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Can Honour Killing In Muslim Communities Be Ended Through Islam?

Recent events in the United States and Canada, in which fathers and families treat their daughters in an inexcusable manner, compel me to release this draft of an incompletely distilled paper. I apologize for its length, but the topic is not amenable to a series of posts, and it may offer some understanding as to why these practise exist and what might be done to change them.

Aqsa Parvez was strangled to death in her Mississauga home, Peel police said today.
An autopsy revealed the cause of death as “neck compression.” The 16-year-old was taken to hospital Monday morning after a man called police and said he killed his daughter. She died later that night. Friends told reporters that Aqsa fought with her Muslim family over whether or not to wear the hijab. She often stayed overnight with friends, afraid to go home, they said. Her father, Muhammad Parvez, 57, appeared in court today and will face either a first- or second-degree murder charge. He was denied bail and remanded into custody until a hearing via video link on Jan. 29.

Why did Aqsa Parvez’s father strangle her to death? Why is the honour killing of women, over perceived or actual improprietous conduct, a feature of practice among some Muslim communities? Why do these communities enforce such rigourous and strict regulation of women’s conduct? Given that many of these killings violate both the word and the spirit of the Koran and the prophet, why does the practice persist? In this brief essay, I sketch the physical and social conditions that lead to the emergence of the structures that control women’s conduct within the Muslim communities that practice honour killing. I show that the more stringent control structures are artifacts from pre-Islamic Bedouin communities. Furthermore, I demonstrate that the gender-based honour killings that are features of these structures violate Islamic principles and law. In fact, much of the structure of social control goes against the principle that the practice of Islam is a matter of internal conviction.

Consequently, I argue that neither the principles of Islam nor their Bedouin counterparts fully circumscribed or colonized the other. The distinctions marked by their urban and rural divide resulted in a fusion, which manifests its contradictions when the relatively extreme aspects of each, confront the other. I also argue that the practice of gender-based honour killing has lost its moral legitimacy institutional justification [changed due to reasoned interpretive concerns] because the physical conditions that were used to legitmated the practice are no longer features of the lives of the vast majority of Muslims that kill their female family members and wards.

In terms of this essay’s organization, I begin with a short analysis and definition of honour killing. Next I describe how various hadith inform honour killing. I then hypothesize about the roots of honour killing within the Arab communities in which Islam was born. In this regard, I use the work of Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth century Islamic scholar and author of The Muqaddimah (1967), which some scholars argue is the first work on the sociology of history. Through Ibn Khaldun and contemporary research on Bedouin praxis, I outline the principles and conduct that drove both pre-Islamic and post-Islamic Bedouin culture. The results of this discussion bolster Ibn Khaldun’s claim that the praiseworthy character and mores of Bedouin tribes that are well-suited to their environmental circumstance make them unsuited for other locales and styles of life (Ibn Khaldun, 1967). Hypothesizing that honour killing, mutatis mutandis can fail in the same way, I will use principles from religious economy and ecology to point to a potential strategy for ending the acceptance of its’ practice by using the cultural capital within the Koran to overcome the hadith that have been colonized by Bedouin praxis.

Culture

Honour killing is a social act. Its motive force is the recovery of perceived loss of face (Welchman and Hossain, 2005). The intent of this act is to rectify a condition of lost honour or status to the actor or actors and a community by punishing those that have dishonoured them (Welchman and Hossain). “Honour,” in this sense, plays many roles: it refers to honouring the community and oneself by dispatching dishonouring parties, to fulfilling one’s promise to the community, and to adhering to the community’s codes (Welchman and Hossain). To the extent that performing the act necessarily harms the actor, it refers to deferring to the community’s codes.

Honour killing, per se, is the act of slaying an individual or group that has potentially, or actually, violated the code of acceptable practice within or towards a community (Welchman and Hossain). Slaying the offending individual or group is a means of restoring or repairing the honour of both the community and any members of the community that are more directly dishonoured (Welchman and Hossain). In this sense, Hamlet and Julius Caesar are as much stories about honour killing as are Othello and Romeo and Juliet. In all these cases family or community honour and individual honour are at stake and in play. Hamlet slew his uncle to honour and avenge his father. The Senators slew Caesar to restore the honour of the Republic, the Senate, and themselves. They were slain to avenge and honour Caesar. Othello slew Desdemona to restore his honour, due to false perception that she had been unfaithful. The diversity of these settings points to the fact that honour killing is a transcultural practice (Welchman and Hossain).

In this paper, I consider the subset of honour killing that lead Othello to slay Desdemona, namely perceived or actual sexual infidelity. More broadly conceived, this notion applies to perceived or actual sexual indiscretions. The essence of this type of honour killing, according to feminist scholars, is the notion that a man’s honour is embedded in the sexual fidelity of the woman or women under his purview, be they coital partners, blood family, or wards (Welchman and Hossain). As aforementioned, I extend this notion to also include the honour of the community. Typically, the family is the immediate locus of a man’s purview, which is determined by closeness of kinship and relation (Welchman and Hossain).

Feminist scholars correctly note that the plume of honour’s essence can soak through to every aspect of a woman’s conduct (Welchman and Hossain). In other words, because it is possible for some men to infer sexual coding in every act a woman makes, these men perceive the need to monitor and control all of a woman’s acts and all of her social locations. Within the context of the zone of control, conceived liberally or radically, any female resistance to male control of this zone is viewed as an assault on the honour of the community and its agent or agents (Young and Anderson). For example, within more all encompassing zone of control notions, acts by, or situations imposed upon, females that violate family and community honour include “sexual immodesty”, refusal to accept arranged (sometimes forced) marriage, flirting, being a victim of rape, and refusing to adhere to hijab dress code” are viewed violate family and community honour (Welchman and Hossain). In some cases, “staying out late” and “smoking” constitute serious violations (Welchman and Hossain). A father in Jordan killed his daughter because she tended to go for walks by herself, even though he commanded her not to (Welchman and Hossain). Interestingly, as in many cases of honour killing where an autopsy is performed, the girl was a virgin (Welchman and Hossain).

Young and Anderson note another Koranic justification for men to claim absolute control over women’s day-to-day movements. The Koran allows men “unlimited” and “unfettered” access to enjoy their wives bodies (Young and Anderson, 206). Some hadith have interpreted this right to imply that their access is limited and fettered, if their women are allowed to move about without their direct or indirect supervision (Young and Anderson).

Why do communities feel the need to strictly regulate the sociosexual conduct of women? To step back in order to move forward, the justification for honour killing is predicated upon the justification for slaying a spouse who has committed adultery. The acceptance of honour killing as a defence for slaying an adulterous spouse is somewhat cross-cultural. According to the UN Commission of Human Rights, the legal codes of Argentina, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Peru, Syria, Venezuela and the Palestinian National Authority permit the honour killing of adulterers (2002, 83). Haiti, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Brazil, and Columbia also allow the defence should one catch the adulterous spouse “in flagrante delicto (2002, 83).” Most nations categorize such non-premeditated killings as manslaughter.

