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Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings

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Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings

by Phyllis Chesler
Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2010, pp. 3-11

combat the epidemic of honor killings requires understanding what makes these murders unique. They differ from plain and psychopathic homicides, serial killings, crimes of passion, revenge killings, and domestic violence. Their motivation is different and based on codes of morality and behavior that typify some cultures, often reinforced by fundamentalist religious dictates. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that there are 5,000 honor killings every year.[1] That number might be reasonable for Pakistan alone, but worldwide the numbers are much greater. In 2002 and again in 2004, the U.N. brought a resolution to end honor killings and other honor-related crimes. In 2004, at a meeting in The Hague about the rising tide of honor killings in Europe, law enforcement officers from the U.K. announced plans to begin reopening old cases to see if certain murders were, indeed, honor murders.[2] The number of honor killings is routinely underestimated, and most estimates are little more than guesses that vary widely. Definitive or reliable worldwide estimates of honor killing incidence do not exist.

Morsal O, a 16-year-old German-Afghan girl, was killed in May 2008 by her 24-year-old brother Ahmad Sobair O. He stabbed her twenty-three times in a parking lot in Hamburg, Germany, because of her alleged impure moral conduct. Murder of teenage or young adult women by their fathers or other close male relatives is characteristic of classic honor killings and is not a pattern in non-immigrant Western populations.

Most honor killings are not classified as such, are rarely prosecuted, or when prosecuted in the Muslim world, result in relatively light sentences.[3] When an honor killing occurs in the West, many people, including the police, still shy away from calling it an honor killing. In the West, both Islamist and feminist groups, including domestic violence activists, continue to insist that honor killings are a form of Western-style domestic violence or femicide (killing of women).[4] They are not.[5] This study documents that there are at least two types of honor killings and two victim populations. Both types differ significantly from each other, just as they differ from Western domestic femicide. One group has an average age of seventeen; the other group's average age is thirty-six. The age difference is a statistically significant one.


Families Killing Their Young Women

The study's findings indicate that honor killings accelerated significantly in a 20-year period between 1989 and 2009.[6] This may mean that honor killings are genuinely escalating, perhaps as a function of jihadist extremism and Islamic fundamentalism, or that honor killings are being more accurately reported and prosecuted, especially in the West, but also in the East. The expansion of the Internet may account for wider reporting of these incidents.

The worldwide average age of victims for the entire population is twenty-three (Table 1). This is true for all geographical regions. Thus, wherever an honor killing is committed, it is primarily a crime against young people. Just over half of these victims were daughters and sisters; about a quarter were wives and girlfriends of the perpetrators. The remainder included mothers, aunts, nieces, cousins, uncles, or non-relatives.

Honor killings are a family collaboration. Worldwide, two-thirds of the victims were killed by their families of origin. (See Table 1). Murder by the family of origin was at its highest (72 percent) in the Muslim world and at its lowest in North America (49 percent); European families of origin were involved almost as often as those in the Muslim world, possibly because so many are first- or second-generation immigrants and, therefore, still tightly bound to their native cultures. Alternatively, this might be due to the Islamist radicalization of third or even fourth generations. Internationally, fathers played an active role in over one-third of the honor murders. Fathers were most involved in North America (52 percent) and least involved in the Muslim world; in Europe, fathers were involved in more than one-third of the murders.

Worldwide, 42 percent of these murders were carried out by multiple perpetrators, a characteristic which distinguishes them considerably from Western domestic femicide. A small number of the murders worldwide involved more than one victim. Multiple murders were at their highest in North America and at their lowest in Europe. In the Muslim world, just under a quarter of the murders involved more than one victim. Additional victims included the dead woman's children, boyfriend, fiancé, husband, sister, brother, or parents.

Worldwide, more than half the victims were tortured; i.e., they did not die instantly but in agony. In North America, over one-third of the victims were tortured; in Europe, two-thirds were tortured; in the Muslim world, half were tortured. Torturous deaths include: being raped or gang-raped before being killed; being strangled or bludgeoned to death; being stabbed many times (10 to 40 times); being stoned or burned to death; being beheaded, or having one's throat slashed.

