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Honor Killing from Egypt to the West: The Demise of “Western” Arab Women

By: Chinwendu Erondu

Photo provided: www.foxnews.com

Photo provided: www.foxnews.com

In many societies it is deemed as a great tragedy when children and young adults die prematurely. It is also condemned when adults are responsible for intentionally or unintentionally harming youth. However in some societies the act of murdering one’s child or relative is completely justifiable, and is regarded to be in the best interest for victim and the victim’s family. In these societies this act is not considered murder; rather it is dressed up with a more refined label, “Honor Killing”. As defined by Human Rights Watch, “honor killings are acts of vengeance generally committed by male family members against female family members, who are accused of bringing dishonor upon the family. Honor killing is often referred to as ‘femicide’ since women hold the highest percentage of casualties in this practice making up 93 percent of all honor killing victims worldwide”(http://www.meforum.org/about.php). In 2000 the United Nations estimated that 5,000 honor killings were committed worldwide annually. This figure is disproportional to exact numbers due to the under-reporting of crime and the crime not being technically categorized as honor killing, but put under the umbrella of domestic violence. Middle East Quarterly Report states that honor killings tend to be more prevalent in countries with a majority of Arab-Muslim population which accounts for 72 percent of the cases worldwide.

Egypt is one of the countries where this practice is all-to-common, along with Pakistan, India and much of Northern Africa. Just last year a disturbing video went viral of a women in Egypt been killed in the name of honor in broad daylight.  (http://www.wnd.com/2012/09/video-reveals-honor-killing-inside-morsis-egypt/). Over the past decade this practice has drastically become more rampant in Western countries as well, specifically within Europe and North America.  In 2009, an in-depth academic study conducted by Phyllis Chesler, a Professor at Richmond College of the City University of New York and co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology, sampled cases involving 172 honor killings  and concluded that 49 percent of the killings were done in North America and 66 percent in Europe.All the victims were killed by a family member. The study also conveyed that the motive behind 58percent of these killings on both continents was because victims were deemed as becoming “too Westernized” (http://bulletinoftheoppressionofwomen.com).

According to a 2011 report written by Yotam Feldner in the Middle East Quarterly, Arab-Muslim society’s honor is separated into two distinct categories: “sharaf” and “ird”. Sharaf is synonymous withdignity and relates to the honor of a social unit, or family. When an individual fails to follow what is defined as adequate moral conduct, this weakens the social status of the family unit. In contrast, ‘ird relates only to the honor of women and its value can only decrease. Essentially, once a woman is given the status of lacking “ird”  it is virtually impossible to escape this label and soon the women is  punished, sometimes with her life. Tarrad Fayiz, a Jordanian tribal leader,  put it into metaphorical terms, : “A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so the rest of the tree stays healthy and pure.”  The infliction of death is sought to bring redemption to the victim and wholesomeness back to her family.

The common vice of women of being too westernized or adopting undesirable western behaviors is a serious offense in countries like Egypt. Recep Doğan writes in his article published in Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs,“Allegations of unacceptable “Westernization” accounted for 44 percent of honor murders in the Muslim world as compared to 71 percent in Europe and 91 percent in North America.” Some of the behaviors that are described as undesirable Western attributes said to bring dishonor to the family unit are:  refusing an arranged marriage, choosing a non-Muslim significant other, refusing to wear Hijab or veil, promiscuity or alleged promiscuity, being too independent, and/or trying to leave or divorce a husband, whom in many cases is abusive. All of these perceived “Western characteristics” go against archetypical patriarch ideologies in which the foundation of many of these Arab communities are deeply founded. Ideologies such as these are based on the belief that it is the responsibility of the male figures in a family, i.e. father, brother, uncle, male cousins, to supervise and keep control over the woman in the family.  Thus, when immigrants with this mentality relocate to Western countries, where the culture and the perception of how women should behave drastically differ, it is likely that the women will begin to assimilate into the new culture and begin to develop a new philosophy of life. This is more likely for girls born in a western country. Tempted by Western ideas, desiring to assimilate, and hoping to escape lives of subordination, young girls and women who choose to exercise the option to live a more “Western” life are killed— usually in cruel and horrific ways to make an example for other girls to remain obedient.

