How Valuable is Family Honor?
In the United States it would be unfathomable for one to think of a father killing his daughter because she was raped, did not deliver a meal on time, or was thought to be having an affair with a man. Unfortunately, there are many such killings that occur in parts of Asia and the Middle East. “Honor Killings”, as they are called, are sanctioned in many countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Afghanistan (by the Taliban) and are known to exist in as many countries as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda. Most occur in Muslim countries, but there is nothing within Islamic law or religion which sanctions such atrocities. Through this blog, I would like to share some of the stories of these women, and the situations regarding honor killings in a few of the countries mentioned above.
In Jordan, honor killings are sanctioned by law and allow lighter sentences for male killers of female relatives according to Article 340 and Article 98 of the criminal code. Article 340 states, “A husband of close blood relative who kills a woman caught in a situation highly suspicious of adultery will be totally exempt from sentence” ( Gendercide). Article 98 on the other hand allows lighter sentence for male relatives who kill girls which commit an “act which is illicit in the eyes of the perpetrator”. This article gives wide room for many types of interpretation. In 1999, a 19-year-old boy drove his truck three times over his unmarried six month pregnant sister despite her “denials of immoral behavior and pleas for help”. He was sanctioned less than a year in jail for his offence.
Pakistan has been cited as a country where the honor killings are most pervasive. The government and local authorities have been known to collaborate and make many honor killings become suicide or accidental deaths. One of the most famous cases in Pakistan is that of Samia Imran, a young married woman who was shot in the head because she wanted a divorce from her abusive husband. She had agreed to meet her mother in her lawyers office, when her mother showed up with a male acquaintance who pulled out a pistol and shot her as she got up to say hello. After she had fallen, he shot her again to make sure she was dead. It is ironic, however, because the lawyer was the one who was accused of the murder, and a price was put on her head. This was all because she was helping to disrupt family values.
In Israel, the Palestinian territories are not governed by the government of Israel but have been governed in the past by the Palestinian Authority and Hammas. Honor killings have been regularly reported in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In July of 1999, a women’s body was found in a well with her neck broken, her name was Samera. Samera was a girl from a small Palestinian town who was seen talking with a young man without a male chaperone at age 15. For her family sake a marriage was arranged, and she was pregnant within a year. Five years later, she left her marriage and moved from man to man as she fled her family. Her family eventually found her and a few days later she was the dead girl in the well. Her father gave a statement saying she had committed suicide.
Last but not least I would like to mention Syria. Under Syrian law an honor killing is not murder, and a man who commits it is not a murderer. Most murders are not acknowledged by the government, however, the husband of now deceased Zahra al-Azzo will not let her story be swept under the rug. Al-Azzo was a 16 year old girl who was murdered by her brother because she had been raped in an attempt to save her father’s dignity in the community. She was put in a women’s prison to protect her from her family, but her family found a first cousin who agreed to marry her, and summoned her out of the prison. However, a few weeks after she was married, and her husband had gone to work, her brother butchered her to her death with a knife.
All of these deaths are atrocious acts. What is the meaning of them? Gendercide.org argues that these killings “reflect longstanding patriarchal-tribal traditions”. In these societies women are viewed as fragile but also as Jezebels who are evil in their ways. A families honor is of upmost important in some communities. The killing of those who have destroyed their honor is used as a means to pretend that it never occurred, that the person killed never occurred. In many societies where most marriages are arranged, money is often exchanged and women’s desires for a certain husband are ignored. If a woman is to ignore her father’s wish or ask for a divorce this act damages the honor of the man who negotiated the deal.
So what ways are there to help? Kecia Ali from Brandice University asserts that some believe that instituting strict interpretation of Islamic law, under which a man cannot do anything to his wife/daughter unless there are 4 witnesses, and even then killing is not condoned. However, Ali says the weakness of this lays in other traditional laws and different interpretations of the laws and that the laws are not applicable to contemporary society. Katherine Zoepf of the New York Times argues that change must occur but it must be bottom up change, a cultural change. However, her way of making her point was through an article in the newspaper. Making these stories so that people in the West know what is going on could be one way to instigate such changes in society. A government that has a lot of bad international attention focused on it is going to be more willing to succumb to demands by the international community to charge men who commit these crimes with murder. It is a hard tradition to stop, unless the people committing the crimes actually fear the consequences. Many Middle Eastern jails are rumored to be worse than Guantanamo, so maybe real jails like those given in the United States would be incentive enough.
Honor killings are frightful acts that are committed to save family honor. They are often deep rooted in tradition and culture and instigated by mothers, fathers, and brothers of the murdered women. Change must come from either the bottom (the masses) or the top (the governments). The stories of the women above are evidence that there is an increased awareness of these acts in the world today. However, these acts have still not been stopped.
For more information visit