How does Islam inform on the question of honour killing? The Koran does not sanction the killing of either fornicators or adulterers: it does, however, provide a sanction. In Sura 24, verse 2 and 3, it is written that:

The woman of the man guilty of fornication- flog each of them with a hundred stripes (1992, 865);

Let no man guilty of adultery or fornication marry any but a woman similarly guilty, or an unbeliever; nor let any but such a man or an unbeliever marry such a woman (1992, 865-6);

Given that honour killing for fornication or adultery is not sanctioned in the Koran, why does honour killing occur in Islam? The sanction is based on a sunnah that is contained in some hadith. “Sunnah, meaning ‘accepted custom’ refers to the pattern of life of Muhammad and the early community; emulation of this pattern is for believers a religious ideal as well as one of the sources of the Law (Anderson and Young, 2004, 189).” In the sunnah in question the prophet was asked by the Jewish community to rule on what should be done with two convicted Jewish adulterers (Anderson and Young). He ruled that they should be punished according to Jewish law (Anderson and Young). Stoning was the penalty for adultery under Jewish law (Anderson and Young). Arguably, however, this punishment should not apply to the community of believers because the Koran clearly states what their punishments should be. In fact, Anderson and Young argue that the explicit penalties that the Koran outlines for fornication and adultery are an attempt to block honour killing (Anderson and Young).

Notwithstanding Anderson and Young’s interpretation, some hadith sanction honour killing, if the burden of proof is met. The standard of evidence is high. To convict requires the testimony of four people who actually saw the act take place, which is twice the number typically required (1992, 866). Furthermore, the Koran dictates hard punishments for accusations lacking evidence. In Sura 24: 4 it states:

And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (To support their allegations) – flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors (1992, 866) –

Furthermore, the Koran requires that the community does not let suspicion taint a woman’s reputation and that it act against those that accuse without evidence:

Those who slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing, are cursed in this life and in the hereafter: For them is a grievous penalty (1992, 871) –

Even if the burden of proof is met on charges of adultery and fornication, more liberal forms of hadith can allow for the restitution of honour through penalties other than death (1992). Beyond this, it is a serious offence for a Muslim to kill another Muslim because all Muslims are directed to respect the sanctity of human life (1992, 71-2).

Given the burden of proof and the sanctions against rumours and false witness, honour killing within Islam should be a rather rare event. Why, then, do we continue to hear and see the murder of young Muslim women over acts that, when juxtaposed with adultery, are comparatively trivial, especially when Allah dictates that one should side with the indiscreet but chaste believer? Also, why is it that some Islamic jurisdictions accept the defence of honour killing for comparatively trivial acts?

Honour killing is a holdover from the pre-Islamic customs and cultural roots of the Bedouin communities that founded Islam (Young and Anderson, 2004). In this sense, honour killing is bidah, which means that it is an Islamic practice that is not sanctioned by the Koran, nor is it found to be sanctioned by his words or deeds or those of his immediate followers or the twelve Imans (Young and Anderson). As bidah, honour killing is an example of a pre-Islamic practice that has colonized Islam. In other words, early Islamic practice did not fully subsume pre-Islamic practice. In fact, early Islamic practice was modified to meet Bedouin standards (Anderson and Young). This being so, it is worthwhile to examine these communities and the role they have played in Islam because of the insights this yields on the raison d’etre of honour killing.

The Bedouin in Mohammed’s time were pastoralists. The camel pastoralists are the group that epitomizes the harshest of the pastoralist extremes environmentally and socially. Camels are well-adapted to the desert environment (Bates and Rassam, 1983). The foods most suited for camels are found in the desert (Ibn Khaldun). In the hot summer the Bedouin clans camp together around the water sources where their camels can get the water they need to survive the hot weather (Bates and Rassam). In the cooler seasons, the Bedouins disperse in smaller units into the arid to seek forage for their camels (Bates and Rassam). The harsh life of the desert, and the need to function in small units in the winter season, make it imperative that Bedouin family units be committed to each other (Bates and Rassam). Their division of labour requires that the men go off into the deep desert while the women and children remain in the encampment (Bates and Rassam). The men are often gone for long stretches of time (Bates and Rassam). The interdependence structure involves the women and children depending on the men to maintain and sustain their economic capital (the camels), while the men depend on the women to maintain and sustain their families (the children and themselves). Both groups functioning as such maintain and sustain the community. Islam also promotes well-integrated family units because “Family law is regarded as the heart of God’s plan for society (Young and Anderson, 2004, 205).

Furthermore, the need to protect themselves from outside interests, made it imperative that Bedouin clans could function as larger units, particularly in combat Bates and Rassam). Here, shared values stood upon family values. In fact, the success of their combat model, which is based upon the superior military advantages of camel warfare, enhanced Bedouin survivability through raiding, extortion, and conquest (Lendering, 2006).

Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth century Islamic scholar, and author of The Muqaddimah (1967), the first work on the sociology of history, offers insightful guidance upon the ecological factors that shape the characters and mores of the peoples of the world. He highly praises the character and the mores evolved by and through the Bedouin tribes while still allowing for qualifications about how these qualities make them unsuited for certain locales and styles of life (Ibn Khaldun). In fact, he interestingly hypothesizes that pastoralists must have preceded city dwellers, not only because many of the city dwellers traced their roots to the Bedouins, but because pastoralists live with the bare necessities and the luxury and plenty of the city can only come about after the bare necessities have been met and surpassed (Ibn Khaldun). In a sense, this comment is about how surplus value leads to the development of urban centers.

The son of Khaldun also suggests, anticipating Rousseau by 400 years, that the Bedouins are closer to a natural state and, therefore, “closer to being good than sedentary people (Ibn Khaldun, 253).” Generally speaking, he views the luxury and sedentariness of city life to be a corrupting influence (Ibn Khaldun). Living on the bare necessities outside of the protective walls of the cities is said to give the Bedouins fortitude, they become self-reliant and self-restrained, they are ready for conflict because the wilds of the desert demand preparedness (which is tied to his notion that savage nations are better able to achieve superiority than others and to his assertion that the Bedouins are the most savage people on Earth), and mutual respect of this fact makes them less likely to talk loosely (Ibn Khaldun). In the desert, they are not broken by a leader’s force nor made pacifistic by study and living under governmental law (Ibn Khaldun). The religious laws of Islam learned by the Bedouin, on the other hand, because they develop discipline, are said to leave fortitude intact (Ibn Khaldun).

Bedouin clannishness furthers this fact. Familial affection provides the group feeling that leads to loyalty and courage in combat (Ibn Khaldun).

Contemporary Bedouin codes of proper conduct or codes of honour arose out of the aforementioned conditions. Sharaf is the code for men (2007). Ird is the code for women (2007). The status of a man’s honour is dependent upon his ability to protect the honour of the women of his family, protect property, and protect the honour of his clan (2007). A man is expected to be brave and courageous. Protecting the honour of the clan is more than a matter of fighting because Bedouins are expected to be hospitable to guests and even to offer sanctuary to their enemies, if their enemies submit (2007). To do less, would be to dishonour the tribe and oneself (2007).

The Koran dictates that men are socially situated above women, though it also positions women as persons in their own right with their own standing before the law (Young and Anderson, 205).” In 4:34 the Koran states:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore righteous women are devotedly obedient, and guard in absence what Allah would have them guard (1992, 195).

Ird is the code for women. Once lost, ird, a form of honour, can not be regained (2007). Ird is consonant with chastity (2007). It is said to be an emotional and conceptual attribute (2007). Because it is consonant with notions of propriety, even unsolicited, mildly flirtatious attentions can be seen to lessen a woman’s ird (2007). The Koran, as above, also promotes chastity.

For men and women who guard their chastity…For them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward (1992, 1067).

In Islam, sexual morality “is believed to be the bedrock of (social) order (Young and Anderson, 209).” As aforenoted, it is the duty of the men to protect the ird of the women of their family and their clan. A man’s honour is said to be almost solely based upon his protection of the ird of his family members (2007).

Arab poetic culture is said to be partly to blame for the apparent obsessive compulsion to monitor female behaviour among the Bedouins (Young and Anderson). The Thousand Nights and One Nights dramatically makes this point, which is why it is an argument in favor of developing women’s character through learning as a means of developing chaste behaviour through internally-driven moral discipline (Mathers, 1996).

