Tribal Traditionalism: Honour Killings

dm carlsen mrsdmcarlsen at
Mon Apr 15 08:56:36 MDT 2002

Honour Killings
Ted Fox

He is 23, articulate, married with a three-year-old
daughter and incarcerated in Jordan's high security
jail, Swaqu. His crime? Sororicide. He murdered his
sister with the backing of his whole family.

As the brother saw it, his sister, studying for a
law degree, was 'spoiled' by university, by what she
learned and by sleeping with a fellow student.

The brother was responsible for his sister's moral
behaviour. Had he not been lenient and given her
chance, he would have been serving six months instead
of the 'honourable' sentence of ten years he now
serves. Allowing
his sister to stray for a second time meant he was
treated as a murderer and faced the death sentence.
The death penalty was averted only because his family
would not press charges. In Jordan in 1992, according
UNICEF, there were 3017 cases of domestic violence
women, a high number including 'honour killings'.

In a small West Bank town, a young woman who
ran away from an abusive husband, was tracked down
and killed by her family. The young woman's brother
not only killed her, but also paraded her decapitated
head through
town, restoring the 'family honour'. These self-styled
guardians of 'family honour' see the 'crimes' in light
of their own Qur'an, (Koran) interpretation. The
include such things as immodest behaviour or dress,
leaving one's husband, pre-marital friendships,
and even handholding.

Worse, the trigger for a killing can be no more than
a rumour that a woman is involved with a man or
male members of a family see their sister, cousin,

daughter, or niece simply talking with a man. The
broadly defined
term 'family honour' is interpreted differently from
one family to the next, many finding it dishonourable
for example, when a woman has been raped. The rape
victim is then murdered to save the 'family's honour'.

Usually, the killers of the accused woman are the
brothers, father, uncle, or son, and the killings
are frequently barbaric with knives or axes being

employed. The view is, the more barbaric the killing,
the more
honour the family will receive. The affected
are usually supportive of the murder and convicted
perpetrators receive lighter sentences than other

Such murders often occur
only because of rumour, and without allowing the women
an opportunity
to defend themselves from accusations that they have
disgraced their families. In April this year, a
mother of two was shot dead in the office of Hina
Jilani, a lawyer and Lahore-based human rights
Hina was also fired at, but escaped injury. The reason
the killing, was that the woman's family felt their
honour had been tarnished by her seeking a divorce
after years of domestic abuse by her husband. Members
of the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce, of which the

victim's father is chairman, and local ulema (Islamic
have stated publicly that the honour killing was in
accordance with religious and tribal traditions. They
have declared Hina Jilani, and her sister Asma
to be kafirs (non-believers). Local ulema have issued

a fatwa(religious edict) calling on believers to kill
two women, and accusing them of 'misguiding women'.

'Honour killing' emerged in the pre-Islamic era, and
is a complicated issue cutting deep into the history
of Arab society. In a patrilineal society, the men

of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of
reproductive power.
Thus honour killing is not about controlling sexual
power or behaviour, but is more about the issue of
fertility, or reproductive power. The woman is guarded
outwardly by her behaviour and dress code, and
by keeping her hymen intact. A woman's virginity is
property of the men around her, a virtual dowry as
she graduates to marriage. In this context, a woman's
(honour) is a commodity which must be guarded by a
network of family and community members. Independent
women are
frowned upon, as is tertiary education. Because some
traditions followed today were made by man and not
instituted by God, there exist societies where the
position of women is not in accordance with Islam,
women to feel humiliated and left out of modern life.
their religion and culture.

'Honour killing' is not confined to Arabs and Muslims,
but occurs in other parts of the world, such as
The defence of honour and its legitimacy also was
existed in Portuguese colonial law until 1830.

Ted Fox .            21.7.99
copyright c Ted Fox 1999

 Such "immoral behavior" may take the form of
   marital infidelity, refusing to submit to an
arranged marriage,
   demanding a divorce, flirting with or receiving
phone calls from
   failing to serve a meal on time, or -- grotesquely
-- "allowing
   herself" to be raped. In the Turkish province of
Sanliurfa, one
   woman's "throat was slit in the town square because
a love ballad
   dedicated to her over the radio." (Pelin Turgut,
"'Honour' Killings
   Still Plague Turkish Province," The Toronto Star,
May 14, 1998.)

   Most "honour" killings of women occur in Muslim
countries, the focus
   of this case study; but it is worth noting that no
sanction for such
   murders is granted in Islamic religion or law. And
the phenomenon is
   in any case a global one. According to Stephanie
Nebehay, such
   killings "have been reported in Bangladesh,
Britain, Brazil,
   Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan,
Morocco, Sweden,
   and Uganda." Afghanistan, where the practice is
condoned under the
   rule of the fundamentalist Taliban movement, can be
added to the
   along with Iraq and Iran. (Nebehay, "'Honor
Killings' of Women Said
   Rise Worldwide," Reuters dispatch, April 7, 2000.)