Finally, worldwide, 58 percent of the victims were murdered for being "too Western" and/or for resisting or disobeying cultural and religious expectations (see Table 1). The accusation of being "too Western" was the exact language used by the perpetrator or perpetrators. Being "too Western" meant being seen as too independent, not subservient enough, refusing to wear varieties of Islamic clothing (including forms of the veil), wanting an advanced education and a career, having non-Muslim (or non-Sikh or non-Hindu) friends or boyfriends, refusing to marry one's first cousin, wanting to choose one's own husband, choosing a socially "inferior" or non-Muslim (or non-Sikh or non-Hindu) husband; or leaving an abusive husband. There were statistically significant regional differences for this motive. For example, in North America, 91 percent of victims were murdered for being "too Western" as compared to a smaller but still substantial number (71 percent) in Europe. In comparison, only 43 percent of victims were killed for this reason in the Muslim world.

Less than half (42 percent) of the victims worldwide were murdered for committing an alleged "sexual impropriety"; this refers to victims who had been raped, were allegedly having extra-marital affairs, or who were viewed as "promiscuous" (even where this might not refer to actual sexual promiscuity or even sexual activity). However, in the Muslim world, 57 percent of victims were murdered for this motive as compared to 29 percent in Europe and a small number (9 percent) in North America.

by on Nov. 17, 2012 at 11:15 PM
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by Silver Member on Nov. 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM
1 mom liked this
So sad. People are such pieces of shit.
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by Platinum Member on Nov. 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM

Honor" Murders - Why the Perps Get off Easy

by Yotam Feldner
Middle East Quarterly
December 2000, pp. 41-50

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On May 31, 1994, Kifaya Husayn, a 16-year-old Jordanian girl, was lashed to a chair by her 32-year-old brother. He gave her a drink of water and told her to recite an Islamic prayer. Then he slashed her throat. Immediately afterward, he ran out into the street, waving the bloody knife and crying, 'I have killed my sister to cleanse my honor.' Kifaya's crime? She was raped by another brother, a 21-year-old man. Her judge and jury? Her own uncles, who convinced her eldest brother that Kifaya was too much of a disgrace to the family honor to be allowed to live."[1] The murderer was sentenced to fifteen years, but the sentence was subsequently reduced to seven and a half years, an extremely severe penalty by Jordanian standards.

Today, honor killings are prevalent mostly among Muslim populations.2 This article analyzes the social, legal, and religious circumstances of honor-killings in one Muslim state-Jordan-where, according to official Jordanian reports, honor crimes lead to the death of 20-25 women yearly. (The real number is probably much higher, with murders hidden as suicide or accidents; a 1998 State Department report estimates the annual number at about 100.)3 Jordan is of particular interest because of a campaign launched in the summer of 1999 to abolish the reduced penalties for honor crimes, which encountered fierce opposition by conservative forces in the Jordanian parliament. This debate made explicit arguments which are normally kept quiet and has implications for Muslims everywhere, including in the West. The article also includes examples from Egyptian and Palestinian societies.

by Platinum Member on Nov. 17, 2012 at 11:21 PM

Two Types of Honor

Understanding the nature of these crimes requires a short review of the notion of honor in traditional Arab society, where a distinction is made between two kinds of honor: sharaf and 'ird.4 Sharaf relates to the honor of a social unit, such as the Arab tribe or family, as well as individuals, and it can fluctuate up or down. A failure by an individual to follow what is defined as adequate moral conduct weakens the social status of the family or tribal unit. On the other hand, the family's sharaf may be increased by model behavior such as hospitality, generosity, courage in battle, etc. In sum, sharaf translates roughly as the Western concept of "dignity."

