The What and Why of "Honor" Killings
Last week I wrote about Kaihana Hussain who was the victim of an attempted honor killing. Whatever happened in that apartment, she escaped and her mother died of multiple stab wounds. As badly as I wanted to follow up on this story, that has proven impossible due to an apparent news blackout. Fellow concerned blogger, Bos’un, had contacted many potential sources for additional information but to no avail.
Unfortunately, “honor” killings are not all that uncommon. The UN Commission on Human Rights published a report in January 2002 on “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective” in which they dealt with so-called “honor” killings.
The Commission stated that “honor” killings have occurred primarily in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Morocco, and other Mediterranean and Gulf countries. But such killings are not limited to these nations. There have been such murders in other countries such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom amongst their immigrant populations.
No one knows for sure how many “honor” killings occur per year because they are covered up as private family matters and attributed to natural causes. “Every year more than 1000 women are killed in the name of honour in Pakistan alone.” In 1997, the Attorney-General in Palestine said that he believed 70% of the murders in Gaza and the West Bank were actually honor killings.
Typically, the victim in an honor killing is female and the murderer a close male relative such as a brother or husband or father. To reduce punishment, the family will depend on an under-aged male to kill the female. Punishment is usually minimal for such murderers. “The act is regarded as a rite of passage into manhood.” If the male does go to jail, fellow inmates will hail him as a “complete” man and will wash his feet.
Honor in these patriarchal societies is paramount. Unfortunately, honor usually comes down to a desire to control the freedom and sexuality of female relatives. Or as a crude Arabic expression states: “a man’s honour lies between the legs of a woman”. Clearly, “women are seen as the property of men and they have to be obedient and passive,” and the maintenance of the family’s honor is considered the woman’s responsibility.
“As the perception of what constitutes honour and what damages it widens,” the number of killings in the name of honor increases. Not only do men seek to control the sexuality of their female relatives but their behavior and their language as well. Some common reasons for performing an “honor” murder include “illicit” relationships, marrying or expressing a desire to marry a man of her own choice, divorcing an abusive spouse, or being a rape victim. Yes, for the misfortune of being raped, the girl or woman can then be murdered by her family. Still other reasons for honor murders include “bringing food late, answering back, [or] undertaking forbidden family visits.” One well known case in Turkey involved a teenage girl who had dishonored her family because a love ballad had been dedicated to her over the radio. They slit her throat in the town square. Sometimes men will even fake “honor” murders to cover for their crimes. A man who has killed another man may kill a woman of his family, charging her with impropriety with the man he had murdered. In such a manner, many a man has gotten off scot- free.
Women are also heavily pressured to commit suicide for reasons of honor. Most of the time, they will obey. The fear of a life of dishonor is strong. There was even a case in New Jersey a few years ago in which a girl had been raped by her brother so the mother bought her razor blades so she could kill herself and encouraged her to do so.
“Women who escape honour killings are often in a terrible situation, living in constant fear of their lives.” Women are sometimes kept in jail for their own protection. They can live there for years. As noted previously, the situation in prison may not be any safer for women, either.
“Honor” murders remain a serious issue around the world. It appears little has changed since the U.N. Commission on Human Rights reported on this matter. Women in these predominantly Muslim lands have sunk to the level of chattel. How we will lift them up, no one knows.
Note: All quotes are from the UN Commission report (same as linked to above)
UPDATE: The first paragraph appears to be in error. The most recent news reports indicate that Kaihana Hussein was not the victim but the perpetrator! She has been arrested for the murder of her mother and attempted murder of her father. According to the most recent news (as of 11/8/06), she was angry with them over a boyfriend of whom they disapproved. She attacked them, concocted the story of her conversion, and then told police that she was the intended victim of an honor killing to get away with her own crimes.