Why Muslim Honor Killings Why
Posted in Islam, Law, Pakistan, Religion, Theology by eteraz on August 18th, 2006
ITALY — This, yes, Muslim psychotic slit his daughter’s throat for dating a non-Muslim and
the grave was dug in advance. Background? They are Pakistani. Her name was Hina Saleem. At this moment we should also remember Ghazala Khan who was killed in the name of honor in Denmark. As well as the countless other women around the world who have lost their lives for this butchery of honor, and those others who have had their faces scarred and their lives mutilated.
I have previously touched upon the general outlines of honor and its beauty, and then warned of its bestiality.
But that selfishness of honor can easily become “honor-killing” — or the equally sinister “honor-obsession” or “honor-culture.” From being a force of good and purity, honor can become a destructive monster when it starts to assume that another person has come to represent honor. It is for this reason I have never been a great fan of those romanticized visions of the past in which a man vows that his honor is connected to some great “lady.” For the same reason I have not been a fan of those other men who look upon their children and say “these are my honor” or look upon their wealth and say “this is my honor.” No, you fool: your honor is inside you, and you can’t delegate it to another, and you shouldn’t delegate it to another because another person should not be forced to bear the burden of your honor; each one of us must bear that burder on our own, in our own souls. If you want to connect your honor to anyone, connect it to those things that you know will never let you down (and if they will let you down, to things you cannot hurt). There are only two such beings: Nothing and God.
Having said all that, it should be absolutely clear that I think the “honor” that undergirds the murder of women like Ghazala Khan is a bastardization of honor. In a properly exercised act of honor, the only person who could judge Ghazala’s honor was Ghazala herself. Yet, instead, all around the Muslim world (and parts of India and China), we find others (usually men) judging the honor of everyone around them, ascribing what they think is an indequacy in another, to a loss of their own honor, and then, instead of exacting corrective behavior upon themselves (as a truly honorable person would do), they exact vengeance from those they find inadequate. It becomes a Darwinian pain cycle with the strongest (men) punishing others (women). Rushdie’s “Shalimar The Clown” — beneath its glorified veneer is really nothing more than a meditation on the fact that honor is supposed to be an inward exercise, not an outward manifestation of zeal. Read it.
But the issue is more than just about the broadstrokes of honor. People taking the law into their own hands is something precipitated by so many other things. One of those is obviously patriarchy. The other is that people, men, are not being taught, whether through force or persuasion, that to take the life of a woman for disobedience to you is wrong; and not just wrong, but punishable in the most severest way.
Muslim countries have been notoriously lax in their laws on the issue of gender. It was not until 2004 that Pakistan passed a law against honor killings. Nor should we be fooled by the fact that the “senate” ratified it. No, it took a strong armed dictator to shove the law down the Pakistani throat. This only means, to me, that large parts of the populace don’t really know or care about the law. Yet even this law is problematic because under the idea of qissas, killers can still pay “blood money” to the victim’s family and get off. There is something shameful in the idea of there being a price for a human life. But what’s doubly daming is the fact that in many cases the victim’s family is the perpetrator of the killing who often hire someone else to do the deed. So, in effect, the man a family hired to kill can “pay” the family who hired him to get off.
It isn’t just Pakistan which has not prosecuted honor killings sufficiently. In Jordan, sentences for honor killings range from three months to two years. The Jordan Times, July 22, 1999. The reason for such a slight punishment has to do with the fact that an honor killing is considered a form of ‘temporary insanity’ (which we know in the West), and therefore, the sentence is reduced, as if killing a woman is a blip on the radar of rationality, something minor, like petty larceny or embezzlement. Consider Jordan:
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.” The Jordan Times, Feb. 15, 2000.
A Middle Eastern Journal reports cases in numerous other places, and the confessions of the killers are chilling:
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
So we have talked about Honor, and we have talked about State, and the only thing we have not talked about is Islam. Where is our religion in all of this? All of these men are Muslim and yet none of them were stopped by their Islam. It is glaringly clear that while we may twiddle our thumbs and say, “well, Islam does not permit killing,” these so called Islamic societies are not really acting as a buffer against honor killing. Instead, they are permitting and celebrating these killings, as reported:
Jordanian society not only forgives the killing, it celebrates the killers. In 1998 Sarhan Abdullah murdered his sister because she had been raped—by her brother-in-law, as it turned out. “I shot her with four bullets in the head,” he told the Ottawa Citizen three years later. “I was treated as a hero in prison.” When Sarhan was released after six months, his family gave him a ceremonial sword and he rode home triumphantly on a horse. “My horse was white because I had cleansed my family’s honor.”
So, I ask, either the societies aren’t Islamic, or Islam is no longer an adequate protection for the lives of women. In fact, Islam has become a scourge. Which is it? Since there are many who will ‘protect’ Islam from this ‘merely cultural’ evil (”let’s not mix culture and Islam” they will say), I will say that every Muslim, practicing or not, who in any way stays silent in the face of this evil, is complicit. Therefore, I myself am guilty and I don’t know how to atone.
Frankly, I have no idea how I’ve managed to write even this far. I am disgusted and saddened and I want right now to have nothing to do with Muslims. Why should I agitate with my friends on helping a Jordanian or Pakistani gain asylum to this country when so many of them are bringing these kind of views to us? In this post I have no answers. The only thing I can do is guide you towards other places where you will be able to bury your pain.
The first place is a Jordanian activist who is collecting letters against honor killings. You can email Ms. Khouri here: firstname.lastname@example.org (I don’t know how old this contact is).
You can also consult the brilliant (and sad) novel — based on a Pakistani love story — set in England. It is by Nadeem Aslam and it is called Maps For Lost Lovers.