It is unknown how many women are
   maimed or disfigured for life in attacks that fall
short of murder.
   Pamela Constable describes one such case:

  Zahida Perveen's head is shrouded in a white cotton
veil, which she
     self-consciously tightens every few moments. But
when she reaches
     down to her baby daughter, the veil falls away to
reveal the face
     of one of Pakistan's most horrific social ills,
broadly known as
     "honour" crimes. Perveen's eyes are empty sockets
of unseeing
     flesh, her earlobes have been sliced off, and her
nose is a
     reddened stump of bone. Sixteen months ago, her
husband, in a fit
     of rage over her alleged affair with a
brother-in-law, bound her
     hands and feet and slashed her with a razor and
knife. She was
     three months pregnant at the time. "He came home
from the mosque
and accused me of having a bad character," the tiny,
     woman murmured as she awaited a court hearing ...
"I told him it
     was not true, but he didn't believe me. He caught
me and tied me
     up, and then he started cutting my face. He never
said a word
     except, "This is your last night." (Constable,
"The Price of
     'Honour'," The Gazette (Montreal), May 22, 2000.)

Perveen's husband stated in
   court that "What I did was wrong, but I am
satisfied. I did it for
   honour and prestige." Often burning or scarring
with acid are the
   preferred weapons of the men committing such
crimes. "The
   Women's Association, which assists attack victims,
tracked 3,560
   who were hospitalized after being attacked at home
with fire,
   or acid between 1994 and 1999," according to
Constable. About half
   victims died. Lawyer and women's activist Nahida
Mahbooba Elahi
   that "We deal with these cases every day, but I
have seen very few
   convictions. The men say the wife didn't obey their
orders, or was
   having relations with someone else. The police
often say it is a
   domestic matter and refuse to pursue the case. Some
judges even
   justify it and do not consider it murder."
(Constable, "The Price of
   'Honour.'") Such crimes are also rife in
Bangladesh, formerly Eas
   Pakistan, where some 2,200 women are disfigured
every year in acid
   attacks by jealous or estranged men. (Ellen
Goodman, "How Long
   We Take the Honor out of Killing?," The Washington
Post [in the
   Guardian Weekly, April 6-12, 2000.)

While the victims of Pakistani "honour" killings are
   female, tradition dictates that males involved in
the "crimes"
   face death as well. But the accused women are
standardly killed
   giving men a chance to flee retribution. Moreover,
targeted men can
   escape death by paying compensation to the family
of the femal
   victim, leading to an "'honour killing

 In early February 2000, the Jordanian
arliament "took only three minutes to reject a draft
law calling for
   the cancellation of Article 340." The country's
leading political
   party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), denounced
the draft law as an
   effort to "destroy our Islamic, social and family
values, by
   the man from his humanity, [and] not allowing him
to get angry when
   is surprised by [i.e., surprises] his wife
committing adultery." Ten
   days later, in an unprecedented action, some 5,000
protesters flood
   the streets of Amman demanding the repeal of the
penal code
   allowing "honour" killings. The protesters included
"Prince Ali, wh
   is King Abdullah's brother and his personal guard,
as well as Prince
   Gazi, the king's advisor for tribal affairs."

On Oct. 16, 1995, ... Hassoon got out of a car with
her younger
brother on a main street of Daliat al Carmel, a small
Israeli Druze
village ... Over 10 years before, Ittihaj had
committed the
unpardonable sin of marrying a non-Druze man. Now,
after luring her
back to her home village with promises that all was
forgiven and
her safety assured, her brother finally had the chance
to publicly
leanse the blot on the family name with the spilling
of her blood.

In broad daylight in front of witnesses, he pulled out
a knife and
began to stab her. The witnesses quickly swelled to a
crowd of more
than 100 villagers who -- approving, urging him on --
ululated, danced in the street. Within minutes,
Hassoon lay dead on
the ground while the crowd cheered her killer, "Hero,
hero! You are
a real man!" (Suzanne Zima, "When Brothers Kill
Sisters," The
Gazette [Montreal], April 17, 1999. See also Walter
[18]"Honor Killings: A Brutal Tribal Custom", CNN
World News

According to Zima, "Ibrahim had agonized over his
decision: 'She is my
   sister -- my flesh and blood -- I am a human being.
I didn't want to
   kill her. I didn't want to be in this situation.
They [community
   members] push[ed] me to make this decision. I know
what they expect
   from me. If I do this, they look at me like a hero,
a clean guy, a
   real man. If I don't kill my sister, the people
would look at me
   I am a small person.'"

As with witch-hunts, however, "honour" killings also
need to be
   viewed from a broader societal perspective; they
derive from
   expectations of female behaviour that are held and
perpetuated by
   and women alike. Women's role has often been
   Occasionally, they participate directly in the
killings. More
   frequently, they play a leading role in preparing
the ground. In
   Palestine, for example, the anthropologist Ilsa
Glaser has noted
   "women acted as instigators and collaborators in
these murders,
   unleashing a torrent of gossip that spurred the
   in The Calgary Herald, April 20, 2000.) Jordanian
women running for
   parliament have also been "reluctant to break the
taboo" on
nd prosecuting "honour" killings; one told the
Manchester Guardian
Weekly that "This is our tradition. We do not want to
encourage women
   who break up the family." (Borger, "In Cold
Blood.") In the Ramle
   district of Israel, police commander Yifrach
Duchovey lamented his
   inability to secure the cooperation of community
members in
   investigating "honour" killings: "Even other women
-- the mothers --
   won't cooperate with us. Sometimes the women
co-operate with the men
   who commit the murders. ... A woman may think it is
OK -- maybe she
   thinks the victim deserves it." (Quoted in Zima,
"When Brothers Kill

See also:

AI-index: ASA 33/018/1999     01/09/1999

Honour killings of girls and women

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