I got interested in the topic when I’ve seen a documentary about the murder of two teenage sisters in the United States for allegedly shaming the honor of their family. They were shot at close range by their father who was from Egypt. There was another case in Britain where a woman was brutally murdered. Her body was stuffed in a suitcase and buried in the dirt beside their house. The killing was carried upon by her three cousins and was masterminded by her uncle with the approval of her parents after the victim left her husband and started seeing someone.
The family was originally from Iraq. Accordingly, honor killing has been a practice in ancient times but it has slowly disappeared as the Western culture adopts a more liberating way of looking at things. It was not about religion. Religion has little to do with it. Honor killing, popular among conservative Muslim communities, is more of a cultural phenomenon and it is embedded in the subjects of sex, marriage, family.
“Honor killings involve violence and fear as a tool for maintaining control. Honor killings are argued to have their origins among nomadic peoples and herdsmen: Such populations carry all their valuables with them and risk having them stolen, and they do not have proper recourse to law. As a result, inspiring fear, using aggression, and cultivating a reputation for violent revenge to protect property is preferable to other behaviors.
In societies where there is a weak rule of law, people must build fierce reputations.” Reputation in many cultures is interchangeable with honor.
The loss of honor in one’s family or clan is a devastation because it can severely affect their status in the community. That’s why in a patriarchal society, the head of the family, who are the fathers, male members, protect this honor at all costs. If it means killing a member of the family to remove the shame and regain their honor, it must happen. Unfortunately, women are usually the subject of this brutal practice.
This cultural belief stems from a conservative point of view. The Western culture today has abandoned this supposedly backward belief because it is constrictive and restrictive as far as the individual rights of the persons. Western culture values freedom, individualism, and reason. These values are opposed to the beliefs and practices of collectivism where the act of one can be the shame or honor of the whole family or community. Islamic culture is considered by Westerners as a conservative.
The way we see honor today is different from how others from different cultural settings see it. For instance, today, a family member who is guilty of adultery is condemned and punished not because of the dishonor and shame she brought upon the family but for the injustice committed against her husband. This is a modern point of view. Among the Western countries and other countries which adopted the Western culture, premarital sex is discouraged but it is not condemned.
Our country which has a mixture of strong religious influence and American culture influence may see premarital sex as sinful but the public is more accepting. However, in some rural communities, which have a culture that condemns the act, the woman can be sent away, but it does not decide to kill the guilty party. Our strong family orientation makes us see first the love of the family member before a reputation.
Liberated views on sex and marriage in the Western culture emphasizes individualism and reason, so the act of premarital sex or adultery follows an investigation first to understand the circumstances of the illicit act. Shawshank Redemption, one of the most popular flicks in Hollywood, presents the life of a banker who was sent to prison for allegedly killing his adulterous wife. The sympathy was not on him but on his wife.
Adultery is vexed upon but murder is on a different evil sphere.
The woman involved in adultery will surely receive more hate from the community but the society today chooses to investigate first. I talk about the culture in the West. In the country, we surely adopt Western culture but it does not totally erase our own orientation on the subject. In one case in our province, the woman has to find work abroad just to avoid being the talk of the town after engaging in an illicit affair. It was a case a decade ago. Now I hear of adulterous acts committed in the community but they do not get the same cold treatment anymore. Women are surely condemned but the men outside of their family are secretly heralded for being manly. In the case of adultery, the woman may even be vindicated if the husband is found to be abusive and irresponsible.
The traditional outlook on honor in relation to sex and marriage does not consider the circumstances. Conventional practices see adultery as an act of bringing shame to the family mostly by the woman. The family’s head is humiliated and shamed. Investigation is not necessary because the act speaks of itself.
“In many cultures where honor is of a central value, men are sources, or active generators/agents of that honor, while the only effect that women can have on honor is to destroy it. Once the family's or clan's honor is considered to have been destroyed by a woman, there is a need for immediate revenge to restore it, for the family to avoid losing face in the community. As Amnesty International statement notes: “The regime of honor is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion has fallen are not allowed to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honor by attacking the woman.”