Image provided by: www.themediaproject.org

Image provided by: www.themediaproject.org

In 2008 a double-murder of sisters, Amina and Sarah Said, in Dallas, Texas shocked the whole nation. After 9 months of investigation the crime was labeled as an honor killing. The girls were killed by their father, Yasser Said, who has never been seen since killing his daughters. The girls were born to an Egyptian immigrant father who worked as a taxi driver and a Caucasian American mother. Growing up, Amina and Sarah were always struggling with the reality of a  dual-cultural household, especially since their father had a very traditional view on how young Egyptian women should behave. Fearing their strict and verbally abusive father and having a passive mother who did not detect the seriousness of her husband’s despotic parenting with their daughters, until it was too late. The girls felt like prisoners in their own home, their only outlet was going to school and engaging with friends, some of whom they disclosed the severity of the terror they had for their father.  As the girls hit their adolescent years, they figured out ways to be rebellious, as most pre-teens. However the girls’ rebellion was not nearly as severe as their peers. Yasser began to micromanage his daughters every move. They were not allowed to attend social events, have friends over the house, and he would frequently check their cell-phone activity. The girls were desperate to have a social life; they came up with some crafty tactics to throw-off their father and satisfy their desire for more freedom. One tactic they used was to change their male friend’s names to female names in their cell-phones. Unfortunately, this act may have contributed to the girl’s death. Somehow Yasser found out about the name change foolery and angrily confronted them. The girls ran away. They eventually reconciled with their father, who promised he would be loosen up his iron-fist so the sister returned home. On January 1, 2008 Amina, 18, and Sarah, 17,where found shot to death in their father’s taxi. The motive of this fatal attack by their father was being too Western and supposedly having non-Muslim boyfriends. The last words of Amina would be to a 911 operator hysterically yelling that her father shot her and her sister and they were dying. Yasser Said is believed to have fled back to Egypt after the killing. This is just one case of many that happens every year in western countries. “The killings of  the Said sisters raises uncomfortable questions for the Islamic community in the United States, questions about the culture and mindset that people like Yasser Said bring to this country”  (http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=2329). It is truly a cultural dichotomy to expect a woman who was born and raised in one culture to adhere wholeheartedly to a culture of her parents’ or nationality.

Worldwide, The practice of honor killing has yet to have its own comprehensive legislation that deals effectively with perpetrators of the practice. As the implementation of such legislation has been in the process for more than a decade now, there are many factors that haveattributed to the delayed process, such as the lack of reliable statistical data of the victims and also the mislabeling of the crime. References to the killings are mentioned in United Nation framework, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and UN Division for the Advancement of women.  In 2001, 2003 and 2005 the UN General Assembly made recommendations for the resolution entitled, “Working towards the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honor”. The resolution called upon Member States to intensify legislative, educational, and social and other efforts to prevent and eliminate ’honor’-based crimes, attempting to remove the honor defense of in regard to the assault or murder of a female family member.The progress of a concrete legislation may seem slow for such a matter, there have been occasional victories that indicate that the international community recognizes the issues seriousness. In 2004, at a meeting in The Hague about the rising tide of honor killings in Europe, law enforcement officers from the U.K. announced plans to begin reopening old cases to see if certain murders were, indeed, honor murders (UNFPA).

Honor killing is a misogynistic characterized crime that has claimed the lives of so many innocent young girls and women. This phenomenon thatviewsa women’s behavior to be the underlining aspect which is used to evaluate her entire family’s integrity must be stopped. There must be a greater urgency toward taking appropriate steps to establish legislation that will prevent these murders. It is also imperative for a greater global awareness of this issue. The international community must begin this dialogue to critically analyze the logic of this practice especially as it crosses over into diverging societies.

Sources

 

Chesler, Phyllis. “Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings.” Middle East Quarterly, 2010: 3-11.

Dogan, Recep. “Is Honor Killing a “Muslim Phenomenon”? Textual Interpretations and Cultural Representations.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 2011: 423-440.

Feldner, Yotam. “Honor Murders – Why the Perps Get off Easy.” The Middle East Quarterly, 2000: 41-50.

Marwan, Asma. “Statistics on Honor Killing.” Bulletin of the Oppression of Women, Febuary 8, 2010.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/honor_2.html#ixzz1mc1BlqSg

Spencer, Robert. “Honor Killing in Texas.” Human Events. January 1, 2008. http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=2329 (accessed Febuary 9, 2012).

United Nations . Ending Violence against Women and Girls. New York: United Nations Population Fund, 2000.

United Nations. “Resolutio 57/179: Working towards the elimination of crimes against.” United Nations. 2003. http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A%2FRES%2F57%2F179+&Submit=Search&Lang=E (accessed 2 10, 2012).

 

 

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