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The utter shame of honor killings

July 20, 2007

Banaz MahoudDid anyone read the story about Banaz Mahoud, the Kurdish woman in London who was recently murdered by her family?  She was killed on January 24th by her former partner, her father, and family friends.  Why?

They believed Banaz had brought shame on the family by leaving her husband, an Iraqi Kurd she had been forced to marry at 17, and falling in love with Rahmat Suleimani, an Iranian Kurd.

This “honor killing” wasn’t just a little murder, a small stamping out of feminine independence.  She was brutally raped, stamped on, strangled, and beaten for two hours by her family before she died.  Then they packed her body into a suitcase and buried it in the backyard of a house.  All of this done in the name of protecting the family’s honor from shame.

The terrible, terrible irony here of course is that the honor killings are what is bringing such shame upon communities that engage such horrific actions against women.  All communities and cultures that support honor killings need to be shamed and brought to justice.  The silence around these matters is so utterly intolerable – we would probably never have heard Banaz’s story if it happened in her home. 

In British court, the perpetrators are being prosecuted of murder today.  Unfortunately, public accountability isn’t the norm, and certainly not in Banaz’s home Iraq.  Wikipedia’s entry about honor killings is chilling because it’s such a horrific thing to see in an encyclopedia:

An honor killing is a murder, nearly exclusively of a woman who has been perceived as having brought dishonor to her family. Such killings are typically perpetrated by the victim’s own relatives and/or community and unlike a crime of passion or rage-induced killing, it is usually planned in advance.

In societies and cultures where they occur, such killings are often regarded as a “private matter” for the affected family alone, and courts rarely become involved or prosecute the perpetrators.

In Iraq, honor killings were legal until 2002.  The Human Rights Watch estimates that women are killed nearly every day for harming the “honor” of their family.  To be clear, Islam doesn’t permit honor killings.   But it also doesn’t condemn them, and the various nations where honor killings are rampant are largely Islamic or Arab and occur in rural areas.

For Shame” is an informative article about honor killings and Arab women.  The cultural divide makes a solution seem so far away, in my mind.  How can people prevent honor killings? To start, there is the International Campaign Against Honor Killings.  They have a lot of information including reporting (many horrific stories…), resources, and links to other groups.   There are individual organizations emerging, suchs as Root Work in Pakistan. 

One thing seems clear to me:  the men in these communities are the ones who need to condemn and stop honor killing.  It will be their decision.  And until then, we need to support governments to treat honor killings as a greivous crime and punish them as such.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2007 2:53 pm

    This is one of the reasons I try to explain to people just why we will never accomplish our goals in Iraq or the Middle East. Cultural differences like these. Of course I read this story and there have been several others just like this one.

    Is it brutal and inhuman? Yes, to us who were raised in western culture but like it or not there are societies all over the globe in which this behavior is normal and justified.

  2. A little bird permalink
    August 9, 2007 3:16 pm

    It hasn’t been that long since domestic violence in America was treated in a similar fashion. A woman could be regularly beaten by her husband and law enforcement would do nothing because it was a “private” matter and they didn’t want to interfere. My hope is that by speaking out and bringing these brutalities into the bright light of public scrutiny, along with pushing governments to prosecute, things will eventually change and the “shame” will be on the heads of the perpetrators instead of the victims.

    Thanks for writing this post and reminding us that these women deserve to be heard and remembered.

  3. August 26, 2007 5:02 pm

    Fundamentalism, no matter what the religion, is scary; however, the rise of radical Islam in Europe is particularly scary. I just read a great book entitled While Europe Slept, by Bruce Bawer. I saw in interview with him on The Newshour with Jim Leher and went out and bought the book. I consider myself to be left leaning progressive. This book shows what happens when people (many European governments) look the other way rather than confront radical Islam–all in the name of honoring diversity. He makes a very strong point–many in radical Islam would like to see Shria law enacted in various European countries. Shria law would make honor killings legal. According to Bawer, many young French citizens of of Algerian descent wear tee shirts that read “2030”. This is the year when Muslim citizens are projected to be the majority in France. Will moderate Islam temper the voices of the very public and radical clerics whipping up unrest in Europe? Especially in Norway, England, and France?

    See book here:

  4. September 4, 2007 2:32 pm

    You cannot adapt when you live your life by books written long before society was what it is today. Both the Bible and Quran should not be (excuse the pun) commandments written in stone, people who have those beliefs should be using those as a guide but ADAPTING as the world changes.

    As long as the Muslim culture refuses to move on, so will it’s sense of right and wrong. Christianity, ever adaptable throughout history as churches split, split and split again to form new faiths, is largely without this problem now.

    There is sickness in society all over the world and although in the West we detest this type of thing, there are sicknesses in society here that haven’t reached Islamic society yet.

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