Understanding How Honor Killings Are Different From Western-Style Domestic Violence
Most westerners, including otherwise honorable feminists, do not understand the difference between the types of domestic violence that occur in western societies, and honor killings. Many fear that by pointing out the differences may cause others to label them as ‘racist,’ because honor killings in the West are carried out mainly by Muslims and Muslims of color against other Muslims of color. (To a lesser extent, Sikhs also commit honor killings in the West; Hindus do so but mainly in India and primarily for caste-related reasons). The custom, a human rights atrocity, is essentially tribal in origin. However, neither Islam nor Hinduism have tried to abolish it.
By failing to understand the facts about honor-based violence, westerners cannot find ways of preventing honor-based violence. Westerners have an important role to play in helping victims who are seeking refuge from honor violence; and/or in prosecuting the perpetrators— who are most often family members.
Among the types of domestic violence that most often occur in the West, it is exceptionally rare for brothers to kill sisters or for male cousins to kill female cousins. It is also very rare for fathers to kill their own teenage daughters–or for a battered woman’s family of origin to help her battering husband kill her when she wants to leave him.
Unlike Western domestic violence, honor killings are carefully planned. The perpetrator’s family may warn the victim repeatedly over a period of years that she will be killed if she dishonors her family by refusing to dress according to customs, by engaging in a Western-style social life, refusing an arranged marriage, or for becoming “too westernized.”
Only honor killings– not domestic violence– involve multiple family members. Fathers, mothers, brothers, male cousins, uncles, and sometimes even grandfathers commit the murder, but mothers and sisters sometimes lobby for the killing. Some mothers collaborate in the murder in a hands-on way and may assist in the getaway of the murderer. Sometimes, taxi drivers, neighbors, and other co-conspirators try to prevent the victim from fleeing, report her whereabouts to her family, and subsequently conspire to thwart police investigations.
By contrast, is western-style domestic violence is seldom celebrated, even by its perpetrators. Strong feminist awareness, a shelter movement and legal activism has increasingly led to wife batterers being ostracized. Muslims, world-wide, Hindus in India and to a lesser extent, Sikhs–all of whom commit or assist in the commission of honor killings, view these killings as heroic and even view the murder as the fulfillment of a religious and or community “honor” based obligation.
In both North America and Western Europe, family members conduct honor killings with excessive violence—by repeatedly stabbing, raping, setting aflame, and bludgeoning their victim/s. Only in serial-killing-type scenarios are western women targeted with similar violence; in these cases, the perpetrators are seldom family members, and their victims are often strangers and prostituted women.
Violence in the name of honor must be treated as the barbaric crime that it is– primarily gender-based violence and murder. Interpretations of “honor” tied to “female chastity” must be challenged. The West cannot “honor” a custom that justifies the ruthless and pitiless murder of girls and women.