Editorial: Shameful ‘honor’ killings

Promoters of this despicable practice must be defamed, and even ridiculed if need be, by peers and others whose respect they seek.

By
October 21, 2010 22:05
3 minute read.
BORDER POLICE personnel examine a vehicle

BORDER POLICE Lod 58. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Police suspect that “honor” is the motive behind a spate of killings in Lod that have left two men and two women dead.

None of the victims had a criminal record; police believe that the four might have been two couples whose relationships shamed their respective families.

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Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has said that “preventing murders, especially ‘family honor killings,’ will not be achieved through increased enforcement, but through a change in culture, education, legal deterrence... Police cannot replace health workers, courts, social workers, teachers and parents.”

Indeed. We might add, following the lead of Kwameh Anthony Appiah, a philosopher from Princeton University, that some residents of Lod evidently need to revamp conceptions of what constitutes honor and disgrace. As Appiah pointed out in his recently released book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, the desire to earn the respect of those we care about motivates us more than any rational argument or religious belief. The best way to prevent men from killing their wives and daughters, and brothers from killing their sisters, is by convincing these murderers and their collaborators and supporters that such acts are despicable and a source of shame.

Anything but honor.

The Lod slayings have targeted men as well as women (which might be one of the reasons that police are still not completely sure that they were “honor killings”). But in most such cases, woman alone are punished for besmirching the honor of the family. It is, after all, much easier to bully women.

Misogynistic murders have taken place in Southern Italy, Eastern Europe, and among Hindu and Sikh communities in India. But the infamous practice apparently has its source in pre-Islamic Beduin tribes and is a blight particularly for Muslim countries influenced by this culture.

This is true despite the fact that it is utterly forbidden by Shari’a, which underlines how concepts of honor trump religious belief.

IN PAKISTAN, even the Western-educated elites share this warped concept of honor, which shows that education alone is not enough to eradicate it. Until just a few years ago, about 1,000 reported cases were reported there every year. Thankfully, opposition to honor killings in Pakistan has grown in recent years, principally because the practice is beginning to be seen shameful; it hurts Pakistan’s standing in the world.

Closer to home, in Jordan and Egypt, dozens of cases are reported each year, according to a November 2006 report by Human Rights Watch. In both countries, the practice is illegal. However, culprits, if punished at all, end up serving no more than six months in prison.

“Extenuating” circumstances include perpetrating the murder when in a state of rage, or in response to even a baseless suspicion of an illicit sexual act. Jordan’s and Egypt’s penal codes constitute law in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively, and reflect identical societal norms. Palestinian women who report abuse to the Palestinian Authority confront a system that prioritizes family reputations over females’ well-being and lives. PA police and clan leaders “resolve” these cases by letting victims suffer and criminals free.

Is this mindset true to the state that Palestinians dream one day of creating? What is the sense in establishing yet another blinkered Muslim state that permits its own mothers and daughters to live in fear? ARAB ISRAELIS, meanwhile, also continue to maintain a warped conception of honor, as the Lod slayings and numerous other honor killings make clear. Fear of punishment by Israeli law has not eradicated the practice. Perhaps police are partially to blame for tending to view the phenomenon as an internal Arab matter that does not require police intervention.

Only a radical moral relativist can see honor killings as a legitimate cultural, expression. This strain of moral relativism in Europe has made it easier for Turks, Afghans, Moroccans and other immigrant groups to import honor killings, sparking a debate over what some call the transformation of Europe into “Eurabia.” Just this week, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed.”

But as Appiah has pointed out, punishment, rational arguments, better police enforcement and education alone will not stop honor killings.

Promoters of this despicable practice must be defamed, and even ridiculed if need be, by peers and others whose respect they seek, until they come to the realization that by performing honor killings they are bringing upon themselves and upon others associated with them nothing but shame.


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