No honour in murder

September 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

I read this article on honour killings in the Independent today. It sickens me to know that the perpetrators of this kind of atrocity continue to enjoy impunity across the world.

Violence against women is not a phenomenon particular to any culture – it happens in almost every society across the world. So-called “honour” killings are no different from any other kind of misogynist violence except for in one aspect – for some reason, in communities across the world, this particular brand of murder continues not only to be tolerated, but to be lauded as an “honourable” act. Why? Sure, people speak out about it – but we’re not making any progress. Again, why?!

The murder of women has nothing to do with religion. Rather, it is about power and control. It is about the demonisation not just of female sexuality, but of female agency as a whole. It is a belief that women should be neither seen nor heard of their own will. It is, at its core, the belief that women are objects, “property” that can be disposed of at will. The logic behind “honour” killings (the term itself turns my stomach) is the same as the logic behind any form of male violence against women – if we intimidate them enough, they will obey. It is, perhaps, grounded in a fear that if women start taking control of their own lives, men will no longer be in control. When women are also the perpetrators, they too are reasserting the “power” they have earned through age or status. There are so many instances where women – and, occasionally, men – have tried to intercede to stop these murders of friends or family members, only to become victims themselves. Dissent is not tolerated.

There is NO way to justify these crimes.

But we have to look closely at our failure to stop them – even here in the UK, where several women and girls are killed or threatened wth murder every year. Is it simply because the beliefs are so deep-seated that we are unable to change them? Maybe in some cases – but I don’t think that’s the main problem. The problem, I think, is that the various groups commenting on “honour” killings have so far failed to present a united perspective and build a strong, cohesive voice against murder in the name of “honour”.

There seem to be three main ways of addressing the issue in the UK and Europe…

1 – the groundless argument that “honour” killing is a demonstration of Islam’s “hatred of women” and “tendency toward violence” – in other words, the blame is on Islam, despite the fact that “honour” killings are not at all restricted to Muslim communities and have no scriptural basis.

2 – representatives of minority ethnic/religious communities denouncing “honour” killing, saying it has “no basis” in religion, is contrary to religion, etc. While this is welcome and useful, it seems that community involvement stops there – already feeling demonised, it seems that the preference is to continue avoiding washing dirty laundry in public…

3 – those who will speak out against “honour” killings, but who believe that this kind of violence against women is somehow “alien” to the West and thus something that Western commentators don’t have the capacity to really address.

Here’s the thing. Violence against women, regardless of what form it takes, is the result of the same misogynistic mindset that considers women to be inferior human beings. The difference is this – in the UK and Europe, legislation exists to prosecute perpetrators – although, as we know, crimes continue to take place, it seems the UK is now more comfortable with taking “honour killing” cases to trial.. In other parts of the world, even when legislation exists, it is usually not enforced – the attitude that women are property exists at all levels of society and all levels of the legislative process. But at least here, in the UK, we have the facility to create a network and support system for all the individuals and groups who dare to speak out, not only so that we can provide protection for women – many, many groups ((though often ill-funded) are already working to do this – but also so that we can have a positive impact on attitudes across society, so that we can demand action, education, change from legislation to social service provision to community education incentives.

To be honest, I don’t have the answers. But surely, surely, we can’t afford to continue trying to treat the symptoms rather than trying to cure the disease?

Perhaps we could start by refusing to use the term “honour killing” and giving perpetrators false credibility.

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