Caution: Some photographs reproduced here are gruesome. Read no further unless you’re willing to encounter this crime that is happening in our world.
“Jordanian Teens Believe In ‘Honour’ Killings; Study Shows”
Nigeria Information, June 23, 2013
Despite the world’s condemnation of “honour killing” in Jordan and other Asian countries where the practice is common, belief that the so-called honour killings are justified is still common among Jordanian teenagers, a Cambridge University study revealed on Thursday.
The study by researchers from the university’s Institute of Criminology found that almost half of boys and one in five girls interviewed in the capital, Amman, believe that killing a daughter, sister or wife who has “dishonoured” or shamed the family is justified.
“Researchers surveyed over 850 students, and found that attitudes in support of honour killing are far more likely in adolescent boys with low education backgrounds,” a statement said, adding that the research is published in the criminology journal Aggressive Behaviour.
“Importantly, the study found that these disturbing attitudes were not connected to religious beliefs.”
Between 15 and 20 women die in so-called “honour” murders each year in the Arab kingdom, despite government efforts to curb such crimes. The main factors behind these crimes “include patriarchal and traditional world views, emphasis placed on female virtue and a more general belief that violence against others is morally justified,” according to the study.
By Tobi Cohen, Canwest News Service
More prevalent in the Muslim world, it’s a phenomenon many parents here can’t even begin to comprehend.
The killing of one’s own child — usually a daughter — because her behaviour is believed to have brought shame to the family.
It is the fate of some rape victims, as well as women accused of infidelity or premarital sex in countries such as Pakistan. But in the West, it’s increasingly popping up in courtrooms as first-generation Muslims struggle to balance the strict old-world ways of their parents with a desire to fit into a more liberal society.
On June 16, the father and brother of a slain Mississauga, Ont., teen were sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to the December 2007 murder of Aqsa Parvez, a 16-year-old girl of Pakistani descent who wanted to wear western clothes and get a part-time job like her Canadian peers.
Days ago, an Afghan mother was arrested in Montreal, accused of stabbing her 19-year-old daughter after she stayed out all night in a case that’s now being probed as a possible honour crime.
And then there’s the case last year of Muhammad Shafia, his second wife, Tooba Muhammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed Shafia, accused of killing Shafia’s first wife and three daughters, who were found in a vehicle submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ont.
Dr. Amin Muhammad is a psychiatrist at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., who is currently working on a report for the federal government about honour killings in Canada. He said there’ve been 13 such cases in the country since 2002.
“We are seeing an upward trend,” he said. “More cases are coming to the forefront in the legal system.”
Noting honour killings are not in any way condoned in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, he suggested the idea is coming up more as a defence for murder by people hoping to take advantage of Canada’s cultural sensitivity in order to receive a more lenient sentence.
He also said he suspects mental-health issues are behind most cases.
“We cannot rule out personality disorder among the perpetrators or some sort of psychopathology,” he said.
“I think all such cases should be evaluated from a mental-health perspective.”
Muhammad said that since the UN began cracking down on the issue of honour killings, no country is any longer officially supporting the practice.
That said, a report Muhammad published two years ago found a number of countries actually allow for a partial or full defence against criminal charges on the basis of honour killing, including: Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Guatemala, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Venezuela, Peru and Egypt.
While many recent cases in western society involve Muslims, Muhammad said honour killings have also been committed in the name of Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity.
But just as most Canadians shudder in disbelief at these stories, so too do the majority of Muslims.
Imam Zijad Delic of the Canadian Islamic Congress said there is “nothing Islamic” in taking a human life.
He calls it a personal issue more than a cultural one and suggested perpetrators of so-called honour crimes are not unlike the white, Canadian-born and bred mother who suddenly kills her children in that both are ultimately unable to deal with the challenges of domestic life.
While new Muslim immigrants struggling to integrate into Canadian society are often reluctant to talk openly about the problems they may be experiencing at home with their children, he said, the issues are being addressed in mosques and community centres.
“Last Friday, my sermon in Toronto was about Canadian-Muslim family dynamics and I had about 600 people listening,” he said.
“They will not go into a public forum to talk about it but they would come to workshops and listen.”
Delic said young people often approach him for guidance when facing a cultural conflict with their parents and that just as Greek and Italian families eventually found a balance between traditional and liberal values, so too will Muslims.
“We are going through the process of integration and I’m quite positive that we are at this point of time reasonably integrated,” he said.
“You cannot judge Canadian-Muslim communities on the basis of what happened to Aqsa Parvez.”
According to the United Nations Population Fund, an estimated 5,000 women and girls are murdered every year in so-called honour killings around the world.
The 2008 report co-written by Muhammad suggests honour killings date back to ancient societies. According to the report, Incan law allowed husbands to starve their wives as punishment for adultery, while the Aztecs permitted stoning or strangulation as punishment for such crimes.
As it’s known in Pakistan, where it remains fairly common, karo-kari was only recently outlawed, though “perpetrators are rarely brought to justice,” said the report.
According to the report, there are also a number of cases of fake honour killings in which stories of infidelity may be fabricated in order to get rid of somebody for financial or other reasons.
International Resource Centre
Honour-based violence is a phenomenon where a person (most often a woman) is subjected to violence by her collective family or community in order to restore ‘honour’, presumed to have been lost by her behaviour, most often through expressions of sexual autonomy.
