Honor Killings in the Middle East

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1. 1 Ben Morley ANTH 308 final paper 12/13/2010 Honor Killings in the Middle East Honor is very important in the Middle East and the source of many customs and beliefs.…
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  • 1. 1 Ben Morley ANTH 308 final paper 12/13/2010 Honor Killings in the Middle East Honor is very important in the Middle East and the source of many customs and beliefs. One such belief is the one in which the behavior of individuals can shame the entire family or tribe and that such shame, if done by a woman, must be paid for with blood in the form of an honor killing. While not unique to the Middle East, honor killing has become synonymous with the Middle East and Islam. This association is unfair but telling about a practice that has drawn the attention of the West as honor killings are now being reported in Western countries such as the United States. Honor killings can be found in many cultures, for example in India and historically in Japan and Choson Korea (Seth, p.157, 2006). The practice itself is actually one of control over women and not “Islamic” or even distinct to the Middle East, but a practice derived from the desire to control women’s movement and reproduction. What factors lead to honor killings vary but there are some general themes that repeat in most cases. Generally in the Middle East a woman’s movement is controlled by the men, for example a woman is usually restricted to domestic chores in the home while men are off working or attending school. Women are sometimes not allowed to attend school because they would be exposed outside, possibly without an appropriate dress. Women are also taught to devalue their
  • 2. 2 bodies as potential sources of impurity and that their sexuality can be destructive to men (Bates & Rassam, pp. 228-30, 2001). With this in mind, it becomes apparent that some of the purpose of an honor killing comes from the notion that a woman in public can cause shame to the family, especially if she is mixing with men or is perceived to be mixing with men. The perception of honor, as a collective holding, can be threatened by the women on the individual level and that their sexuality prevents them from having self control to the same level as men. Men are regarded as the protectors of their family honor and their women, if women do anything regarded as shameful it reflects on the men and shames them directly. Another element of honor killings is revealed her, the idea that women have a lack of self control because of their sexuality. This view means that a woman cannot help herself and can bring shame to the family despite her intentions. What also comes out of his is that the men in the family are looked upon as incompetent because they cannot protect their women from dishonoring the family. The last element of note is that honor is used as a measure of social worth, those with low honor are regarded as worthless or less valuable than those of higher honor, meaning that such individuals have less social prospects and less opportunities than those with higher honor (pp.236-44). An honor killing not only serves to punish women for real or perceived dishonor, it also to protect the family prospects for other members of the family both male and female. The premise though of the purpose behind male control of women, and hence the use of honor killings in cases of violation, comes from the idea of controlling women and their sexuality so to limit potential damage to society and to the family. Honor killings are also a function of the society, not just the individual family. While some cases the family is unashamed of murdering their female relation, others are forced by social pressures to murder a relative who is perceived to have brought dishonor or risk bringing
  • 3. 3 dishonor to their families (Feldner, 2000). Due to pressure from society, sometimes women will take their own lives in an attempt to restore their honor. Societal pressures in Iraq have also lead to the use of rape and shame to recruit female suicide bombers. In this example, Samira Ahmed Jassim arraigned for women to be raped and counseled them and helped to recruit them for suicide bombings as a way to cleanse themselves of their shame (Abdul-Zahra, & Murphy, 2009). What defines an honor killing from regular murder is the intention of regaining honor for some perceived or real shame, and usually honor killings are done by the family of the victim while regular murders have a wide variety of motives and killers. What drives a family or relatives to murder their female relations (and occasionally male) usually comes from either real or perceived sexual misbehavior (as culturally defined) or the concern that the individual is somehow bringing shame on the family, such as the woman becoming to “Westernized” or refusing to marry someone the family chose in an arraigned marriage. The reasons can and do overlap and some can be considered part of each other, a woman who is “too Westernized” might talk to boys and be accused by the neighbors of being sexually active because she refuses to marry young and have children with the man her parents wanted her to marry. The reasons vary depending on the region and culture, but the Middle East is the focus of this paper. The most likely victim of an honor killing is a young woman in her early twenties, usually by her male relatives including her father, and most likely was tortured before dying. Usually the reason given is for sexual misbehavior (real or perceived, usually based on rumors) and the family is usually involved in planning the murder (Chesler, 2010). What counts as “sexual misbehavior” can range from pre-marital sex to being raped, a woman’s chastity is very important and any such violation of it is considered a source of shame. There are various cases