In contrast, 'ird relates only to the honor of women and its value can only decrease. It translates roughly as the Western concept of "chastity" or "purity." And as with chastity or purity, exemplary moral behavior cannot increase a woman's 'ird but misconduct reduces it. In addition, 'ird trumps sharaf: the honor of the Arab family or tribe, the respect accorded it, can be gravely damaged when one of its women's chastity is violated or when her reputation is tainted. Consequently, a violation of a woman's honor requires severe action, as Tarrad Fayiz, a Jordanian tribal leader, explains: "A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure."5

What behavior amounts to a violation of family honor is not precisely codified. Basically it involves an unsupervised contact of a female with a male that may be interpreted by society as intimate. Such contact can be trivial: a 15-year old Jordanian girl was stoned to death by her brother who spotted her "walking toward a house where young boys lived alone."6 As for rape, society perceives the violated woman not as a victim who needs protection but as someone who debased the family honor, and relatives will opt to undo the shame by taking her life. Failure to do so further dishonors the family.

But murder is not the sole remedy for rape or other violations of a woman's chastity. An alternative is marrying the woman off. The marriage is supposed to be with the person who violated her honor, although marrying the woman to someone else is an alternative. For instance, in cases where the rapist is a brother, and marriage is impossible, the family may find someone else who will marry the victim. This procedure of getting the woman married is felt to rectify the offense supposedly committed by the rape victim against her family and as such has won the legal approval of the state.7 If a rapist-victim marriage takes place in Jordan or some other Middle Eastern states, the criminal investigation is stopped, though the rapist may still face criminal charges if he divorces his wife within five years "without a legitimate reason. "8 This custom enjoys support in some unlikely places; a lawyer at a Cairo human-rights advocacy group says that "putting a rapist in jail does not help anyone ... but if he marries the victim, then it helps both of them, giving them a chance to start fresh and to protect the girl from social stigma."9 However, Islamic authorities both in Jordan and Egypt have recently expressed opposition to this law, claiming such a procedure is not prescribed by Islam, and have demanded its abolition.10

by Platinum Member on Nov. 17, 2012 at 11:21 PM

Social Pressure

The murder of women to salvage their family's honor results in good part from the social and psychological pressure felt by the killers, as they explain in their confessions. Murderers repeatedly testify that their immediate social circle, family, clan, village, or others expected them and encouraged them to commit the murder. From society's perspective, refraining from killing the woman debases her relatives. Here are five examples:

A Jordanian murdered his sister who was raped by another brother. The family tried initially to save its honor by marrying the victim to an old man, but this new husband turned her into a prostitute and she escaped from him. The murderer confessed that if he had to go through it all again he would not kill her, but rather would kill his father, mother, uncles, and all the relatives that pressured him to murder and led him to jail. Instead of killing his sister and going to jail, he said he should have "tied her with a rope like a goat and let her spend her life like that until she dies."11

An Egyptian who strangled his unmarried pregnant daughter to death and then cut her corpse in eight pieces and threw them in the toilet: "Shame kept following me wherever I went [before the murder]. The village's people had no mercy on me. They were making jokes and mocking me. I couldn't bear it and decided to put an end to this shame."12

A 25-year-old Palestinian who hanged his sister with a rope: "I did not kill her, but rather helped her to commit suicide and to carry out the death penalty she sentenced herself to. I did it to wash with her blood the family honor that was violated because of her and in response to the will of society that would not have had any mercy on me if I didn't... Society taught us from childhood that blood is the only solution to wash the honor."13

A young Palestinian who murdered his sister who had been sexually assaulted: "Before the incident, I drank tea and it tasted bitter because my honor was violated. After the killing I felt much better... I don't wish anybody the mental state I was in. I was under tremendous mental pressure."14

Another Palestinian who murdered his sister: "I had to kill her because I was the oldest [male] member of the family. My only motive to kill her was [my desire] to get rid of what people were saying. They were blaming me that I was encouraging her to fornicate... I let her choose the way I would get rid of her: slitting her throat or poisoning her. She chose the poison."15

These testimonies are in line with the analysis of 'Izzat Muhaysin, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Program for Mental Health, who says that the culture of the society perceives one who refrains from "washing shame with blood" as "a coward who is not worthy of living." Many times, he adds, such a person is described as less than a man.16

In some cases, the decision to commit the murder has a quality of being deputized. In the case of Kifaya Husayn opening this article, the victim's uncles actually appointed her brother to commit the crime on behalf of the family. The murderer in the fifth case cited above felt obliged to commit the crime as the eldest male of the family.