Lacking the cultural resources of the scholarly and cultured merchant classes, the Bedouin vision of this education reduces women to their assigned role within the social unit (Young and Anderson). Women unschooled in Islam are portrayed as easily aroused to passion and men are portrayed as readily willing to arouse those passions (Young and Anderson). In Islam, in general:

Women’s ritual is also hobbled by the long-standing traditional view, seen in the classical literature and even the hadith (though certainly not the Quran), that unsupervised activity entails certain hazards arising from the female psyche (young and Anderson, 204).

Perhaps more germane to the lives of Bedouins, adultery is a capital offense (Welchman and Hossain). Sex out of wedlock can lead to a young woman being turned out of the tribe (Welchman and Hossain). Pregnancy out of wedlock can lead to stoning or, more mercifully, strangulation by one’s father (Welchman and Hossain). Given these consequences, one can almost see why families would think it merciful to give their daughters clitoridectomies or infibulations, if they thought such operations would decrease chances of unchaste behaviour. Why are the Bedouin so sensitive about chastity?

It is beyond the scope of this paper to offer more than weak generalizations about why any community is particularly sensitive about chastity. Hopefully weak generalizations can suffice. Ibn Khaldun argues that blood relations found the familial affections that found the loyalty and courage that make it possible for the community to survive and thrive in its harsh environment (Ibn Khaldun). He also argues that affections decline as kinship dilutes(Ibn Khaldun).

Both chastity and paternity matter to the Bedouin. They matter in many cultures. History is littered with attempts to legislate chastity. The Koran stands as one of these attempts. Camel pastoralism magnifies the issues of chastity and paternity because it occurs in a harsh environment wherein the day-to-day sacrifices one makes are done within the context of a necessitated interdependence. Given the honour system that derived out of the trust arrangements that were required to make pastoralism work, when one’s mate violates chastity it is not only a loss of face, but it demonstrates a lack of appreciation for one’s sacrifices. Violations of chastity undermine the reasons for making the sacrifices and, thereby, undermine familial affection. If a question of chastity also creates questions about paternity, then one further loses the benefits of familial affection. Decreased familial affection undermines loyalty and courage. According to Young and Anderson,

Light punishment for honour killing rests on the belief that cherished social values depend ultimately upon good behaviour and therefore (external) discipline of women (209).

Interestingly, I found no examples of communities of sexually, liberal camel pastoralists. This does not mean they did, or do, not exist. Perhaps, with this form of pastoralism, ferocity has an associative causal relation to obsessive concern with sexual honour.

In judging the Bedouin’s conduct, we do well to step back from the horn of plenty through which we view their acts, which is not to say that we should not judge, only that we should try to understand their perspective.   The Bedouin were well aware that social cohesion is directly proportional to survivability in the harsh conditions in which they live their lives (Ibn Khaldun). In this respect, maintaining honour is somewhat equivalent to maintaining social cohesion (Ibn Khaldun). Their strict codes have been a successful adaptation to the desert situation. 

Outside of the desert context, however, and particularly within the context of modern urban environments, strict adherence to such practices is dysfunctional. Ibn Khaldun recognizes this in noticing that the fierceness, independence, tribal social organization, and practical skill set of the Bedouin make them ill-suited both city-rule and city life (Ibn Khaldun). In other words, city life requires that people accept and adhere to a looser set of rules of social order that can accommodate the eccentricities of the various groups of people that are required to make a city function (Ibn Khaldun). For example, cities draw wealth and wealth draws desires for luxuries that require artisans, merchants, and scholars, to name a few specialized occupations that have little truck with Bedouin needs (Ibn Khaldun).

Honour killing loses its environmental justification in urban centers. It remains in the cities because it is ensconced in the hadith that were adapted to meet the perspectives of the camel pastoralists that comprised a significant number of early Islam’s converts and vanguard. It also remains in the cities because the social virtues associated with close families and chastity run throughout both groups. This connection also holds for perspectives on female character and men’s responsibilities and duties towards women and their virtue. For honour killing to be abandoned as a socially sanctioned practice requires that it lose its association with maintaining and sustaining close families. Accordingly, the interpretations of the virtues, duties, and perceptions that are connected to family well-being must also transform. If this can be done, then the justification for honour killing can be dismissed as bidah. Can this be done?

Given that honour killing has inertia within Islamic society; it is likely that any meaningful tack must be based on the cultural capital of Muslims (Stark, 2004), unless the approach of Pol Pot is deemed acceptable. Given that Pol Pot’s approach is unpalatable, then Stark’s model points to the need to use the cultural resources within Islam as a means to excise the Bedouin’s anti-Koranic influences.

There are efforts to undermine the Islamic foundations of honour killing within Islam. Islamic feminists are arguing that they seek the justice of attaining the rights that the Koran provides (Young and Anderson). Islamic women’s organizations are developing infrastructures to protect and support potential victims of honour killing (Young and Anderson). The Royal Family of Jordan, through the acts of Queen Nur, has attempted change from the top, which, up to now, has been thwarted by their parliament (Welchman and Hossain). Saudi Arabia has been purging their laity of the more traditionalist clerics. From the outside, the United Nations and individual foreign governments are pressuring Islamic nations where honour killing receives some degree of social sanction to act against the practice.

Notwithstanding, success is unlikely to occur quickly, if at all, because the resilience of honour killing within Islam is connected to a millennium of supportive practices and jurisprudence. Furthermore, traditionalists situate women’s attempts to acquire the rights they are granted in the Koran to be western-inspired assaults on the sanctity of the Islamic family and social order (Young and Anderson). Also, women’s rights within these traditional hadith restrict their abilities to be agents for change (Anderson and Young). Deteriorating environmental and economic conditions also work against creating change because they impact men’s abilities to economically provide for their families, which can direct men to focus on being more protective in other arenas.

Muhammad Parvez strangled his daughter because she symbolized his inability to protect his family and his community from the threats to the social order implicit in her indiscreet conduct. His perception of his duty to kill his daughter as the means to restore community, familial, and personal honour is an artifact of pre-Islamic culture. Honour killing as an artifact has had the inertia and resilience to not only resist the dictates of the Koran, but to lead its supporters to organize Islamic principles to defend its existence. Honour killing no longer bears the environmental circumstance that could be said to proffer legitimacy. Its systemic justifications are part of a network of perceptions about the well-being of Muslim society that are also suspect. Accordingly, a strategy of using the cultural capital within the Koran to uproot the bidah of honour killing appears to be an optimal strategy that is currently practiced, to some extent. Notwithstanding, because the practice has the inertia of respected hadith, and women’s rights are restricted with these hadith, the task of uprooting honour killing shall be difficult.

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Bibliography

Ali, A.Y. (ed.) (1992) The Meaning of the Holy Koran, Brentwood, Md: Amana Corporation.

Anderson, L. and Young D. (2004). Women and Religious Traditions, New York: Oxford University Press.

Bates, D. and Rassam, A. (1983). People and Cultures of the Middle East. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Bedouin Sociopolitical Organization downloaded from http://www.everyculture.com/Africa-Middle-East/Bedouin-Sociopolitical-Organization.html on March 10, 2008

Ibn Khaldun (1967). The Muqaddimah., New York: Bollingen Corporation.

Lendering, Jona. Camels and Dromedaries downloaded from http://www.livius.org/caa-can/camel/camel.html on March 10, 2008

Mathers, P. (1996). The Thousand Nights and One Night. New York: Routledge.

