A Practical Approach to Talking About Honor Killing

By Deepak Chopra, Jim Buck and Rinde Pasori
Recently, a story appeared in Huffington Post about a 16 year old Turkish girl who was buried alive by her father and grandfather for having talked to boys. The West rightly finds this a horrific practice. However, many in the West also misunderstand and conveniently condemn honor killing as a practice of Islam. The mistake with this condemnation is that Islam does not permit or condone honor killing. However, it is precisely this misunderstanding and ignorance that allows many in the West to participate in a climate of hate, mistrust and even the idea of war against all of Islam.
As I, Deepak, wrote about the rule “They are crazy” in ” Peace is the Way: Bringing War and Violence to an End”: “Instead of being seen as contrary ideas, we view theirs as crazy, on a par with someone who might suggest the return of slavery or the subjugation of women (this idea enfolds itself into the crazy arguments against all of Islam rather easily).”
Fueling the charge of “crazy” in the cases of honor killing is the concept of honor. What is honor? Traditionally, honor in this context means one’s reputation or good name. The concept of honor may come from the need to be perceived as perfect in the eyes of one’s community because if one’s community sees a person as flawless, then perhaps so will God and they will easily enter Heaven. Since God is such a far away concept, the instant gratification of the approval of one’s neighbors or one’s community of a father and his family’s lifestyle and their adherence to Islam’s rules becomes more immediate and in many cases is used as an indication of one’s perfection in the eyes of God. However, it should be noted this is a centuries-old cultural practice with, in some cases, only the slightest connection to Islam. In many cases, honor is connected to the sexual purity of one’s daughter or female family member, which is too big a topic to be examined here.
And while some in the West see honor killing as “evidence” that Islam is a bad religion, many in the East condemn the West as being a place with an evil culture where women have sex with countless numbers of men followed by countless numbers of abortions all in the name of their feminist, godless freedom with absolutely no respect for life. And because East and West each perceive the other as having no respect for life because of their honor killings and abortions, it becomes easier for some in our respective cultures to hate the other even more. And in this animosity, the opportunity to help heal those who need it is lost in a shouting match of hurled accusations and mutual contempt. It makes it easier to go to war with people who don’t share the life-preserving values of our god and our religion, as I mention in the rule, “They believe in a false God” in “Peace is the Way”.
The rule “They hate us and probably always will” also applies here. As I, Deepak wrote: “This rule is sheer projection, imagining how someone else feels because it serves how you want them to feel, or need them to feel. It is much easier on the conscience to hurt someone who hates you.”
But another part of what is written about that rule applies to honor killing overall: “Feelings and emotions don’t change the immorality of violence. It’s true that in some countries an accused killer can be let off on the basis that he committed a crime of passion, but in those cases the hatred wasn’t in the victim, but in the criminal.” But in the “crimes of passion” that are honor killings, hatred seems not to be in the mind of the killer. In fact, a lack of passion or hatred seems to be present.
In Rana Husseini’s Murder in the Name of Honor, Ms. Husseini describes an interview in a Jordanian jail she had with a young man named Sarhan who in 1999 shot his sister Yasmin because she was no longer a virgin after she had been raped by a brother-in-law.
In the interview, Sarhan explained, “‘I killed her because she was no longer a virgin,’ he told me. ‘She made a mistake, willingly or not. It is better that one person dies than the whole family of shame and disgrace. It is like a box of apples. If you have one rotten apple would you keep it or get rid of it? I just got rid of it.’ When I challenged Sarhan by pointing out that his act contradicted the teachings of Islam and was punishable by God, he said, ‘I know that killing my sister is against Islam and it angered God, but I had to do what I had to do and I will answer to God when the time comes.” He added, “I know my sister was killed unjustly but what can I do? This is how society thinks. Nobody really wants to kill his own sister.”
Obviously many honor killings do not involve hate on the part of the father or brother toward the sister or daughter for their perceived “dishonor”. I, Rinde, grew up in Turkey and quickly realized it was not favorable to be born a girl. No matter what my brothers did it was accepted by my parents. On the other hand, they would talk over me as if I had nothing significant to say. My brothers and my parents would beat me on many occasions, especially when I did something to displease them, such as dare to talk back to them which was disapproved of since they were men. However, it was okay for them to slap me around to put me on “the right path”.