An ‘honour’ killing is the most extreme form of HBV where the supposed offender against family ‘honour’ is killed to restore the ‘honour’ which has supposedly been lost through her behaviour. An ‘honour’ killing is the most extreme form of violence which may be expressed as a final resort; however there are other lesser responses, such as forcing marriage or other forms of violence which may also be expressed.
Expressions of personal autonomy, particularly where this is in the realm of relationships and sexuality, are the usual triggers for ‘honour’-related abuse. Those cultures in which ‘honour’ crimes occur are considered ‘high-context’ where the family predominates over the individual, and therefore any individualistic choice which challenges the collective identity and aims of the family may be considered selfish and a violation of that family’s honour.
- Choice of sexual/marital partner
- Education and employment
- Behaviour and contact with the opposite sex
- General conformity to the family and community’s culture and expectations.
What is considered to be honourable and what is considered to be dishonourable in the societies where HBV occurs?
In some environments, there are distinct forms of active and passive ‘honour’ which can be mapped onto the expectations of traditional masculine and feminine behaviour, whereby men are supposed to be assertive and respond with violence to slights upon their own, or their families ‘honour’ and women are expected to maintain their own fragile honour through complete conformity to social norms of feminine behaviour. In this scenario, the active ‘honour’ of the male is dependent upon the passive ‘honour’ of his female relatives, and he has an explicit role in ensuring their conformity to the norms of the community and family; and of responding, potentially violently, if a female relative does not conform. In others, ‘honour’ is conceptualised as a collective quality related to the reputation of the family in entirety. In either case, women’s ‘honour’ is related to familial and community standards of feminine behaviour and marriageablity.
There is little scriptural support for honour killings in any major religion, and it has been roundly condemned by several high status religious leaders. This attitude, however, does not necessarily influence all members of a religion, who tend to view all aspects of their lifestyle and culture as being related to their faith, even where they stand in contravention of ‘official’ religion.
What are the kinds of “remedies” typically applied before taking the final step of killing as the final option and solution for regaining honour?
Honour’ killings occur as the last resort in a spectrum of forms of violence and coercion. This may include crimes such as forced marriage, violence, threats and harassment. There are often forms of emotional abuse, such as threatening disownment, or to divorce the victim’s mother, amongst other threats to family members. Parents may feign illness, suggesting that the woman’s nonconformity is causing them to suffer physical harm.
Why do you call it ‘honour’ killing, why not call it shame killing or dishonour killing or another term?
We appreciate that in using the term ‘honour’ killing, we are using the terminology and categories of the criminal, and may be insinuating that there is, potentially, something ‘honourable’ about violence. However, it is important to our aims that we reach the affected communities, and to do so, it is necessary to speak the same language: we wish to reach potential victims without confusing them by using terminology which is unfamiliar to them, and we also wish to take this message into the communities in which ‘honour’ crimes occur, which again calls for a common language. Also, knowledge of ‘honour’ based violence within Europe and other countries is still embryonic and in need of development, and it would be a backward step to lose the recognition value of the current term.
What are the women supposed to conform to? What are the standards and expectations they need to meet?
Women are supposed to safeguard their own ‘honour’ and their virginity before marriage, which is often accomplished through restricting relationships to members of their own family, or through some level of gender segregation. Women are expected to acquiesce in choices made on their behalf by the family collective, regardless of their own personal feelings and desires.
However, with these generalities aside, there is no definitive list of what constitutes ‘honourable’ behaviour which could relate to all communities and families. There are wide degrees of variance which may alter from family to family, and change across time, so that a younger daughter may face different restrictions and enjoy different liberties than her elder sister. ‘Honour’ varies with the requirements and attitudes of the family in question.
Common expectations associated with ‘honour’ are that:
- Women must guard their virginity and not develop relationships with persons outside the approved group;
- Women must aquiesce to the demands of their family, particularly with regard to the arrangement of marriage;
- Women should not air their problems outside the family; this includes reporting spousal violence to the authorities;
- Women should not initiate divorce, and should not seek to gain custody of their children.
This is a common question, as the idea of killing one’s own child seems horrific to many parents. Some families may indeed be reluctant to carry out a killing, and may only do so as a result of community pressure. Where a family is perceived to have lost ‘honour’ they may suffer harassment and social exclusion, and be urged by the extended family and community to carry out a murder in order to restore their status. In tight-knit communities, social ties are of great importance, and such pressure can be sufficient to force an unwilling parent to allow a child to be sacrificed for the sake of the ‘greater good’ of the family as a whole.
While HBV is mostly associated with the Middle East and South Asia it has also been recorded in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There may be many other countries where such crimes occur but where it has not yet been identified or quantified.
Many ‘honour’ killings have been recorded in Europe and America within diasporic immigrant communities: the first high-profile murder to be recognised as an ‘honour’ killing in Europe was the death of Fadime Sahindal. While it may be the case that HBV decreases in minority populations over time as they become more integrated into the dominant society, it may also be the case that some communities become isolated and ghettoised, maintaining traditional male-dominant family structures as a form of resistance against the majority culture, particularly where economic and social integration is poor, and where minorities are subjected to racism and prejudice.