Miller, G. (1985). Living in the Environment. Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Stark, R. (2003). ‘Why Religious Movements Succeed or Fail’ in L. Dawson (ed.), Cults and New Religious Movements, Malden, Ma: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Welshman, L. and Hossain, S. (2005). Honour: crimes, paradigms, and violence against women., New York: Zed Books.

(2002). Draft Report of the Commission: Commission on Human Rights, 58th Session. downloaded from http//:documents.un.org/mother.asp on March 10, 2008.

(2007). downloaded from http://www.thestar.com/News/article/284823 on March 10, 2008

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110 Responses

  1. Nice analysis. I think that’s a reasonable tact to take with this issue since religion is used as an excuse at least in part.

    I especially like bringing in a discussion of the desert tribal aspects of society. I think some of those aspects are particularly interesting when you realize how those groups would simply not survive without some of the tribal loyalty and behavior you see in those severe environments. Something we don’t tend to understand very well. But that when you come out of those environments, many of the practices just don’t make sense anymore.

    You can find parallels with other religions and outdated practices I’m sure as well. Which might be an interesting topic all on it’s own: How obsolete religious/tribal practices do harm.

    My approach would be point out how stupid all the mumbo jumbo is, but I don’t think that would get me very far. 🙂

  2. Wow, that’s a lot to ingest in one sitting. I’m going to have to read this a couple of times to get it.

  3. Thank you for addressing this issue, Steven. I, too, need to read it again. My responses, at this point, are all emotional and attached to Obama’s Cairo speech where he guaranteed, in essense, that girls can wear the hijab that this little girl was killed for refusing to wear.

  4. I see, torture killings are the womenz fault. Why am I not surprised.

    Honestly, I don’t care where, when or why this practice got started. As an American I think we are within our rights to prohibit any immigration into this country by people who subscribe to this faith. The Muslim practices may violate their own principles but who cares! If they can’t follow their own religion and its principles directly violate the principles on which this country is based, we should not allow them to move here. Anyone who can study to take the citizenship exams and turn around and kill their daughter or wife in these cases could not possibly be the kind of citizens we want. I would rather turn away all Muslims then let any of these crimes occur here. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but this religion will pollute our society and we should fight against it arrival. Women are in real danger here.

    • My first thought was to SPAM your comment (which I did and then reversed my decision) because it is without a doubt one of the most blatantly r@cist things I’ve seen in a long time.

      As a member of an academic community, I have many colleagues, students, and peers that practice the Muslim faith. I can’t imagine any of them condoning, let alone practicing this abhorrent behavior. This is like saying we shouldn’t let men out of cages because some of them are rapists or we shouldn’t let women have a say in major decisions because some of them might suffer from from severe PMS.

      To caste a blanket statement on a group of people because of the behavior of a few is simply ignorant. I’m letting this stand because I want you and others to know that any more comments like this will not be tolerated. I will put you on the ban list and there you will stay.

  5. The author waxes long about how islam does not sanction honor killings. He ignores realities and tries his best to white wash facts. The fact of the matter is that only muslim societies continue to tolerate it. Only muslim countries stone to death adulterers. Only muslim societies punish women for not veiling. The prophet of islam allowed stoning of adulterers. To argue that Mohammad allowed it only because the adulterers in question were jewish is nonsense. Bottom line, he did not stop it and in fact ruled to that effect. There are other cases where adulterers (who were muslim) were judged by him to be stoned to death. A society that tolerates punishing people for the clothes they wear will of course tolerate honor killings.
    The biblical Christ on the other hand said “let him be the first to throw a stone who has done no wrong”

    • Okay, there now seems to be an appalling trend towards proselytizing one set of religious myths over another.

      I don’t even want to get into the Spanish Inquisition, Witch burnings, and all the other kinds of things Christians have brought onto the world because, your side would lose the we’re just a bunch of nice guys argument. Nearly every native peoples that every met up with a Christian was treated like an animal to be tamed or enslaved.

      No more my mythology is more holier than thou’s posts or I’ll ban your a$$ too.

      • Where did I prosletize? I am drawing a distinction between what was allowed by the prophets of two religions. The premise of the article is that honor killings can be ended by islam. And I say it cannot for many reasons such as a)the prophet himself allowed stoning of adulterers b) quran tells muslim women what to wear c) quran tells husbands that they can beat (scourge according to certain translations) disobedient wives.
        Are you so afraid of debating the basic premise of the article that you feel the need to threaten to ban?

        • I try not to overstep, but I really don’t want this to turn into a my religion is better than yours debate. That’s all.

          • Well, I find it funny that you should allow a article that proposes a “cure’ for honor killings through one mythology but then take umbrage when someone challenges that claim

        • You’re wrong on all three counts.

          a.) Nowhere in the Quran does it mention stoning to death as a punishment for adultery. There’s no proof that the Prophet ordered stonings (although I’m sure plenty exist in your warp racist view).

          b.) What is with the obsession with the hijab? The Virgin Mary wore a hijab. Not all Muslim women wear it, but many choose to. And the reasoning for it makes sense given the way women were forced to show off their bodies to pagan Arabs for their own enjoyment. The founding of Islam wanted to quickly change the culture of the pan-Arabs and instead of treating women like animals, they were given rights to divorce, education, inheritance, and property.

          c.) Complete nonsense. The verse you mention is a favorite of anti-Islam bigots like you, but it’s intentionally taken out of context. All the verse allows is a set of conditions related to a marriage that is pushed to the extreme and is on the brink of failure. The very last part of the verse talks about using physical force provided that everything else was tried. It is not a license to beat your wife at your will. It must also be mentioned, and this is crucial, that the “physical force” is described in Islamic law as a forceful shake of the wife, NOT a beating. Such a violent act is haram (forbideen). The Prophet never harmed any of his wives.

          It should also be noted that Islam allows women to leave abusive husbands through divorce, gave women property rights and the right to inheritance (something Christianity did not offer to women). It also encouraged all Muslims, women included, to learn and discover. Given the time period and the situation in the pan-Arab region, such rights were unprecedented.

  6. Wow. I need to read this again, but I agree that many of the problems and brutalities do not arise so much from the Muslim faith but from community survival mechanisms that, while they may have served well in a harsh centuries-past environment, are harmful today.

    There was a time in human history when the physical differences between men and women meant that a protector/protectee relationship was not only positive, it was essential for the physical survival of both. And there was a time when control of womens sexuality (whether external or voluntarily by the women themselves) was the only mechanism by which a mostly tribal society survived. The only means of determining who is “of our tribe” and who is “of the enemy’s tribe” in regards to inheritance, property, and political power was parentage. And the reality of biology was that you always knew who the mother was, so the only “loose end” to be controlled in that scenario is ensuring the correct father had access to reproduction, and no other.

    But I part ways with the idea that this ages-old “cultural norm” needs to be treated with kid gloves. It doesn’t. There were very logical arguments why slavery, in certain forms and in certain parts of history, served a communal purpose, though it was unfortunate that “some” suffered for that communal benefit. The status of women in many Muslim countries is NO different.

    No one gave credence to the southern plantation owners when they claimed that outlawing slavery would cripple their economy, destroy their culture and community, and have various deleterious effects, even though many of those claims were true. We decided as a society that it didn’t MATTER. Their culture and lifestyle and social underpinnings were not worth the price in human lives.

    So I’ll say to those countries what I’d say to those states: Fuck your “culture”, and its history, and your fears of societal decay. FREE THEM, period.

    • Oh, and I’d like to quote Hillary here, as she said on the topic of brutality against women during her confirmation hearings for SOS:

      This is not culture, this is not custom, this is criminal.

    • W,

      We don’t disagree. As I note, understanding the origins of a social fact does not mean foregoing judgement. It merely means informing that judgment.

      s

  7. “Muhammad Parvez strangled his daughter because she symbolized his inability to protect his family and his community from the threats to the social order implicit in her indiscreet conduct.”

