No Honour In
By Dr Bhaskar
21 February, 2004
time ago, I wrote wondering about the reason why Saddam Hussein didnt
own up to the fact that he didnt have WMDs, while getting hammered
by sanctions and finally invaded. I mean, it just didnt make sense
and what I hypothesised then was that it was more to save face and keep
his honour that he kept on claiming insistently that he
did have WMDs. Weird stuff, eh? Look where that got him, captured like
a rat in a hole, unceremoniously shaved and paraded in front of the
worlds cameras. That hankering after honour was rather pitiful,
if one ignores the death and destruction that he wrought on his people
as a result. A news story about this Turkish Kurdish theatre group who
staged a play on honour killings in South East Turkey caught my eye
a couple of weeks back, while I was idly flipping through the Guardian.
The play is based on the real event of the brutal murder of Semse Allak.
Both got me interested to delve more into this honour business. How
can it be associated with killing? The results were rather shocking
and horrifying. It is much more than just saving face, it is a heinous
crime, which does not give honour nor face to the perpetrators, they
should be hiding their faces. So whats this all about?
with the standard definition. Honour killings are murders of women by
family members excused by removing some imputed stain on the familys
honour. This has to be distinguished from the crimes of passion as they
are known in Latin America, dowry deaths as known in places such as
India or the far more numerous rape and murder cases of women in USA
or other countries. This is looking particularly at honour killings,
which are peculiarly different than passion crimes, rape and murder,
bride burnings or dowry deaths. This has to do with honour as opposed
to passion, materialistic tendencies or simply sexual dysfunction.
This stain on the family honour comes from a variety of
alleged offences, such as allegations of premarital or extramarital
sex, refusing an arranged marriage, attempting to obtain a divorce from
an abusive husband, or simply talking innocently with any man who is
not a relative. As is with these things, its only when the allegation
become exposed and public the stain on the family honour is perceived
as such. Note that this allegation is not in a legal sense. It just
needs a bunch of moronic people getting together and gossiping, or somebody
wanting to spread a rumour or something equally stupid like this for
the charge to spread. Forget about the facts of the case. In many cases,
just the allegation is enough to trigger this honour killing as has
been shown by the numerous autopsies of the victims proving they were
mostly still virgins.
There are several aspects to this honour killing issue. First is the
sheer geographic spread of this phenomenon; second are the tribal reasons
behind people perpetrating honour killings, thirdly is the fact that
this is not religiously sanctioned and fourth is the factor that education
and exposure to womens rights issues is the so-called solution.
Honour killings occur in a distressingly large swathe of the world,
from North Africa, Middle East (including Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon,
the Gulf Countries, and Iran), Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Isolated incidents have also been reported from the UK, Sweden, USA
and Germany but these were carried out by Kurdish and other Arab immigrants
to these western countries. So we are talking about a rather large territorial
base where these crimes are committed.
It can be gruesome, and I think it is far worse for the unfortunate
women who survive the attempts. While getting killed is no joke, just
look at this picture of a lady whose eyes, nose and ears were cut off
by her husband (http://www.altmuslim.com/opinion_comments.php?id=854_0_25_0_C)
or the frequent pictures that we see of women who have had acid thrown
at them. In Sweden, a father shot and killed his own daughter after
she refused to marry her fathers arranged choice of a man completely
unknown to her from Turkey. Another lady in Pakistan, Samia Imran Sarwar,
was shot dead in her lawyers office in Pakistan by an assassin
hired by her uncle and father because she wanted to divorce her abusive
husband. The story of 16-year-old Kifaya Husayn of Jordan, who was killed
by her elder brother, is particularly bewildering. What was her crime?
She was raped by another of her brothers while her uncles judged that
she had to die to save the family honour. Just how can any mans
honour lie between the legs of a woman as a crude Arabic expression
claims? I dont get it, but thats for later.
This practice is
very old, there are reports that pre-Islamic tribal members would bury
infant baby girls alive to avoid the possibility that they may bring
shame on their families one day in the future. If one recalls the stories
of the Arabian tribes, specially in the Saudi Arabia region, in the
pre-oil culture, the tradition of attacking and stealing other tribes
horses, camels and women was an old established one. For a tribe to
lose its women in a raid was extremely shameful. The tribe considered
the loss of women as being a total loss of face and honour. So is this
just tribal in nature? People say that honour killings are usually committed
in remote rural and poor areas. It is said to be perpetrated by people
who are uncultured and driven by tribal tradition. So the explanation
seems to be that because people are uneducated and uncultured, their
women get killed because of family honour. It is actually not true,
more people are getting killed in urban areas where one would expect
more refinement, exposure to women's rights, education and better economic
Quite frequently, it is said that this practise has religious roots.