  • 4. 4 where non sexual activities have been linked to “sexual misbehavior”, such as talking to boys on Facebook in Saudi Arabia or a girl who was buried alive for talking to boys. Women are not the only victims of honor killings, men can also be victims of honor killings. In Turkey a man was killed by his father because he was gay, and was considered not only immoral but on a sociological level, the man being gay was a reversal of the roles of a male sexually (Bilefsky, 2009). From this last case, sexual roles are a major part of honor and consequently honor killings can target men who are “acting like women” and mix the gender roles. Honor killings are cultural traditions carried from earlier pre- Islamic customs. While the argument is made that Islam is responsible for such a custom this is not the case as honor killings in the Middle East have been traced to as early as the Assyrian Empire and were part of the culture in other parts of the world where Islam was not the dominant religion (such as India or Medieval Japan and Korea). In Choson Korea (1392-1910 c.e.) women were expected to commit suicide if they brought any scandal or shame to the family, for example by supposed sexual misconduct, using a dagger. The purpose of the suicide was to protect the honor of both the woman and the family (Seth, p.157, 2006). The example of Korea is one to illustrate the custom as one that can be found in non Islamic lands but for similar reasons dealing with family honor and the danger of uncontrolled women in male dominated societies such as Islamic Arabia and Neo Confucian Korea. If Islam is to blame, then it would only be in the lack of efforts by the States in the Islamic world to stamp out the custom. That is not to say that such efforts have not been tried, such as in Jordon where challenges to two laws regarding honor killings have been issued. While the challenges to the laws, specifically Articles 98 and 340 of the Jordanian penal code, have been defeated in the Lower Courts, the fact that these challenges took place and were enacted by rights groups and
  • 5. 5 citizens of both genders shows that things are changing in the Middle East regarding the allowance of honor killings(Nanes, 2003). When a gay man was killed, one of his neighbors actually went to trial to testify rather than remain silent despite being shot herself by an attacker and being pressured by the police to drop the not testify in court (Bilefsky, 2009). In host countries of Middle Eastern populations, there is growing attention to combating honor killings but these nations need comprehensive research into honor killings to create and enforce effective policies against honor killings and the causes of honor killings, such as perceived shame and lack of education. In conclusion, honor killings are a pre Islamic custom in which members of a family or tribe kill someone accused of bringing shame to the family or tribe. The reasons vary but usually have the elements of control over women’s sexuality, the danger of being a socially pariah, and the belief of the woman’s inability of self control. These traits come from a patriarchal cultural form that can be found in male dominated societies world over, but the focus of this paper is on the male dominated cultures of the Middle East. While in Islamic societies there are arguments that honor killings are found in Islam, these are as Islamic as trial by combat is Christian, and reflect the values of honor found in earlier societies and illustrate the strength of culture in the face of new challenges such as the adoption of a new religion. Unfortunately the custom of honor killing has been entrenched in the Middle East for thousands of years and is still under reported, making the combat against such a custom much more difficult both in the Middle East and worldwide. At its’ heart, honor killings are about a man’s reputation and his ability to maintain control over his female relations. The danger for a man is what other men will say, as a woman is guilty of dishonor only because she is perceived to have brought shame to the family, the woman doesn’t need to have actually done anything she is accused to damage the family
  • 6. 6 honor. Societies in both the Middle East and host countries to Middle Eastern populations are starting to recognize the problem of honor killings but still have a great deal to research before effective policies can be used to end honor killings. References 1. Abdul-Zahra, Q., & Murphy, B. (2009, Feburary 3). Iraq arrests fema le suic ide bo mber recruit er. The Huffington Post, Retrieved fro m http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/03/iraq -arrests- fema le-suic i_n_163505.ht ml (accessed 12/10/2010). 2. Al-Tamimi, A. J. (2010). The problem of honor killings. Foreign Policy Journal, Retrieved from http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2010/09/13/the-problem-of-honor- killings/ (accessed 12/12/2010). 3. Bates, D. G., & Rassam, A. (2001). Peoples and cultures of the middle east. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prent ice Hall. 4. Bilefsky, D. (2009, Nove mber 25). Soul-searching in turkey aft er gay man is killed. The Ne w York Times , Retrieved fro m http://www.nyt imes.co m/2009/11/26/world/europe/26turkey.ht ml?p agewanted=2&_r=1&ref=world (accessed 12/12/2010). 5. Chesler, P. (2010). Worldwide trends in honor killings. Middle East Quarterly, 17(2), Retrieved from http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings (accessed 12/01/2010). 6. Feldner, Y. (2000). "honor" murders – why the perps get off easy. Middle East Quarterly, 6(4), Retrieved from http://www.meforum.org/50/honor-murders-why-the-perps-get-off- easy (accessed 12/01/2010).
  • 7. 7 7. Nanes, S. E. (2003). Fighting honor crimes: evidence of civil society in jordan. Middle East Journal, 57(1), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/pss/4329854 (accessed 11/29/2010). 8. Seth, M. J. (2006). A concise history of korea. New York, N.Y.: Rowman & Litt lefie ld. This is the exclusive property of Benjamin Andrew Morley. This piece shall not be reproduced without expressed permission of the author.
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