    And the killers of Matthew Shephard tortured and beat him to death for for the very same reason. Any attempt to legitimize their actions, however, would be rightfully scorned as deeply homophobic.

    Or at least, in an attempt to describe and define the cultural, religious, and historical contexts which led the murderers to kidnap, torture, and murder that young man, the author would at LEAST have made mention of the word “homophobia” and its definition as an IRRATIONAL fear and hatred.

    Yet, not once in this essay do you touch on the topic of misogyny. It would rather be like defining the religious, historical, and cultural forces that “legitimized” the lynching of a thousand or more black men in the South without once using the word “racism.”

    And, I suppose the same contextually significant forces were in play for the family of the 8 year old girl in Phoenix who was gang raped 2 days ago when they disowned her and kicked her out of her home?

    I suppose she’s lucky she wasn’t strangled to death by her father for her “indiscreet conduct.” At least not yet.

    An 8-year old girl.

    While I find the historical and textual citations interesting, I am more than disquieted by the sterile tone and loftily removed stance, as if one can possibly separate the descriptions of the misogynistic crimes committed and the visceral repulsion those descriptions themselves generate.

    Of many troubling sentences, this one stands out: “Interestingly, as in many cases of honour killing where an autopsy is performed, the girl was a virgin.”

    Ah yes, how interesting!

    This one here is a REAL doozy however:
    “I also argue that the practice of gender-based honour killing has lost its moral legitimacy because the physical conditions that legitimated the practice are no longer features of the lives of the vast majority of Muslims that kill their female family members and wards.”

    has LOST ITS MORAL LEGITIMACY?? Are you seriously arguing that honour killing in any time and place EVER had a shred of moral legitimacy?

    I am stunned.

    • Thank you, Murphy, for stating so well what I’m thinking. I am stunned too.

    • M,

      In my conclusion, I state:

      “Honour killing no longer bears the environmental circumstance that could be said to proffer legitimacy.”

      My journey into the roots of the practise is an attempt to situate the practise, not justify the practise, so as to inform our understanding as to why it exists. In fact, my point in situating the practise, is to delegitimize it, within the context of Islamic law. In other words, I am merely describing the basis upon which the practise is legitimated as a means of delgitimizing the practise.

      Furthermore, what part of

      “Feminist scholars correctly note that the plume of honour’s essence can soak through to every aspect of a woman’s conduct (Welchman and Hossain). In other words, because it is possible for some men to infer sexual coding in every act a woman makes, these men perceive the need to monitor and control all of a woman’s acts and all of her social locations. Within the context of the zone of control, conceived liberally or radically, any female resistance to male control of this zone is viewed as an assault on the honour of the community and its agent or agents (Young and Anderson). For example, within more all encompassing zone of control notions, acts by, or situations imposed upon, females that violate family and community honour include “sexual immodesty”, refusal to accept arranged (sometimes forced) marriage, flirting, being a victim of rape, and refusing to adhere to hijab dress code” are viewed violate family and community honour (Welchman and Hossain). In some cases, “staying out late” and “smoking” constitute serious violations (Welchman and Hossain). A father in Jordan killed his daughter because she tended to go for walks by herself, even though he commanded her not to (Welchman and Hossain). Interestingly, as in many cases of honour killing where an autopsy is performed, the girl was a virgin (Welchman and Hossain).

      Young and Anderson note another Koranic justification for men to claim absolute control over women’s day-to-day movements. The Koran allows men “unlimited” and “unfettered” access to enjoy their wives bodies (Young and Anderson, 206). Some hadith have interpreted this right to imply that their access is limited and fettered, if their women are allowed to move about without their direct or indirect supervision (Young and Anderson).”

      does not imply that the obsession with women’s conduct is irrational and pathological?

      s

      • I just don’t think that using religion to fight the practice is going to work. I think these killings need to be treated as crimes and punished as such. Some muslim countries are doing that.

        Isn’t this somewhat analogous to the practice of polygamy by LDS? Some LDS still cling to the practices–and to many misogynistic practices as well–but making these practices illegal and punishing them has largely worked.

        • BB,

          The title of the post is “Can honor killing in muslim communities be ended through Islam?” I suggest a way to so.

          As I note in the reference to rejecting the Pol Pot method to extirpate a belief structure, if we want to create a structural change within Islam nations, it will be difficult to do so without the Islamic cultural references that guide the general populace. There is no shortage of present day evidence to show how more secular perspectives don’t tend to do well in overturning entrenched religious cultures.

          bb

          • I understand that, but I think real change will happen bottom up, not top down. Change will come when women see themselves as equal and take back their power over their own bodies and lives. We should help to make that happen.

          • BB,

            I think the real change will occur when many different forces are brought to bear on the object in question. The Secretary of State stands as a positive force at the international level, for example. I agree that The Lysistrata approach is likely to be the most effective, but for me the precursor to that point involves making available the education and means you mention elsewhere.

            s

    • That sentence bothered me too. If I didn’t know Stephen had written this post, I would have reacted angrily.

      I was also troubled by the same section you highlighted, Murphy:

      I also argue that the practice of gender-based honour killing has lost its moral legitimacy because the physical conditions that legitimated the practice are no longer features of the lives of the vast majority of Muslims that kill their female family members and wards.

      As a psychologist, I see the practice of honor killing as related to natural selection. According to evolutionary psychology, men try to control their female partner’s sexual behavior because the only way they can know for sure if a child is theirs is to make sure their partner doesn’t have sex with anyone else. Women, on the other hand, don’t have this difficulty in establishing parentage.

      These kinds of ideas and practices are difficult to eradicate because they are reminforced by natural selection. But I don’t see that as an excuse to treat women as lesser persons. The Catholic Church takes that attitude too, and that is the main reason I am no longer a Catholic.

      I hate to agree with Obama, but really the key is to educate women, so they see that they are every bit as important as men and deserve to have rights to control their own bodies.

      • BB,

        The quote you note is taken from the signposting section that describes the order in which the argument will unfold. It is the descriptive partner of the following point from the introduction.

        “In this brief essay, I sketch the physical and social conditions that lead to the emergence of the structures that control women’s conduct within the Muslim communities that practice honour killing.”

        Given the point that I am arguing for a way to make change with Islam via the Koran, how offensive is my use of an intermediary point on the way to damning the process altogether? In other words, I use the Koran to say the practise runs against the Koran and I assault the hadith on their traditional grounds, which are in practise.

        s

  8. UM,

    Actually, I say that the Koran does not sanction honor killings, but that certain branches of the Islamic faith do sanction honor killings. I also try to provide some context for why these branches sanction honor killings, even though to do so goes against the Koran.

    It is worth noting what Christians were doing to each other and non-Christians in the 8th century (let alone for hundreds of years afterward), when Mohammed was asked by the local Jewish community to rule on the conduct of the adulterers. Apparently Christ’s commentary on casting stones didn’t influence them either.

    s

    • You know as well as I do that islamic traditions are based not only on the quran but also on the sunnah of the prophet. Most islamic traditions accept the ruling on the stoning. And there are quite a few haddiths where the proiphet sanctioned stoning.

      • UM,

        I see no reason to quibble over the differences between “some” and “most.”

        s

  9. It isn’t only among those of the Islamic faith. Until around the 1970s honor killing was condoned in Southern Italy-a Catholic country. (I remember then that men would get max 5 years for killing their wives.)

    I live in a small Tuscan walled town (central Italy). Prior to the second World War, women who walked outside the walls, were considered to be prostitutes. Their place was in the home.

