Sunday, April 14, 2013

Phyllis Chesler: Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?

The following by Phyllis Chesler originally appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of Middle East Quarterly and is reposted here with permission of Middle East Forum:

Victim Name Year, Location Perpetrators' Name, Origin Motive Method
Surjit Athwal (27) 1998

lured to India from England
Bachan Athwal, grandmother-in-law, her son and another relative / India (S) Having an affair, planning to divorce. Lured to India for 'family wedding' and strangled.
Rukhsana Naz (19) 1999

Brother and mother / Pakistan (M) Refused arranged marriage; pregnant with boyfriend's baby. Strangled by brother while held down by mother
Fadime Sahindal (32) 2002

Father and brother / Kurds from Turkey (M) Rejected arranged marriage; dated non-Muslim; sought higher education; sought legal remedy against father and brother. Shot
Heshu Yones (16) 2002

Abdalla Yones, father / Iraq (M) Dating a Christian; too Western. Stabbed, throat cut
Sohane Benziane (17) 2002

Jamal Derrar, ex-boyfriend and schoolmates / Algeria (M) Too Western Raped, tortured, and burned alive
Anooshe Sediq Ghulam (22) 2002

Nasruddin Shamsi, husband / Afghanistan (M) Failure to listen to her husband, divorce. Shot
Maja Bradaric (16) 2003

The Netherlands
Nephew and 3 others / Bosnia (M) Using Internet to find a boyfriend Burned to death
Sahjda Bibi (21) 2003

Rafaqat Hussain, cousin / Pakistan (M) Refused arranged marriage Stabbed 22 times
Anita Gindha (22) 2003

Relative suspected / Pakistan (S) Married non-Sikh. Strangled
Shafilea Ahmed (16) 2003

Parents suspected / Pakistan (M) Opposed her parents' plans for an arranged marriage Strangled or smothered
"Gul" (32) 2004

The Netherlands
Husband/Afghanistan (M) Sought divorce Shot
Hatin Surucu (23) 2005

Three brothers / Turkey (M) Fled forced marriage; did not wear scarf. Shot
Rudina Qinami (16) 2005

Father / Albania (M) Accepted ride by male, non-relative. Shot
Banaz Mahmod (20) 2006

Mahmod Mahmod, father, her uncle Ari Mahmod / Kurds from Iraq (M) Having an "affair". Raped, strangled
Samaira Nazir (25) 2006

Azhar Nazir, brother and cousin / Pakistan (M) Fell in love with Afghan refugee; refused to consider arranged marriage in Pakistan Stabbing, throat cut
Sazan Bajez-Abdullah (24) 2006

Kazim Mahmud, husband / Iraq (M) Acting in an "immodest "way. Stabbed, set on fire
Sabia Rani (19) 2006

Shazad Khan, husband and in-laws / Pakistan (M) Wanted divorce Beaten
Ghazala Khan (18) 2006

Brother, father and other family members / Pakistan (M) Family did not approve of husband Shot
Caneze Riaz (39) 2006

Mohammed Riaz, husband / Pakistan (M) Too westernized Immolated
Sayrah Riaz (16) 2006

Mohammed Riaz, father / Pakistan (M) Too westernized Immolated
Sophia Riaz (15) 2006

Mohammed Riaz, father / Pakistan (M) Too westernized Immolated
Alicia Riaz (10) 2006

Mohammed Riaz, father / Pakistan (M) Too westernized Immolated
Hannah Riaz (3) 2006

Mohammed Riaz, father / Pakistan (M) Too westernized Immolated
Hina Saleem (21) 2006

Father and brother-in-law / Pakistan (M) Did not respect Pakistani culture, divorced, wore clothing that showed her midriff Stabbed
Sana Ali (17) 2007

Husband / Pakistan (M) Not known, but detectives consider honor motive Stabbed
Morsal Obeidi (16) 2008

Ahmad Obeidi, brother, and cousin / Afghanistan (M) Wanted too much freedom; did not appreciate Muslim values Stabbed
Legend: M = Muslim; S=Sikh

In both North America and Europe, family members conducted honor killings with excessive violence—repeatedly stabbing, raping, setting aflame, and bludgeoning—in more than half the cases. Only in serial-killing-type scenarios are Western women targeted with similar violence; in these cases, the perpetrators are seldom family members, and their victims are often strangers. Despite the obfuscation of Muslim advocacy groups, these case studies show that honor killings are quite distinct from domestic violence. Not all honor killings are perpetrated by Muslims, but the overwhelming majority are. Ninety percent of the honor killers shown in Tables 2 and 3 were Muslim. In every case, perpetrators view their victims as violating rules of religious conduct and act without remorse.

While the sample size is small, this study suggests that honor killing is accelerating in North America and may correlate with the numbers of first generation immigrants. The problem is diverse but originates with immigration from majority Muslim countries and regions—the Palestinian territories, the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq, majority Muslim countries in the Balkans, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Afghanistan. Pakistanis accounts for the plurality. The common denominator in each case is not culture but religion.