Murder has its intended social effect, permitting the family to regain its original social status. The murderer in the fourth case cited above went on to tell how almost ten thousand people attended his sister's funeral; once she was dead, society again embraced the family.

Leniency for murderers of female relatives, especially wives, is not entirely alien to Western society. For example, in 1989, a New York City judge sentenced a man to only five years on probation for murdering his adulterous wife, in light of the "great shame and humiliation" the man felt at being cuckolded.17 In 1994, a Maryland judge sentenced a man to only eighteen months in prison for killing his wife, whom he had caught in adultery—and, in recognition of the stress he must have been under, the judge apologized for giving him such a harsh sentence.18 However, in the West such cases are an oddity; in Arab states, leniency toward family-honor murderers is the norm and is also codified in the penal law


by Platinum Member on Nov. 17, 2012 at 11:22 PM

Jordan's Legal Code

Some Arab states distinguish legally between honor-murders and other types of murder. The former are dealt with by a separate clause in the penal code that allows the murderers to benefit from reduced penalties or even to avoid punishment altogether. In Jordan, for example, sentences for honor murderers usually range from three months to two years imprisonment.19 This light treatment follows from the Jordanian penal code, where two articles deal with this matter:

Article 98: He who commits a crime due to extreme anger caused by an illegal, and to some extent dangerous act, committed by the victim benefits from reduced penalty.

Article 340: (a) He who discovers his wife, or one of his maharim [female relatives of such a degree of consanguinity as precludes marriage], while committing adultery with another man and kills, wounds, or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty; (b) He who discovers his wife, or one of his sisters or female relatives, with another in an illegitimate bed, and kills, wounds, or injures [one or both of them] benefits from a reduction of penalty.20

In most cases, murderers build their defense on the Article 98, whose language is somewhat reminiscent of the Western concept of "temporary insanity." Indeed, Jordanian politicians, like Senator Muhammad Kaylani, believe it to be so. "If a man finds his wife in bed with someone else, and he kills her immediately," Kaylani explained, "then he should not be punished because he was overwhelmed by his emotions."21 Jordanian courts use the notion of temporary insanity very freely, as can be seen from the following case: A man murdered his sister because he believed her "immoral" behavior had led to his own divorce. The court's transcript says that on October 4, 1999, the defendant was hiding behind parked cars waiting for his sister. When he saw her walking in the street with two men, he "became enraged," drew a gun, and shot her three times in the head. After the murder—when apparently he was not enraged anymore—he sat down next to his sister's corpse, smoked a cigarette, and waited for the police. The court based itself on Article 98 and sentenced him to six months imprisonment because he committed his crime "in an act of fury."22

In mid-1999, Jordanian human-rights activists managed to enlist the Jordanian crown and government to assist its campaign to win tougher penalties for honor-murderers. Although Jordanian legal history records only one case in which a murderer was exempted from penalty on the basis of Article 340, the human rights campaign focuses on this article because it explicitly condones honor-killings. Its amendment is more than symbolic, however, for the leniency allowed by Article 98 morally follows from Article 340; in the words of Human Rights activist 'Abd al-Hadi Kabariti, Article 340 is "a license to kill."23 (That said, the campaign also targets Article 98, which the Jordanian government has also promised to reconsider.)

The government's proposals to abolish or amend Article 340 met with fierce resistance from the public and its leaders alike. Clearly, honor murders enjoy the approval of the majority of Jordanian society. A Jordan Times survey revealed that 62 percent of Jordanians oppose the amendment of Article 340, mostly out of fear of "moral corruption in society. "24 To answer this fear and improve the bill's prospects, the government appended to it tougher penalties for adultery (Article 282 already stipulates that adultery is an offense punishable by six months to two years imprisonment.) The Jordanian senate passed these changes but the lower house rejected them in November 1999.