    • Wow, that’s incredible.

    • That’s odd-my entire family is from Southern Italy and I’ve never, ever heard of anything like that.

      What are you talking about?

      Catholics do not support honor killings.

      • They did and how. Ask your parents.
        Films have been made about it.

        Even comic films- have you ever seen ” La ragazza con la pistola (1968)” byMario Monicelli. With Monica Vitti, Stanley Baker, Carlo Giuffrè.

      • Honour killings are also part of Italy’s own history, where the idea of ”honour” was an admitted legal defense until 1981. Prior to its reversal, an article existed in the Italian Criminal Code that provided a reduced penalty of imprisonment of only three to seven years for a man who killed his wife, sister or daughter to vindicate his or his family’s honor. Such crimes were once a feature of highly traditional communities in southern Italy, when young women were murdered for allegedly bringing shame on the family.

        The Mafia, even recently, has been known to kill women who ‘stray’ sexually or have children without being married.

        http://tinyurl.com/l5gu6n

        • Awful, yes-and I’ve really never heard of anything like it.
          I’m quite sure this is no longer happening.

          excerpts from your link:

          (ANSA) – Brescia, December 5 – An Italian appeals court has upheld the country’s landmark first conviction for a so-called ‘honour killing’, committed by three Pakistani men.

          A Brescia court confirmed a 30-year term handed down a year ago on the father of 20-year-old Hina Saleem, who was found brutally murdered near this northern Italian city in August 2006.

          But it reduced from 30 to 17 years the jail time for Saleem’s two brothers-in-law, who were found guilty of taking part in the killing. Hina’s mother gave way to desperate wails after her husband’s conviction was upheld, refusing to leave the court.

          According to the prosecution, Saleem was deliberately lured back to the family home following a meeting of male relatives, who decided to punish her for bringing shame upon the family.
          Hina Saleem was stabbed 28 times on the third floor of her family home in the northern town of Sarezzo and buried in the garden.
          ____________________________________

          Police in Islamic countries often turn a blind eye to honour killings and they are not always pursued by Western police either.

          There was a landmark conviction in Britain in 2007, where more than 100 homicides are now being treated in the same light.
          ___________________________________
          Right now women and girls are being killed in the name of Islam.

      • Probably you didn’t hear about it, because you weren’t over here in 1981,when the repeal of the law permitting honor killings was being widely discussed.

    • Oh and now we’re talking about stoning.

      During the 70s I lived for 2 years in a commune in the Italian countryside. Many young kids would show up and stay for a few months. I remember one girl aged 18 in particular. I remember getting her interested in reading Dennis Mack Smith’s books on the Italian Constitution, because she was trying to study on her own for her High School diploma. She enjoyed studying even if if she also enjoyed hitching all over Italy in the company of her dog.

      Anyway, to cut a long story short she was stoned by the locals when she returned to her small village in Northern Italy.

      I really don’t think that these primitive practices should be associated with the teachings of one religion alone.

      • L,

        Religious repression is a matter of historic record. That women continue to be marginalized by religious practises in degrees varying from horrific to second class citizenship is also a matter of record, which is the reason for this article/post.

        s

      • Mind you that is the only time I’ve heard of someone being stoned.

    • Until a few decades ago, Texas law permitted a husband who caught his wife in flagrante with her lover to kill them both with impunity. A wife who found her husband with his lover had no such reciprocal privilege.

      That’s honor killing, and the law was written by and for white American Protestant Christian men.

    • That used to be true in the U.S. too–crimes of passion, especially by men were punished less severely.

      • IMO, it’s still true. One example: OJ got off, and many in America think he was guilty. The black women I know really suffered around that decision. One said to me: “it feels good to know a black man did not go to prison because that’s what we expect when a black man is accused. But as a woman, the whole trial and verdict make me feel like crap.”

  10. The question is NOT whether other religions condoned stonings or honor killings. We know that ancient Judaism proscribed them, as Steven cites. We KNOW that Puritans burned witches at the stake, a close relation to honor killings, at least in purpose (controlling women), intent (terrorizing women into submission) and cause (deep-seated misogyny and tyrannical patriarchal rule).

    Certainly all patriarchal religions are, and have been, patriarchal (der) AND misogynistic (to greater and lesser degrees across cultures and times). But Islam most certainly stands out as the only CURRENTLY PRACTICED by millions and millions of people religion in which honor killings and stonings are widely supported by the people, and (much more frighteningly) OFFICIALLY sanctioned.

    But the question for the author is, are you seriously arguing that there was once a “moral legitmacy” to the practice of honour killing, or as you so disinterestedly describe it, “Muslims that kill their female family members and wards.” ??

    Because the tone and content of this essay, and especially what is NOT said here, leads me to conclude that you are.

    • M,

      I am seriously arguing that THEY legitimized the practise in this way. If I thought the practise was legitimate, why would I be creating an argument for ending the practise?

      s

      • Because what you *actually* argue in this piece is that the reason honor killings are not legitimate is because the once-legitimate causes no longer pertain.

        You are defending the practice of honor killing in theory (that it was ONCE based on legitimate concerns/needs/fears) and arguing that since those legitimate concerns no longer apply, the practice is no longer legitimate.

        This would be like arguing that the lynching of black men is no longer legitimate because slavery was abolished 150 years ago, so therefore the legitimate fears of slave-owners about the loss of income resulting from run-away slaves no longer applies.

        You also rely on the hopeless attempt to base your argument in scripture. This NEVER works. For every example you can find of the loving, peaceful prophet or the admonitions to treat [chaste] wives with honor and dignity, there are equally valid citations from the very same body of Scripture that call for exactly the opposite. (and yes, this is true for all religions and all hopelessly internally contradictory “holy” books).

        • m at 5:03,

          I am not a muslim, but I am trying to reach a muslim audience to argue that some of the practises that repress women in Islam go against the Koran. How can I make this claim without using the Koran?

          Describing a position is not the same as advocating that position.

          I do argue, via a 14th century scholar, that Bedouin values are unsuited to urban life, which is because the environmental conditions upon which they based those values do not apply to city life.

          I also argue that honor killing and much of the structure of social control of women run against the principles and aims of the Koran.

          s

          s

      • You might want to rework the wording of that section then, Stephen. I reacted the same way Murphy did, except I made allowances, knowing that you wrote it.

        • BB,

          Point noted, but it would be unfair to do so now, given Murphy’s reasoned objections, even if it might prevent me from receiving more body blows. 🙂

          s

          • BB,

            On second thought, perhaps an appropriately designed rider, which acknowledges the change, is in order, if only to prevent reader consternation.,

            s

        • I had the same reaction as Murphy, and the dispassionate tone of the piece really chilled me, too.

    • It never fails and it makes me ill as to how many will spout off in unison in defending Islam by saying —- but, but, the Bible and Torah etc. also have all these horrendous passages etc.! The point is, as Murphy states, it is the only religion that is CURRENTLY PRACTICED whose believers actually act on these repulsive religious “laws”.

      • Excuse me? Are you familiar with the treatment of women in many fundamentalist Christian churches?

        Furthermore, from my point of view, the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control and abortion are based on the desire to control women’s sexuality, not on the precious life of the fetus. That is just an excuse for their barbaric treatment of women’s rights to full humanity.

        • I was about to mention the FLDS. There are far too many religions that justify oppression and abuse in the name of faith.

        • Yes, I agree that the treatment of women in fundamentalist Christian and Catholic churches is appalling but they are not (as of yet, anyway) stoning women to death in the name of religion.

    • A point of history.

