Exploring the Global Culture of ‘Honor Killings’
The brutal stoning to death of a pregnant Farzana Parveen in Pakistan has caused immense backlash from the Muslim community. Farzana, who was lured to the Lahore Court House for an ‘abduction’ case her family brought against her husband (after she married him without their approval), was beaten with bricks and rocks in broad daylight on the busy street. So far, 8 people have been arrested in connection with her death including her father, two brothers, two cousins, a driver and her husband.
Although her father has been quoted as saying he has “no regrets” about killing his daughter, it still remains unclear exactly who was involved, with Farzana’s sister claiming it was an elaborate set up by her husband. Normally there would be no reason to question her husband, as her family clearly disapproved of him, and a number of her family members were clearly involved. However, it’s since come to light that he strangled his first wife to be with Farzana.
Although many might assume stonings are a regular activity in such parts of the world, they are, in fact, incredibly rare and Pakistanis across the country have expressed shock and horror.
Pakistani clerics spoke out against the killing almost immediately. Honor murders (sometimes referred to as honor killings) have no basis in Islam, they countered. “[A] daughter is a gift by Allah. And the feeling of being dishonoured by your daughter is forbidden in Islam…Killing one’s daughter and humiliating them is a sign of ignorance.”
In fact, it is entirely accurate to say that within Islam, there is zero justification for these honor murders. Despite this, in a number of Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, those who claim ‘honor’ as the motivation behind these murders are sometimes given lesser sentences.
Before we assume that this is a Muslim issue hoisted upon us by ‘barbaric cultures,’ we need to look at how intimate family violence is committed around the globe. For example, in the USA, at least 3 women die each day as a result of intimate family violence. In Europe, between 2008 and 2010, 50% of the women who were killed were murdered by a partner or family member. In Colombia, there were 150 acid attacks against women in 2012, and in Asia, when 10,000 men were asked if they ever forced someone to have sex, 1 in 4 responded “yes.”
There is no doubt that within certain cultures, women and children are seen as property and going against the spouse or family’s wishes puts one at risk for violence and murder. However, for this to be a truly Islamic issue, we would see this same violence playing out in the largely-Muslim populations of other countries, such as Malaysia, but we don’t.
Meanwhile in Brazil, which has a very low Muslim population, Human Rights Watch noted that: “Perpetrators successfully argued that defense of a man’s ‘honor’ is legitimate self-defense. In other words, a woman’s alleged adulterous or similar act and its impact on a man’s honor (a fundamental ‘right’) are held to be the same as an ‘unjust’ and ‘imminent’ physical act of aggression against the man himself, legitimizing the killing of the woman.”
Although higher courts in Brazil disallow this terminology, HRW notes that in small courts, this is still an ongoing problem.
It is one of the reasons calling these attacks on women ‘honor killings’ can be problematic. By focusing on one form of violence from one part of the world, we fail to recognize the overall pattern of violence against women that occurs on a global level.
Furthermore, the term ‘honor killing’ helps Western groups to distance themselves from such violence, proclaiming that they’re somehow better than these ‘uncivilized societies.’ This allows us to ignore the bodies of the more than 1,200 women per year who are killed during intimate family violence in the United States.
So maybe it’s time to stop dancing around this term. To stop pretending that a father killing his daughter in Pakistan is that different to a man killing his daughter in Tennessee.
It sets a dangerous precedent, because when we employ cultural relativism in an attempt to explain the perpetrators’ reasons, it sets the stage where we devalue the crime. Not only that, but it foists an ‘otherness’ upon the perpetrators and victims, assuring ourselves that such occurrences are an inevitable side effect of their culture.
Islam doesn’t allow this killing, our laws don’t allow this killing, so let’s drop the pretense of ‘honor’ and begin calling these cases what they are: murder.