During the lower house sessions, it became clear that on the issue of honor killings, the Jordanian members of parliament (MPs) share the sentiments of the public. Most MPs argued that the bill contradicted the conservative nature of Jordanian society. MP Mahmud al-Kharabsha, speaking on behalf of thirty-one fellow MPs, warned that the amendment would harm the Jordanian family and remove the element of deterrence implied by Article 340.25 Some politicians even expressed sympathy with murderers who cannot be expected to control their feelings. "A man, as a rule, cannot tolerate acts of immorality," explained MP 'Abd al-Majid al-Aqtash, "so how can he be expected to tolerate an act of immorality that is related to him personally?"26 "What do you expect from a man who walks into his house and finds his wife in bed with another man," wondered Kharabsha, "to give her a rose?"In fact, Kharabsha also explained that women are "a control tool" because, if they preserve themselves, they can prevent adultery in society as a whole.27 Thus, he accepted the logic of honor-murders as an alternative means to clean the society of corruption.

In an attempt to solve its disagreements with the lower house, the Jordanian senate's constitutional committee came up with the following proposal: apply the same exemption to women who kill husbands caught in adultery. Surprisingly, this proposal, which is unlikely to save women from being killed, won the support of some elements in the women's rights movement. Nevertheless, it was torpedoed by the Islamic Movement, which objected to such equality in the "license to kill." Sheikh 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Khayyat, a former Jordanian minister of religious affairs (awqaf ), even issued a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) stipulating that the Shari'a does not give the wife the right to murder her husband if she catches him with another woman. Such a case, Khayyat explained, does not amount to an offense against the family honor but rather, against the couple's marital life, and the most the wife is allowed to do is to file for a divorce.28 Another Islamic politician, 'Abd al-Baqi Qammu, of the Jordanian senate, further explained "whether we like it or not, women are not equal to men in Islam. Adulterous women are much worse than adulterous men, because women determine the lineage."29 These statements were a prelude to the unequivocal endorsement of honor crimes by the Jordanian Islamic movement.

The Jordanian debate over Article 340 shows how mainstream representatives close ranks with the Islamists on issues related to women. Of the 80 MPs in the lower house, 55—who are mostly affiliated with the government—submitted a proposal to implement the Shari'a as the state's law. The proposal was that the Shari'a would be the law in all areas and not only in this area. Yet it was seen as a signal to the government and the crown not to go too far in regard to Article 340.30

In late January, a second attempt by the government to pass its bill was again blocked by the lower house after a mere three-minute discussion. Hence, the fate of Article 340 is to be determined in a joint Senate-lower house session sometime in the future. However, the joint sessions held since then altogether ignored Article 340, putting a question mark on the government's resolve further to deal with this hot potato.

by Ruby Member on Nov. 18, 2012 at 3:57 AM
Thats a lot of information. I wish there was a way to bring about an end to honor killings or at least slow them down a bit, but anything I could say would likely only get a woman in more trouble.
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by Platinum Member on Nov. 18, 2012 at 9:02 AM
I am hoping there is a way to stop HKs, at least in US and Europe. But the Muslims themselves should understand its barbaric crime, and it has no place in modern society.

Quoting AdrianneHill:

Thats a lot of information. I wish there was a way to bring about an end to honor killings or at least slow them down a bit, but anything I could say would likely only get a woman in more trouble.

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by Ruby Member on Nov. 18, 2012 at 6:03 PM

Interesting (and horrific) information, thanks for posting.

by Ruby Member on Nov. 18, 2012 at 6:14 PM

This is worthy of repeating:

Islamic gender apartheid is a human rights violation and cannot be justified in the name of cultural relativism, tolerance, anti-racism, diversity, or political correctness. As long as Islamist groups continue to deny, minimize, or obfuscate the problem, and government and police officials accept their inaccurate versions of reality, women will continue to be killed for honor in the West.

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