Their abuse was not dictated by religion since my brothers were not really religious, nor did it come from love to “help me be a better person”. However, I got off easy, because there were occasions where women would suddenly be missing. These women would vanish without a trace. It would be reported by a family in my village that “my daughter has committed suicide”. It was obvious that they were killed by a family member, but no one would dare say anything. Being Kurdish, the customs of our culture even before Islam’s arrival are more cemented than even the religion itself in the name of deeply rooted rituals and beliefs. Besides, most people never really study the Quran and have a very limited, distorted view of their own religion. Thus, they act on cultural impulse as Sarhan so aptly described it.
Samina Ahmad co-chairs the Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative (SSGWI) an NGO which works to fund the food and medical needs of Internally Displaced Persons in Pakistan as a result of the war with the Taliban. Born and raised in Pakistan, Samina is a medical doctor and women’s issues are very important to her, and she says that honor killing is un-Islam.
“It’s based on ignorance and a lack of respect for women .It has no place in any civilized society. Like all other religions Islam prohibits murder and killing of innocents. Honor killing should be wiped off the face of the planet through education and empowerment of Muslim women’s rights by focusing on the true interpretation of the Quran.”
Samina’s husband and SSGWI co-chair Salman Ahmad adds that “with education and cross cultural communication we should wipe it off the face of the planet. True Islam gives rights to women which have to be illuminated by Muslim majority governments and civil society and the media.”
What should be understood by all is there are as many scenarios under the heading “honor killing” in the East as there are scenarios under the heading of “domestic violence” in the West.
Mavis Leno chairs the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls. In an interview on Friday, Ms. Leno was asked about honor killing, which she attributes to tribal traditions, and not Islam, “Many, many countries forbid these things but they don’t prosecute. To simply say it’s against the law but then you don’t go in and do anything, it’s like turning a blind eye. In fact, at no time in America was serious, vicious wife beating mandated, but there was no recourse for women who were beaten that way until modern times.”
Kecia Ali, assistant professor of religion at Boston University and author of Sexual Ethics & Islam, believes that any discussion of honor killing should also include an awareness of other issues women all around the world are facing, “Which kinds of violence against women are we willing to see and make a big deal about and be horrified over? And which aren’t we? What about women in Brownsville who keep disappearing and being murdered? What about little African-American girls who are kidnapped who don’t get the kind of attention given to Jean-Benet Ramsey? What about the women in Congo being raped? What about people who are dying of routine kinds of things but nonetheless, horrifying, for being routine. As long as we make this about us and them, and as long as we make this about primitive patriarchy, and conflict with an enlightened West, we miss bigger kinds of connections.”
To make those bigger connections and to better help Afghan women and girls, Ms. Leno describes the work of FMF as: “Education, healthcare, women’s shelters so that women who are being subjected to different kinds of threat or abuse can have some sort of place to go and have recourse in their lives. And we’re also heavily involved in helping Dr. Sima Samar with her work. She does a lot of different things for women’s health but the emphasis here at the moment is on the unbelievable amount of mother and child mortality.”
Astronomers tell us that when galaxies collide, the gravitational forces will be so intense they will rip planets and solar systems apart in a cataclysm that we on earth simply cannot imagine because it is on a galactic level. But on a human level, right now, right here on earth, two galaxies are colliding. Between the Muslim world of the East, and the West, there are forces are at work that are destined to reshape both cultures and religions before the end of the 21st century.
All conflict is an opportunity to bring peace and understanding rather war and hatred. In a generation or two, our children may have worked out many of the smaller differences between East and West to help begin the process of bringing about a lasting peace and understanding. As our friend Salman Ahmad said at a recent book signing when asked what the West could do to help bring peace and understanding with the Muslim world: “become involved and have respect. “
Therefore, it is our present generation’s duty and obligation to frame now as much of the cross-cultural dialogue as possible on various issues between our two giant groups of East and West cultures so that our children and grandchildren can benefit from a respectful discussion which leads to the most peaceful outcome possible, rather than a continuation of prejudice, misunderstanding and hate, and which we hope combines all of our vast resources to battle disease, starvation, poverty and violence against women, children and minority groups wherever it happens in the world.
Jim Buck is a writer living in Los Angeles. He is currently writing a book on the origins and history of honor killing.
Rinde Pasori is a writer living in Paris. Their most recent collaboration is “Asiya”, a screenplay which tells the story of a young Kurdish woman and how she comes to that horrible fate for which they are presently seeking producers and representation.
Posted in the HuffingtonPost