 2008 <http://www.worldandi.com/newhome/public/2003/may/clpub.asp>.
“’Honour Killings’ Law Blocked.” 8 September 2003. BBC News. 5 June 2008 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3088828.stm>.
Mahmood, Azeez. “Honor Killing Outcry in Iraq.” 25 February 2008. Middle East Times. 5
June 2008 <http://www.metimes.com/International/2008/02/25/
Meeto, Veena and Mirza, Heidi Safia. “There is Nothing ‘Honourable’ about Honour Killings:
Gender, Violence and the Limits of Multiculturalism.” Women’s Studies International
Forum May-June 2007: 30. ScienceDirect. EBSCOhost. University of Arizona Library. 5 June 2008 ;http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.library.arizona.edu/ehost/detail? vid=2;hid=21;sid=23b299c4-ddae-403b-bf84-2afff91f63fd%40sessionmgr9;.
Mirza, Syed Kamran. “’Honor Killing’ is Absolutely Islamic!” 16 January 2008. Islam Watch.
5 June 2008 ;http://www.islam-watch.org/SyedKamranMirza/honor_killing.htm;.
Reimers, Eva. “Representations of an Honor Killing.” Feminist Media Studies. September 2007: 7. InformaWorld. EBSCOhost. University of Arizona Library. 5 June 2008 ;http://www.informaworld.com.ezproxy1.library.arizona.edu/smpp/section? content=a781802341;fulltext=713240928;.
Rosen, David. “Honour Killings an Expression of Immigrant Alienation.” EurekaStreet.com.au. 18 (2008): 12-13.
Stillwell, Cinnamon. “Honor Killings: When the Ancient and the Modern Collide.” 23