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Honor killings are the socially and religiously sanctioned abuse and murder of family members, most often women, who are seen as bringing disgrace upon the family due to perceived[note 1] behaviors of that family member. The "dishonors" can range from being seen talking with a Westerner,[note 2] dressing inappropriately, kissing the wrong boy,[note 3] expressing interest in being educated, or simply stepping even slightly out of line of the community traditions.[note 4]
Honor killings are not new, and they are not reserved to Islam.
Honor killings in the Middle East
Recently, some scholars, defending Islam as a peaceful religion, have taken the position that the root of honor killings is only in the tribal structures used to control women's reproductive facilities. These scholars claim that the honor killings are not about controlling women's behaviors or freedoms, only those aspects of reproduction that are important in a tribal society to identity and inheritance.
Some non-scholars say that sounds like horse puckey, since non-reproductive issues like women's education, women's freedom of expression, and women's mere desire to experience the world outside of the home, take a job, or ask for a divorce from an abusive husband, have all resulted in honor killings.[note 5]
While attempting to insulate "Islam" from "Honor Killings in general", and more importantly, while attempting to explain where the impetus of honor killings comes from, Hamza Yusuf, founder of the Zaytuna Institute in California recently stated on National Public Radio  that his belief suggests men in Middle Eastern (and specifically Arabian) culture have such pride associated with the greater family, they become personally wounded when it seems as if they are not in control of the image their family presents to the world.
What is known, and agreed upon without hesitation, is that in the Middle Eastern cultures, honor killings are seen as a duty and a right, the "victim" is seen as the male head of the family rather than the person killed, and there is no shame to the killings — they are in fact social events that attract other people from around the town,[note 6] and often include cheering when the victim is finally killed.
Difference between honor killings and domestic violence
After a highly publicized and brutal murder in New York by media player Muzzammil Hassan, Islamic pundits and anti-Islamic race-baiters all came out with their take on the situation. Was this an honor killing, and how much of a role does Islam play in honor killings, and why is this domestic violence any different than the pimp who beats and kills a whore, a Western husband who uses fear to keep his wife under his control, or a father who abuses his children because he himself was abused, were among the questions raised.
The depth of the differences might be very complex, but the core difference is quite simple. "How does the perpetrator's immediate society view the actions?" In the case of domestic violence, society by and large fully disapproves. Violence is generally hidden from members of the family, and though not perfect, most policing agencies and judicial agencies consider domestic violence to be a real crime that must be pursued.
Honor killings, on the other hand are a right - a duty - an obligation, even. They turn the sons, fathers, and brothers who commit such acts into virtual, if not outright, heroes. Even in societies where the law of the land is officially that honor killings are illegal, the actual day-to-day societies do not follow that law, and help the offender escape, turn out as a local community against any attempt to prosecute, and even return abused women to their families.
Honor killings bring or restore pride to the "righteous" man in re-establishing control of his family. And at all times, what we would call the victim continues to be seen as "deserving" not just by one abusive husband, but his immediate community.
Modern Islam finds itself torn between tradition and violence, and finds itself in a bind between what people see "as Islam", and what Islam really is.
Perhaps the single strongest criticism of Islam in some general sense is that political violence and this kind of "non sanctioned-wink wink, nudge nudge" violence against women (and though rarely addressed, gay or "weak" men), is not taken to task, universally and unwaveringly.
Calls to "lessen domestic violence because the Qur'an is a book of Peace" fall on deaf ears when popular, famous, respected Imams go into their local Mosques and on television and do not say, unequivocally, "honor killings are wrong", and when these same Imams continue to preach Sura 4:34, the single line in the Qur'an that gives men power over women—violent power over women.
“”Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.