      Under English law before James I, “witches” were not executed for being witches. They were tried not for witchcraft but for causing harm through witchcraft–causing someone’s livestock to fall sick by casting a spell, or killing a human via a “poppet” (“sticking pins in a doll”). In those cases the putative witch was hanged not for her alleged witchcraft involving the poppet but for the murder which supposedly resulted. And the penalty for murder was death by hanging, not burning. England, in fact, never adopted burning as the penalty for witchcraft, and neither did any of its colonies. Of the nineteen persons executed in Salem for witchcraft itself, eighteen were hanged, and one was pressed to death as a punishment for refusing to plead to the charge.

      Burning was reserved for heretics of both sexes, and for women who committed treason, whether it was by plotting against the king or by two-timing him. Anne Boleyn was originally sentenced to be burned, but the sentence was comuted to beheading.

  11. meant to say officially sanctioned “in some places.” I know that not all Muslim countries/communities officially sanction honor killings.

    But most do.

  12. Steven, you ask:

    “Furthermore, what part of

    “Feminist scholars correctly note that the plume of honour’s essence can soak through to every aspect of a woman’s conduct (Welchman and Hossain). In other words, because it is possible for some men to infer sexual coding in every act a woman makes, these men perceive the need to monitor and control all of a woman’s acts and all of her social locations. ….

    does not imply that the obsession with women’s conduct is irrational and pathological?”

    Actually absolutely NOTHING in that paragraph implies to the reader that the author of the paragraph recognizes the roots of the misogyny as “irrational and pathological.”

    You can, as the author, assume that I, being a woman reader, WILL infer that said roots are irrational and pathological, but as a reader I leave that paragraph with not one SHRED of reassurance that you, the author share my view.

    To the contrary: the entire attempt to “delegitimize the practice by exposing the roots of its legitimacy,” which sounds great in theory leaves a lot to be desired when the essay itself spends all its time describing the LEGITIMACY and absolutely zero time on the whole “exposing its irrationality.”

    How can you have it both ways? You want to logically rationalize the existence of something irrational?

  13. M,

    In the introduction, I state:

    “Given that many of these killings violate both the word and the spirit of the Koran and the prophet, why does the practice persist? In this brief essay, I sketch the physical and social conditions that lead to the emergence of the structures that control women’s conduct within the Muslim communities that practice honour killing. I show that the more stringent control structures are artifacts from pre-Islamic Bedouin communities. Furthermore, I demonstrate that the gender-based honour killings that are features of these structures violate Islamic principles and law. In fact, much of the structure of social control goes against the principle that the practice of Islam is a matter of internal conviction.”

    If I state in the introduction that the honor killings violate Islamic principles and law as well as that “much of the structure of social control goes against the principle that the practice of Islam is a matter of internal conviction.”, how should you interpret it?

    Furthermore, time was spent on exposing the roots of honor killing in Islam because they are not generally known within and outside of Islam.

    Even further, is it not logical to infer that the father’s fears,and the fears of others that lead to honor killings of young women and girls, were irrational precisely because the girls were virgins? Why else would I add the point?

    s

    s

  14. “the roots of honor killing in Islam because they are not generally known within and outside of Islam. ”

    I believe they ARE very well known within and outside Islam, because to anyone who hasnt been brainwashed by the irrationality, the roots are OBVIOUS. One word: misogyny.

    Describe an honor killing to any 8 year old girl (leave out the torture, the inevitable gang-rape that precedes it, and pictures like the one posted here) and I guarantee you she will be speechless with confusion. Her first question will be “why do they hate girls?”

    Not too hard to understand.

    You ask,

    “Even further, is it not logical to infer that the father’s fears,and the fears of others that lead to honor killings of young women and girls, were irrational precisely because the girls were virgins?”

    It is absolutely *not” logical to infer any such thing. You seem to have confused the concepts of “irrational” and “mistaken.”

    The fathers’ fears in such cases were obviously mistaken, assuming we are not talking about a culture in which only strict vaginal penetration counts as “indiscreet,” which, according to your essay is hardly the case, but be that as it may, in such cases the fathers’ fears were clearly mistaken, but they were *far* from irrational. They were based on the fear of a *perception* of “indiscretion” as much as on actual evidence of “indiscretion.”

    It is well known in risk theory that one’s decisions about whether or not to take a risky action (in this case perhaps accidentally strangling an innocent daughter) are highly dependent on the chooser’s perception of the outcome. If NOT taking the risky action would result in something “truly awful” happening (like “losing honor”), then the chooser is much more likely to risk the potential downside (oops! dead daughter who turned out to be a virgin!). This is even more true if the potential punishment for making a mistake is slim to none (moral hazard anyone?).

    So the fathers’ fears are *perfectly* rational, if not always technically accurate.

    A dog that may be rabid is bearing down menacingly on your infant son playing in the sandbox. You have a gun and are licensed to use it. If you shoot the dog and kill it, you may find out that the dog was in fact NOT rabid. If you don’t shoot the dog it may very well kill your baby boy in front of your eyes. There are absolutely no laws or restrictions in your town on the shooting of dogs. In fact there is widespread and codified fear of dogs. Songs, poems, and books authored by god himself about the danger and dirtiness of dogs are obsessively fetishized in your town.

    Would it be “irrational” of you to fear or shoot the (perhaps not rabid) dog?

    In the cultures you are describing, “honor” is the baby boy, and “dirty girl” is the rabid dog.

    • M,

      Your point on the difference between mistaken and irrational is fair, but the fact that so many trivial acts count as surrogates for the act they fear strikes me as irrational. Then again, given a cultural framework in which the trivial acts do stand as surrogates for the feared act, then the fathers have behaved rationally.

      Notwithstanding, the post is about trying to understand the reasoning/framework that justifies honor killing so as to undermine that framework using the Koran.

      s

      s

      • I can understand why you would want to trace the roots of this practice for academic purposes, but I don’t think that will result in solutions to the problem of women being murdered by their families and communities.

        The answer is to treat these acts as what they are–murder–and punish them severely. And provide education to girls and young women.

        • BB,

          bb,

          How do we make this possible where our world view does not hold sway?

          Winning the hearts and minds of Afghanis, for example, is likely only possible within an Islamic framework. Does it not make sense, in such case, to do so within a moderate Islamic framework? Furthermore, does it not make sense to cultivate liberal Islam by such acts as exposing the anti-Koranic practises within mainstream Islam?

          s

          • We have to empower women in these cultures so they will stand up for themselves. It is happening in Iran, where there are many highly educated women. Even in Afghanistan, women recently publicly protested the law that allowed marital rape.

          • BB

            I agree.

            s

    • Excellent point and great example.

  15. Notwithstanding, the post is about trying to understand the reasoning/framework that justifies honor killing so as to undermine that framework using the Koran.

    One also has to wonder why it hasn’t occurred to Muslim clerics
    to do just that.
    Why don’t they use the teachings of the Koran to end these practices?

    • “Why don’t they use the teachings of the Koran to end these practices?”

      I’m guessing it’s because they don’t want to.

      • Absolutely. It will never work to try to solve a problem like this through religion, which is inherently irrational anyway.

      • g,

        Yes. If they practise a form of Islam that normailizes such behavior, then they would need a reason not to.

        s

    • c,

      If they are practioners of hadith in which these practises are normalized, then they require some kind of impetus that causes them to see otherwise. Barring the road to Damascus, approaching things through Islamic jurisprudence is one approach.

      s

  16. I’m sorry but I don’t see these traditions as a community survival mechanism. I see them as the brutal and ugly system of oppression that they are. But I do agree on the chastity and paternity part because, IMO, misogynistic cultural attitudes arise, not from male strength, but from male weakness. Restricting and controlling a woman’s sexuality is one way for men to lessen their reproductive disadvantage and ensure that they are fathering offspring. Perhaps “familial affection” is a euphemism for being able to trust your wife only under the threat of death.