I am not sure that this is true and while I am certainly not an Islamic
scholar, I can personally do or cajole my editors to help me carry out
internet searches. Islam clearly forbids killing without legal justification.
It is even worse to kill a believer, Whoso slayeth a believer
of set purpose, his reward is Hell for ever. Allah is wroth against
him and He hath cursed him and prepared for him an awful doom.
(4: 93). Even if a woman is accused of adultery, there need to be four
male witnesses with good behaviour and reputation to validate that charge.
Furthermore only the state can carry out judicial punishments, but never
an individual vigilante. While I have not gone deeply into the hadith
(of which many are questionable) or the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence,
the evidence seems to be clear that neither the Quran nor the Sunnah
show any justification for this. Recall the situation with Aisha when
she was left behind looking for her necklace while the caravan moved
on, and she spent a lot of time alone with young handsome Safwan, one
of the rearguards of the army, while catching up with the caravan. Prophet
Mohammad, her husband, asked both about their conduct and was satisfied
with their innocence, which drew the line under the entire episode despite
the gossip and scandal. So, I am sorry, there does not seem to be any
religious justification for this heinous crime. So how come so many
Islamic / Muslim parliaments and religious leaders do nothing to stop
In almost all the Muslim countries which I mentioned, cases of honour
killings are not classified under the usual category of murderous crimes.
The Palestinian Authority law allows honour killing. In Pakistan, after
Samias murder, members of Pakistans upper house demanded
punishment of the LAWYERS for daring to help her. None of the political
establishment condemned the attack and the clergy wanted the lawyers
to be put to death for trying to help Samia. Furthermore, the Senate
rejected a resolution condemning the honour killings in the country.
While Pakistani President Musharraf has repeatedly said strong words
against honour killings, no law has yet been passed nor any resolutions
in parliament. In other words, nothing has changed.
In Jordan, it is even codified in law. Article 340 of the criminal code
says, "A husband or a close blood relative who kills a woman caught
in a situation highly suspicious of adultery will be totally exempt
from sentencing." While article 98 guarantees a lighter sentence
for male killers of female relatives who have committed an "act
which is illicit in the eyes of the perpetrator." The reaction
to attempts to repeal article 340 is interesting, In 2000 the Jordanian
parliament had long informed discussions, scratched their
heads, thought extensively and hard, and after 3 minutes, rejected the
The leading political
party, Islamic Action Front, had this to say about it: Its
an effort to destroy our Islamic, social and family values, by stripping
the man from his humanity, not allowing him to get angry when he is
surprised by his wife committing adultery. Go figure. Its
much the same in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt and other countries.
Turkeys laws are going to be changed under pressure from the EU,
but I do not hold out much hope for the other countries which are full
of these obscurantist religious leaders and madmen in power. Shakespeare
said :Mine honour is my life, both grow in one, Take honour from
me, and my life is done. The problem seems to be in the way men
define their honour and take away their womens life instead.
So what can be done about this? My first gut reaction was visceral.
The more I read about this phenomenon, the more visceral the reaction
became, like a fervent desire that these murderers be castrated or be
given acid showers. I suspect that it will be a long hard grind. One
wonders when they will get a Raja Ram Mohon Roy who can stand up in
parliament and say, enough is enough, next time somebody does this honour
killing, the full force of the law will come down on them and the press/civil
society will condemn this ghastly act. It will require constant education;
womens shelters and changes in the law. Sadly enough, both the
women and men need to be educated.
According to a survey
carried out by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, some rather distressing
results came forth. On the question whether women should have the same
rights as men, the answer was strongly disagree by 35 per
cent of the men and sadly 23 per cent of the women. One in four women
didnt think so, while 1 in 3 men didnt think that women
should have the same rights. In many honour killings, the women of the
family actively participated in killing their own daughters or sisters.
When the women themselves participate in such a disgusting crime, how
can one blame only the men? When will people realise that killing is
wrong? That killing for such trivial reasons- which are
obscene in the eyes of God/Allah as well as mankind is absolutely
All this to be taken with a grain of salt!
(Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta,
currently working on a doctorate at Kings College in International Relations
and Terrorism, also holds a Doctorate in Finance and Artificial Intelligence
from Manchester Business School. He works in the City of London in various
capacities in the Banking Sector. He also lectures at several British