Honor killings like the slaying of Farzana Parveen this week rightly stir outrage and disgust when they happen, but despite the shock and awe that is usually expressed in the media, they are unfortunately regular incidents that are incredibly difficult to prevent. The problem with preventing honor killings, according to Chuck Recknagel of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, is that “In some societies, it is common for men to think of wives and daughters as both assets and liabilities. So long as they are obedient to their fathers and husbands, they are a source of pride. But if they disobey and show independence, they become a source of shame and may even be murdered to protect the family’s ‘honor.'”
Mr. Recknagel then goes on to report that there are over 5,000 honor killings each year, according to statistics from the UN. That number, however, is the number of reported honor killings. The reality is that honor killings are crimes that are often hidden by their perpetrators, who tend to be the victims’ friends and family.
MSNBC has more details, both about this particular honor killing and about honor killings in general, in an interview article with Rula Jebreal, an Italo-Palestinian writer whose work often focuses on the roles and rights of women in the kinds of strict, patriarchal cultures that are common throughout the middle east. In the article, she is asked about the possible connection between the kinds of honor killings seen in Pakistan this week and the kinds of violet rampages that are sometimes seen in the west, such as the one perpetrated by Elliot Rodger last week near the University of California, Santa Barbera.
On the topic of the connection between honor killings and hate-related shooting sprees, Ms. Jebreal said:
“I don’t want to connect it but we live in a global world. What happened in California with the shooting – I would connect these two things together. We might think they’re far apart but actually it’s the same thing, same root. Give away your body, I will shoot you. A woman does whatever she wants with her body, they will kill her. It’s the same thing. And the sense of entitlement, considering a woman’s body as property is a matter of a family and ultimately violence will be the answer is something widespread all over the world whether it’s in Spain or Italy, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It takes a religious turn in certain areas but it comes from the same root – viewing a woman not as equal, but as inferior.”
Following Ms. Jebreal’s logic about honor killings, it would only be natural to conclude that this kind of reasoning is also at play in incidents such as the sentence of public stoning for a pregnant Sudanese woman whose only crime was being a member of a minority faith. While it was not an honor killing in the traditional sense, it was still a crime that entailed Ms. Jebreal’s combination of patriarchal attitudes and violent power. With three such incidents in the media in less than seven days, it’s hard to miss the underlying pattern that Ms. Jebreal outlines in more detail in her interview.
In that case, the problem is not 5,000 honor killings. It’s something much larger, much more insidious, and totally unrelated to the middle east or to Islam. It is about time that we talk, as a world community, about what that “something” is. It is also vital that we do so without pretending that it’s people of one kind of religious or ethnic bend that commit these crimes. The events of the last week alone demonstrate why that is so.
Honor killings are just a piece in a larger puzzle, and it’s time they are treated as such.
Image Courtesy of This Written River.