    Forgive me, I’m an atheist so all the religious stuff is just myth to me and shouldn’t be used to justify gender violence. That’s a cop out IMO.

    • Exactly. I made the same point upthread. There is an entire field in psychology now that studies the evolutionary origins of human behavior.

    • Given you force young women to marry you against their will, transfer all of their property to you, throw them in a situation where you’ve either got more wives or servants and you’ll likely never be ‘faithful’, you then worry that that women will eventually get to the point where the contents of her womb and her mind may not reflect your ownership rights, I’d say that’s pretty much Abrahamic patriarchal religion ALL over … and I don’t care which branch of Abraham you stumbled into by birth

      • Yup.

      • d,

        As you know, I agree. Nonetheless, I’m trying to find a way to work with those who I don’t agree with.

        s

      • this is true on paper Dakinikat, but not in practice. Jesus’ admonition that “he who is without sin cast the first stone,” which is an undeniable cornerstone of Christian theology and practice stands out in stark contrast to the religion of Abraham,

        but just the same, even if we grant that all monotheistic religions are inherently misogynistic and patriarchal (they emphatically are), it is simply intellectually dishonest not to discern between ancient traditions and current practice.

        If modern islamic rebuplics repudiated the misogynistic and oppressive aspects of Sharia law and other Koranic traditions on which they continue to this very day to use as justifications for honor killings, that would be reason to celebrate, no?

    • Very well put.

  17. I think it is instructive to take into account the historical and societal context of the times, the harsh environment, the tribalism, the necessity for interdependence, etc. but even after doing so, I think those factors only explain the “how” (as in how such an insidious, inhumane, and inexcusable practice has persisted) and the “where” (as in where the remnants that exist today came from), but I don’t think it really gets at the heart of the “why.” As with other horrors, there’s still a fundamental element of “horrors happen because….they can, because society is set up to look the other way and let those horrors happen.” There is no justification, not even in the sense of the demands of the times. Honor killings happened and persist not because they had to happen due to the circumstantial dictates before modernity, they happened because they could. They happened because a woman’s autonomy is more taboo than a man’s violence.

    • Beautifully stated.

    • WtV,

      Your point is good. Certainly the why’s that I relate as to Bedouin social structure are not the deep why’s on which our behavior is founded. As I noted, within the scope of the paper, such things as chastity and paternity could only be weakly generalized. This is even moreso in the case of outlaying a case for the origin of gender power relations, which is more than many life’s work in itself, and is something I did not address due to scope.

      Notwithstanding, I disagree that there is no justification for iceflow-type behavior because someone or group is justifying that behavior. This does not mean that their justification is good. I understand, somewhat, the reasons the men and families did what they did to their daughters, but I reject their justification. In fact, the point of the post is to say that their justifications are more groundless than they know.

      s

  18. Beautifully stated Wonk the Vote. Couldn’t agree more.

    oh, and p.s. I should have stated that I also, as a longtime fan of Steven Mather’s posts, read this essay with an open mind and with an assumption of not only good faith, but intelligence, and honesty on the part of the author.

    My inclination to argue with it strenuously is in no way based on any personal feelings of antipathy toward the author, quite the opposite in fact.

  19. I don’t see the point of the article. Trying to eradicate honor killings through the framework of a religion that condones it is like taking a course on scriptures from the devil. Why waste time in attempting something that will not be accepted by the majority of the practitioners. (In fact Steven is likely to be beheaded if he were to go to Saudi or Iran and tried to argue that lashes and stoning is unislamic). Why not instead propose a sound education rooted in science and logic to root out the practice rather than depend on what some silly book said.

  20. UM,

    I guess we have to agree to disagree on methodology.

    s

  21. And also Steven makes a lot of assumptions about bedouin practices. There are not many records of bedouin practices. He is probably simply referring to islamic writings which are usually slanted. However, if you were to read carefully early islamic traditions you will find that the bedouins were a highly tolerant people with the women having a lot of rights such as the right to property, divorce etc. Honor killing was not common in the bedouin society (insults usually resulted in fights between parties not the indiscriminate killing of women by their own families)

    • If that’s true then the whole thesis is turned on it’s head. Steven I would look into this very carefully.

      • Steven appears to me to have looked into quite carefully, Dandy. It’s the statements to the contrary that aren’t documented.

    • UM,

      I included a bibliography. If my sources have been discredited, please direct me to the works of those who do the discrediting as well as more reputable sources.
      Thank you.

      s

      • Please do. I’d like to read more about these guys. Aren’t they the ones Frank Herbert loosely based his Dune books on?

        • DT,

          It’s at the bottom of the post under the please dig stuff.
          Furthermore, I’ve read a number of other works that I did not reference.

          I’m a fan of the Dune series and the prequels. I think it not unlikely that Herbert was familiar with The Maqaddimah, given the environmental theme implicit in the work. At the least, he was aware of the martial power behind the rapid and wide spread of Islam. Duke Leto’s “We need desert power.” comes to mind.

          s

          • I just love dropping back into a thread and finding people discussing Dune. I love you guys!

          • BB,

            It’s safer than the other topic, I hope.

            s

      • I would suggest you read the early islamic historical documents and judge for yourself. I have found that a number recent historians interpret with a slant according to their political beliefs.
        When the claim is made that honor killing was common in the bedouin society that claim must be proven with relevant historical data.

        • Why don’t you cite at least one source, so Stephen can take a look at it?

          • I have. I have suggested that he study early islamic traditions (hadiths) and judge for himself.
            I will give you some examples of my point on bedouins later when I have a minute.

          • UM,

            When you find a minute, you might also want to address the points that were made by James on your first comment.

            Thank you.

            s

  22. I just want to mention that I bought a book on honor killings recently. It’s called Murder in the Name of Honor. The author is Rana Husseini. It’s supposed to be really good and written from a feminist perspective, but I haven’t found the time to read it yet, unfortunately.

    http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Name-Honor-Rana-Husseini/dp/1851685979/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248478447&sr=1-1

  23. UM,

    I would appreciate an example of such a work, other than The Maqaddimah, which being 14thc is an early historical work. If the scholars and authors I have read are wrong, as you claim, then you should have access to some titles that will help me correct the errors I made based on their work.

    Thank you.
    s

  24. James,
    a) What do you mean there is no proof that the prophet did not order stonings? If you want to throw out the entire sunnah, be my guest. There will be no islam in that case. There are even allusions that the stoning verses were in the original koran. Why don’t you search for the famous “eaten by the goat” story. The early caliphs allowed for stonings based on their first hand account of the dealings of mohammad. What is racist about offering an opinion on stupid practices of a stupid religion? I did not know that Islam was a race. You can stuff your racism card up your you know what. Now that I know the type of person you are I will not bother responding to any further posts from you. I am doing so only in response to Steve who seemed decent. And talking of racism what do you think of this beauty from the quran –
    9:28 – “O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.”
    (So an entire group of people are unclean? )
    b)Many muslim women do not want to wear it but are forced to as well. The story of Aqsa above also indicates that. And bedouin women had the right to property and divorce before islam. (Example Khadija, wife of mohammad was a wealthy businesswoman and that was before islam)
    c)At least you do not deny that the verse exists. So racist me did not make up the verse? It does not matter whether the woman should be beaten first or last. The verse allows for beating
    Here is the verse. Readers can make up their own mind.
    4.34
    YUSUFALI: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
    PICKTHAL: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.

    I have nothing more to say to you, race-baitor. You cannot debate logically, so you shift to personal attacks. Typical behavior from religious zealots

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