honor killing

The US Definition of Honor Killing Is Hypocritical & Racist

Honor is a fuzzy, funny concept. Its meaning is constructed differently when applied to contrasting bodies: supreme white humans versus Muslim brown flesh. The former signifies American patriotism at its finest. Whereas the latter typifies Muslim men as brutal savages who are blood-thirsty. When white men get jealous, they commit murder. Just murder. When Muslim men kill, the crimes are called honor killings and the men become terrorists by association.

The “supreme commander” Donald Trump, who has an atrocious record of sexism, has ordered the American government to start publicizing “information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called “honor killings,” in the United States by Muslim barbarians foreign nationals.”

Foreign nationals in this context are people who come from the six Muslim-majority countries banned from entering the United States: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. While the Executive Order is framed as a protective measure against terrorists, I could not help but be puzzled. What is the connection between terrorism and “the so-called honor killings?”

Honor killing is used to describe the murdering of a woman by her male relatives (brother, husband, or father) for having relationships outside of marriage in the name of restoring the family’s honor.

While the Executive Order is framed as a protective measure against terrorists, I could not help but be puzzled. What is the connection between terrorism and “the so-called honor killings?”

Boggled and curious, I hit the search button to delve deeper into the heart of the matter. Surprise. A not so pleasant one. On the same day the EO was signed, Breitbart published an article entitled “U.S.-Based Honor Killings: Victims of Growing ‘Silent Epidemic.’”

The piece cites Ayaan Hirsi Ali who wrote in 2015 for The Atlantic about the horrors of honor killings in the U.S. “and not just in faraway countries like Afghanistan or Somalia.” Both articles refer to sad stories of women, mostly immigrants from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey, who were murdered by family members because they violated their cultures and went against their family’s desires.

Killing anyone in the name of honor, traditions, or religion is unIslamic and unacceptable. It is heartbreaking to see the photos of the beautiful young women who were murdered. What is more disturbing is the way these stories were framed as immigrant problems, mostly conducted by Muslims, and that the victims were too western that they deserved the familial death penalty. 

This simplistic representation of the problem and the promotion of such rhetoric is nauseating. Renowned American anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod dedicated a chapter in her amazing ethnography Do Muslim Women Need Saving? entitled “Seductions of the ‘Honor Crime.’” Critiquing Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s popular discourse that pits Western freedom against imprisonment by Islam, Abu-Lughod writes, “…we must situate…and ground our thinking about the meanings of freedom in the everyday lives of individuals, on the one hand, and the imperial politics of intervention, on the other. We will find that it is rarely a case of being free or oppressed, choosing or being forced.”

None of these offenders’ religious or cultural “affiliations” are blamed or referenced as the motives behind their crimes.

Abu-Lughod points to the problems with the way the category of the honor crimes works. She writes, “…it simplifies morality and distorts the kinds of relations between men and women that exist in societies where honor is a central value…defining honor crimes as a unique cultural form too neatly divides civilized from uncivilized societies, the West and the rest…the obsession with honor crimes erases completely the modern state institutions and techniques of governance that are integral to both the incidents of violence and the category by which they are understood.”

Within this divide of the civilized and uncivilized societies, the West and the rest, many violent murders committed against women in the U.S. are not called honor crimes simply because the perpetrators are white. All the articles I found referred to the killers as “jealous” men.

Thisjealous” man shot and killed estranged wife on their front lawn.

This Texas man is accused of killing a middle school student and wounding her best friend. “He was motivated by jealousy and claimed he planned the attack with the devil.”

This man killed his cancer survivor daughter with a baseball “because he was jealous of the attention she received for surviving eye cancer.”

Thisjealous” man is accused of killing and dismembering his ex-girlfriend’s roommate.

After “jealous rage,” this man was sentenced to life without parole for killing his ex-girlfriend.

This jealous husband murdered his wife by stabbing her more than 20 times with a military knife for speaking to another man on a night out.

None of these offenders’ religious or cultural “affiliations” are blamed or referenced as the motives behind their crimes. Law Professor Leti Volpp wrote in her article “Blaming Culture for Bad Behavior” that violent or abusive behavior gets attributed to specific cultures only when it occurs in minority or alien cultural, racial, or national groups. “Because we tend to perceive white Americans as “people without culture,” when white people engage in certain practices we do not associate their behavior with a racialized conception of culture, but rather construct other, non-cultural explanations,” she writes.

Are you convinced yet? Do you see how the narratives get distorted depending on the skin color of the offender? Is this the right way to addressing and eradicating gender-based violence in the U.S. and abroad? Or are these merely excuses to justify the collective demonization of Muslims?

This article urges the media to rethink the term “honor killing” because it is deeply offensive. U.K.-based freelance journalist Shehnaz Khan argues in the article against the terminology saying that “while it is imperative to highlight that these crimes and murders stem from the roots of misogyny and therefore a false sense of ‘honor,’ there is absolutely nothing but ‘shame’ within them, as murder is nothing but dishonorable.”

A murder is a violent crime regardless of the ethnicity of the murderer. There is no honor in killing — whether out of jealousy or to preserve one’s dignity. There is only shame in stigmatizing a population to further political xenophobia and racism in the name of patriotism.