The Dishonour of “Honour Killings”

A father, mother and son have been convicted of first-degree murder in Kingston, Ontario, for the death of three young girls and a middle-aged woman. The three girls were the parents’ daughters and the middle-aged woman was the polygamous father’s first wife.

This crime has been dubbed an “honour killing”.

Honour killing can be defined as an act of murder committed by a family against one of their own members, for bringing “dishonour” to the clan, usually by violating sexual mores. The victim is usually, but not always, a female. It matters not whether the victim was herself victimized, as in a case of rape.

The worst aspect of honour killing is not actually the killing part, horrible as that may be. It is the lynch-mob atmosphere which accompanies such killings (often involving the victim’s own family or community), the cold-blooded, premeditated quality of the murders, and the fact the killers face near-immunity from punishment in certain locales. Countries such as Jordan offer specific exemptions for honour killing; murder a family member for honour in Jordan, and you can receive as little as six months in jail. A recent attempt to stiffen this punishment was voted down, on the grounds that increasing penalties might offend religious sensibilities.

Men kill women in every country in the world. In countries such as Canada, they are usually punished for it. They are not usually hailed as heroes or upholders of community values. Nor have Canadian politicians gone on record supporting honour killings as a perfectly justifiable form of homicide, as they have in Turkey and other countries.

Honour killing is not a form of domestic violence but a form of lynching. Just as male, African-Americans were once subject to torture and death at the hands of mobs, usually after being accused of sexual “crimes” (such as whistling at a white woman), so too are women murdered by collective decree for the flimsiest of reasons.

Honour killing is the natural end-product of primitive misogyny, of legal strictures binding women’s lives. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to even leave home without a male escort much less drive. Pakistan, meanwhile, only recently got around to amending its laws to make it possible to punish rapists. You read that correctly; under the old law in Pakistan, a rape victim required four male witnesses to prosecute. Failure to produce a quartet of witnesses could result in jail-time for the woman who was raped. When the law was amended, thousands of religious zealots took to the streets to protest.

It is not much of a step to go from denying women basic rights under the law, to denying them their very lives, out of a psychotic sense of honour (which can be translated to mean, any attempt by a woman to assert any independence whatsoever).

Domestic homicide unfortunately happens in every country in the world.

Honour killings don’t.

And that is why a trial of two parents and a son in Kingston, Ontario have captured the world’s attention.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author and writer. Click on this link for information on his books)

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