Conflict of Cultural Moralities

The problem the West faces is complex. Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus view honor and morality as a collective family matter. Rights are collective, not individual. Family, clan, and tribal rights supplant individual human rights.[21]

In these groups, intellectuals and elites handicap the absorption of immigrants arriving from countries where honor is a communal virtue. For example, accusations of Islamophobia stymie discussion and policy formulation when policymakers seek to address problems occurring among Muslim immigrants. Still, there are legal interventions underway in Europe, home to between twenty and thirty million Muslim immigrants and their descendents, as opposed to perhaps four million in the United States and Canada.[22] Honor-related violence is, therefore, more visible in Europe than in North America. In 2004, Sweden held an international conference on honor killing, calling for "international cooperation" on the issue. Conference participants concluded:
Violence in the name of honor must be combated as an obstacle to women's enjoyment of human rights. Interpretations of honor as strongly connected with female chastity must be challenged. It can never be accepted that customs, traditions, or religious considerations are invoked to avoid obligations to eradicate violence against women and girls, including violence in the name of honor. Violence against women must be addressed from a rights-based perspective. … Measures should be taken in the areas of legislation, employment, education, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Respect for women's enjoyment of human rights is intrinsically linked to democracy. International conventions must be incorporated into national legislation.[23]
There have since been local conferences in England, France, and Germany. British law enforcement has begun to hide women in a program equivalent to the U.S. Federal witness protection program.[24] Great Britain has passed legislation to empower police to rescue British female citizens whose families have kidnapped and forcibly married them against their will, usually in Pakistan; the police will return them to Britain if the brides request it. There is a special police unit that deals with the forced, arranged marriages of children.[25] A new movement has also arisen in England, "One Law for All. A Campaign against Shari'a Law in Britain," launched by Maryam Namazie, an advocate opposed to honor killing and other honor-related violence. She has launched this movement to oppose the use of Shari'a courts because they discriminate against women.[26] Additionally, schools in the Netherlands have been asked to be "more alert to honor violence,"[27] following research conducted for the Ministry of Integration.

U.S. law enforcement has made tremendous progress over the last forty years on issues related to violence against women. However, there are not yet any shelters for battered Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh girls or women who fear that they will be murdered for honor. A regular shelter for battered women does not specialize in honor killings, nor are there any provisions for foster families—Muslim or otherwise—who can protect girls targeted for murder by their biological families. Critics would oppose any such intervention, however, as a form of cultural oppression, for many victims may have to forfeit their identities in order to remain alive.

It will be more difficult to save adult Muslim women from honor killing because an adult immigrant may not have any regular contact with people outside her immediate family. Only if she survives injuries that require medical attention will she have contact with strangers who may try to help her rescue herself.

Religious education may also be necessary. According to this study, 90 percent of honor murders in the West are committed by Muslims against Muslims. The perpetrators may interpret the Qur'an and Islam incorrectly, either for malicious reasons or simply because they are ignorant of more tolerant Muslim exegesis or conflate local customs with religion.

Here, Muslim-American and Muslim-Canadian associations might play a role so long as they cease obfuscation and recognize the religious roots of the problem. Now is the time for sheikhs in the United States and Canada to state without qualification that killing daughters, sisters, wives, and cousins is against Islam. A number of feminist lawyers who work with battered women have credited pro-women sheikhs with helping them enormously. Sheikhs should publicly identify, condemn, and shame honor killers. Those sheikhs who resist doing so should be challenged.

As with issues relating to terrorism, law enforcement and civil servants must be mindful of which Muslim community activists they seek to engage. Many self-described civil rights organizations—CAIR or the Islamic Society of North America, for example—lean towards more radical interpretations of Islam. Groups such as the American Islamic Congress and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy advocate for gender equality and human rights, [28] but because their efforts against radicalism antagonize Saudi Arabia and other sources of funding, they often lack resources. Given alternative funding, they might be willing to assist in an effort to educate Muslims against honor murder.