Non-Islamic honor killings
This is a recounting of what happened on May 1970, four days after the Kent State massacre. Please note that there was nothing honorable about this -- this father could have simply gone into the apartment and taken his daughter home. Perhaps he could have used a police escort -- who knows? -- but instead he came armed to kill. Arville Douglas Garland walked into Stonehead Manor, an apartment house near the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He carried with him a revolver and a Luger. He also carried extra bullets in his coat pockets. Garland broke into the room where his teenaged daughter was sleeping and shot her to death, along with her boyfriend and two of their friends[note 7] — all teenagers, all unarmed -- because he thought that she was a disrespectful hippie who was living in sin. While awaiting trial, Garland received over 1,000 letters from frustrated parents who congratulated him for taking such a — um — tough stand with his daughter. For his daughter's murder, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10-15 years.[note 8] For murdering the boys, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10-40 years, all served consecutively. He was paroled in 1980 and spent the last 24 years of his life as a free man. He died at age 79 in his hometown, Erwin, Tennessee.
In a 2012 paper, Phyllis Chesler wrote that honor killings have also been practiced among Hindus. Phyllis Chesler also notes that Hindu honor killing victims are often men, and that honor killings are not practiced among the Indian Hindu diaspora in the West. Furthermore, she also noted that honor killings by Hindus in India are more likely to be reported in western media compared to "regular" honor killings in the nearer West which often go unreported; and that there are "concerted efforts" by the Indian prime minister to increase penalties for honor killings in India.
Honor killing also occurs sometimes in Christian communities, for instance in Italy and Greece. Until 1981, Italian Criminal law said: "Art. 587: He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the "offence to his honour or that of his family" will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister". Honor killings also occured within the context of traditional Albanian laws (Kanun law).
- "An Honor Killing in America": From Marie Claire website.
- "Honor Suicides in Turkey": From Marie Claire website.
- Facts and evidence are rarely important in this form of abuse. A woman's word is virtually worthless if the husband, father, brother, grandfather, village elder, or three-year old feels he has been wronged.
- Leila Hussein, killed for a possible platonic friendship with a British soldier
- Du'a Khalil Aswad, 17 years old, stoned in 2007. Video came to light on Youtube. Believed to have been killed for wanting to marry a Muslim boy, as she was a Yazidi.
- Tina Isa, 17 years old. Killed for taking a part time job in 1989.
- Others use a more polite term.
- Not unlike a backyard barbecue, really...
- Garland fired all the bullets in the two guns into his victims. He then began stalking another young girl, a friend of his daughter, reloading the guns as he searched for her. His wife pulled him out of the building and persuaded him to turn himself in to the police.
- The previously cited Time Magazine articles repeated Garland's claim that he accidentally shot his daughter after striking her boyfriend with one of his guns. However, the Detroit Free Press cited the coroner's report stating that he shot her point-blank in the temple.
- Sharif Kanaana, Anthropologist Bierziet University
- Feb 24, 2009, All Things Considered
- "Crime: Joe and Arville", Time Magazine, 7 December 1970, Time.com website, accessed 29 October 2009.
- "The Nation: Sympathy", Time Magazine, 25 January 2009, Time.com website, accessed 29 October 2009.
- Why Are Hindu Honor Killings Rising in India? by Madhur Singh (May 25, 2010) Time.
- Hindu vs. Muslim Honor Killings by Phyllis Chesler & Nathan Bloom (Summer 2012) Middle East Quarterly, pp. 43-52.
- Dr. Phyllis Chesler Are Some Honor Killings More Equal Than Others? Published July 12, 2010 http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/07/12/phyllis-chesler-muslim-honor-killings-media.html
- "Explainer: Why Is It So Hard To Stop 'Honor Killings'?". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. http://www.rferl.org/content/explainer-why-hard-to-stop-honor-killings-religion/25404748.html. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. http://web.archive.org/web/20141016140801/http://www.lalibellulaitalianistica.it/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/HonorKillingEditAnnaCafaro.pdf. Retrieved 2014-10-11.
- "Omicidio e lesione personale a causa di onore". Diritto24. http://www.diritto24.ilsole24ore.com/guidaAlDiritto/codici/codicePenale/articolo/716/art-587-omicidio-e-lesione-personale-a-causa-di-onore.html. Retrieved 20 April 2015.