Whenever I write about the realities of Islam in the United States, someone generally comes along and asks why I do not address the more contentious issues. While it is something of a Darfur vs. blowjobs, so to speak, there are, of course, issues that concern Muslims. One of the most talked-about is violence against women, specifically the crimes that are referred to as honor killings.
Honor killing are becoming more and more discussed in regards to Muslims in the West. The story behind most of them is that of a young woman who, upon being found to have been acting in a manner with which a male relative (usually her father but sometimes her husband or brother) disagrees, is targeted for violent action, sometimes with the support of other relatives. After the case becomes public, things generally look worse and worse. The culprit will generally show no remorse for his actions, claiming that he was doing the right thing for all involved. Other Muslims will issue their opinion on the matter, focusing on the idea that honor killings aren’t at all related to Islam but are instead a form of domestic violence.
In this tangled mess, where even Muslims disagree on major Canadian television programs, it can be hard to decide whether or not honor killings are really a special phenomenon or simply a part of domestic abuse and misogynistic violence.
As is often said with terrorism, of course people kill, maim, and destroy for reasons other than religion. Non-Muslim men all around the world kill the women in their lives for reasons that are not necessarily so different from notions of honor. Furthermore, it is far easier to criticize and condemn crimes whose motives and origins are literally foreign rather than to tackle issues that affect your own community — in this case, violence with whose perpetrators you can at least somewhat relate.
At the same time, honor killings are often given a free pass in Muslim countries in a way that legitimizes them in the minds of Muslim men even after they leave the Muslim world. There is something different about them in terms of their motives and the premeditation that usually accompanies them.
Jessica Mokedad, Noor Faleh Almaleki, the three Shafia sisters, Swera R., Tulay Goren, Mujde B., Gulsum, the Said sisters, Aqsa Parvez, Morsal O., Hatin Surucu, the Riaz family, the Arshad family, and more were all women and girls who were killed by their respective fathers, husbands, or brothers; in all of their cases, the male relative in question explicitly stated that they were religiously and culturally motivated to kill. Almost none of the murderers expressed remorse and many of them say that their actions would have been acceptable, and even condoned, in their nations of origin.
Killing a woman to whom they are related, romantically involved, or married is certainly not the exclusive province of Muslim men, but feeling socially, morally, and religiously justified about it is what sets honor killings apart from other forms of domestic violence. In other words, while honor killings fall under the heading of domestic violence, they constitute a special and especially ideologically disturbing form of it: not crimes of passion, but controlled acts attempting to regain control over women and girls perceived as wayward.
Note: The only online listing of honor killing victims that I was able to find was here. The page contains graphic images of violence and is from a perspective that I do not necessarily share; additionally, some of the cases listed are questionable in terms of being explicit honor killings.