U.S. and Canadian immigration authorities should also be aware of the issue. They should inform potential Muslim immigrants and new Muslim citizens that it is against the law to beat girls and women, that honor killings are crimes, and that both the murderers and their accomplices can and will be charged. Cultural equivalency will provide no excuse as it sometimes does in more permissive societies such as Great Britain and the Netherlands. As long as Islamist advocacy groups continue to 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; such murders may even accelerate. Unchecked by Western law, their blood will be on society's hands.
Phyllis Chesler is emerita professor of psychology and women's studies at the Richmond College of the City University of New York and co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women's Health Network.
[1] Citation for honor murders drawn from Ellen Francis Harris, Guarding the Secret: Palestinian Terrorism and a Father's Murder of his Too-American Daughter (New York: Scribner, 1995); James Brandon and Salam Hafez, Crimes of the Community: Honor-Based Violence in the U.K. (London: The Centre for Social Cohesion, Jan. 2008), p. 13, 44; The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22, 26, 2000;Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 13, 1999; CBC News, Apr. 22, 2004, Mar. 1, 2005; The Indian Express(New Delhi), Jan. 30, 2005; The Asian Pacific Post (Vancouver, B.C.), July 24,, Sound Vision Foundation, Bridgeview, Ill., May 6, 2002; The New York Daily News, July 31, 2002;Stabroek News (Georgetown, Guyana), Dec. 3, 2003; Canwest News Service (Don Mills, Ont.), July 8, 2008; The Rochester Chronicle and Democrat, Apr. 25, 2004, July 17, 2008; The Washington Times, Jan. 3, 2008; The Dallas Morning News, Jan. 6, 9, 2008; The Chicago Tribune, July 8, 2008; CNN, July 7, 2008;The Daily Mail (London), May 2, June 12, 2007, Jan. 8, 2008; The Observer (London), Oct. 8, 2000, Nov. 21, 2004, June 20, 2006; The Daily Telegraph (London), Jan. 28, 2002, Feb. 27, 2005;, Oct. 2, 2003; BBC News, Sept. 30, 2003, May 4, Nov. 19, 2004, Apr. 8, 2006, Jan. 8, 2008; TechCentralStation (TCS Daily), Feb. 2, 2005; Time (European ed.), Oct. 11, 2004; CULCOM: Cultural Complexity in the New Norway, Feb. 17, 2006; Expatica (Amsterdam), Dec. 1, 2003, Apr. 27, 2005; The Times (London), Nov. 18, Dec. 4, 2004, Jan. 21, 2007, Feb. 3, Mar. 29, 2008; HiA Report, Humanity in Action Foundation, Washington, D.C., June 29, 2006; Deutsche Welle Radio (Bonn), May 1, 2005; The Guardian (London),May 8, 2003, July 15, 2006, May 24, 2008; Stern Magazine (Hamburg), Oct. 4, 2007; Associated Press, June 27, 2006; The Independent (London), May 7, 2003, Feb. 21, 2007; The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2004, Dec. 4, 2005, Aug. 26, 2006; The Evening Standard (London), May 14, 2007; United Press International, July 3, 2003; The Sun (London), Jan. 23, 2008; FOX News, Jan. 5, 2007; International Herald Tribune (Paris), Dec. 1, 2005; The Daily Times (Lahore), July 3, 2004.
[2] "Chapter 3: Ending Violence against Women and Girls: 'Honor' Killings," The State of World Population, 2000, United Nations Population Fund.
[3], Jan. 11, 2007.
[4] The Daily TimesSept. 20, 2008.
[5] Brandon and Hafez, Crimes of the Community, pp. 143-6.
[6] Yotam Feldner, "'Honor' Murders—Why the Perps Get off Easy," Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 2000, pp. 41-50.
[7] Ibid.
[8] SoundVision.comAug. 24, 2000.
[9] Sheila Musaji, "The Death of Aqsa Parvez Should Be an Interfaith Call to Action," The American Muslim, Dec. 14, 2007.
[10] Fox News.comDec. 12, 2007.
[11] CNN.comJuly 9, 2008.
[12] FoxNews.comOct. 14, 2008.
[13] "Homicide Trends in the U.S.: Intimate Homicide, 1976 -2005," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 11, 2007, accessed Oct. 2, 2008.
[14] Unni Wikan, "The Honor Culture," Karl-Olov Arnstberg and Phil Holmes, trans., accessed Sept. 23, 2008, originally published as En Fraga Om Hedre (A question of honor), Cajsa Mitchell, trans. (Stockholm: Ordfront Forlag AB, 2005), accessed Dec. 12, 2008.
[15] The Boston GlobeSept. 12, 2008.
[16] New York: Springer, 1984.
[17] Author e-mail interview with Lenore Walker, Sept. 27, 2008.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Brandon and Hafez, Crimes of the Community, p. 94.
[20] Today's ZamanJuly 12, 2008.
[21] Wikan, "The Honor Culture."
[22] Daniel Pipes, "Which Has More Islamist Terrorism, Europe or America?" The Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2008.
[23] "Combating Patriarchal Violence against Women—Focusing on Violence in the Name of Honor," The Swedish Ministry of Justice and The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm, Dec. 7-8, 2004, p. 51.
[24] International Herald Tribune, Hong Kong ed., Oct. 20, 1997The ObserverNov. 21, 2004; "So-called Honor Crimes," Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Council of Europe, Paris and Brussels, Mar. 7, 2003.
[25] Brandon and Hafez, Crimes of the Community, pp. 13, 44.
[26] Author e-mail with Maryam Namazie, Dec. 1, 2008.
[27] Nederlands Dagblad (Barneveld), Nov. 19, 2008Islam in EuropeNov. 19, 2008.
[28] "Milestones," American Islamic Congress website, accessed Dec. 10, 2008; "Founding Principles and Resolutions," American Islamic Forum for Democracy website, accessed Dec. 10, 2008.

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