HONOR KILLING: Despicable Act In The Name of God by Adeyemi Oshunrinade


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Better to say the sick and primitive notion of Honor Killing is unacceptable in the civilized society. The recent killing of four in Canada brought shock to the minds and makes one wonder why a father would kill his own children in the name of God and as a justification for preserving his so-called honor and tradition. Whatever the reason, it is not unreasonable to say there is no justification for taking innocent lives in the name of culture and tradition.

A jury on January 29, 2012 found three members of an Afghan family guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another woman their step-mom, in what could be described as cold-blooded murder. The outrageous and despicable act happened as a result of a twisted concept of “honor.” A father and his co-conspirators killed his three teenage daughters because they dishonored the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress code, dating, socializing and using the internet.

Mohammed Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, were each found guilty of first-degree murder carrying an automatic sentence of life with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Mohammed had left Afghanistan in 1992 for greener pastures in the West that eventually landed him and his family in Canada in 2007. Mohammed a wealthy business man, married Yahaya because his first wife could not have children. Mohammed’s first wife who got killed along with his three teenage daughters was living with him in what could be called a polygamous relationship before she got killed.

The months preceding the killings saw the girls being subject to mistreatment and beatings. Zainab, 19, the oldest daughter got barred from attending school for a year because she had a Pakistani/Canadian boyfriend and had to flee to a shelter in fear of her father. The parents also found condoms in Sahar’s room and photos of her hugging a Christian boyfriend, Sahar was just 17. Geeti, 13, was becoming impossible to control; she was skipping school and failing classes. These are the reasons their father and his co-conspirators used as justification for killing the girls and his first wife Rona Amir Mohammed, 52, accused of advocating for the girls.

Honor killing simply put is the homicide of a member of a family or social group usually carried out by other members of same family in the name of honor and respect. It takes place under a belief that the targeted member of the family has brought dishonor and disgrace upon the family or community. While most victims of honor killing are women and girls, the act has also been extended to men however, this is rarely the case.

Part of reasons given for such killings are on suspicion of behaviors such as indecent way of dressing which the family may consider unacceptable. Others have become victims of honor killing as a result of their wish to break up an arranged marriage, or due to their decision to marry a partner of their choice that might be unacceptable to members of the social group. Engaging in homosexual acts or heterosexual acts outside marriage has also been used as justification for honor killing by members of the family who find such behavior distasteful.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), about 5,000 women and girls die yearly and their deaths linked to members of their family in the name of honor. Women’s groups in the Middle East and South-West Asia estimate the number of victims is about four times greater. Opponents consider honor killing an act of vengeance. It is not uncommon for a woman who is a victim of sexual assault to get killed by members of her family in the name of honor. Likewise, a woman seeking a divorce from an abusive husband may become a victim of honor killing based on mere perception that she has brought disrespect to her family.

A woman who bridge social divide by adopting the culture and tradition of another group or by marriage outside her religion and culture, may become victim of honor killing. In foreign nations, immigrant men have imposed their patriarchal status on women and girls of their community by inflicting honor killing on them  for example,when, a female family member  participates in public life such as civil rights proclamation and politics.

It is also common for a man to become a victim of honor killing by engaging in homosexual acts the so-called “gay honor killing;” or for adopting Western behavior which his community and family consider against their cultural norms. A man can also be victim of honor killing for having inappropriate relationship with a woman if the woman’s family think such relationship violates or disrespect their family honor.

In some places such as rural Brazil, it is common for boys and trans-girls to suffer honor killing just for disclosing their sexual orientation. Even though, the practice is so common in the Middle Eastern countries, it is important to mention that honor killing, has its origin in the belief that a woman’s chastity is the property of her family, the cultural norm which dates back to 1200 BC. The practice became known in ancient Rome where the patriarchal male must take actions against any female member of his family who engaged in adultery or else face persecution for failing to do so.

In ancient Rome as described in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s book ‘Spartacus’, women raped by slaves got killed. Being raped became dishonorable and perceived as destroying the reputation and life of a woman. As a result, honor killing was the only way to restore respect and therefore, considered a “merciful” act in ancient Rome. Roman law also established honor killings by stating that women found guilty of adultery could be killed by their husbands as desired.

In ancient Babylonian, Egypt, Chinese, North America Native American ethnic groups and Persian cultures women suspected of adultery  got mistreated for violating the respect and honor of their family. In ancient Egypt, imprisonment, flogging, and mutilation was punishment for women convicted of adultery. Native American ethnic groups were also known to punish adulterous women by cutting their limbs and mutilating their bodies.

Honor killings goes across cultures. It is a common practice in most Middle Eastern nations such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, Yemen and many more. The practice is also known in the nations of Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Italy, Uganda and Sweden according to report by the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Western European nations also have reported cases of honor killings carried out within their borders. In 2005, six Muslim women living in Berlin got killed by their family members in the name of honor. In Sweden, Fadime Sahindal, a 26-year-old Kurdish woman got killed in 2002 by her father for opposing his insistence on an arranged marriage.

Every year in the United Kingdom there are at least a dozen women who are victims of honor killings which takes place within Asian and Middle Eastern families. The United Kingdom has seen at least a dozen honor killings between 2004-2005 based on report by Nazir Afzal, Director, West London, of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service. Heshu Yones got stabbed to death by her Kurdish father in London in 2002, when the family heard a love song dedicated to her and assumed she had a boyfriend. Also, in 2010 Gurmeet Singh Ubhi, a Sikh, murdered his 24-year-old daughter, Amrit Kaur Ubhi, because he disapproved her dating a non-sikh.

Honor killings are also a special form of domestic violence in the United States. There are many women and girls subject to victimization by male members of their family for going outside the culture and religion of the family. Although, not many cases in the United States, most honor killings documented in the United States and Europe featured killers who were Muslims. The recent killings in Canada, shows how the barbaric practice is becoming prominent in the Americas.

While some have carried out honor killings in the name of religion, some have done it to protect their culture and tradition. Irrespective of the different motives behind the practice, the question is why someone would leave his native land to live in a civilized nation and think his children won’t adopt Western education and ideas? While it is true that the Western notion of freedom corrupts the minds of children, there are better ways to deal with the problem other than to result to killing.

Mohammed Shafia with his wife and son has committed the most outrageous acts of killing the innocent. There is no justification whatsoever for killing in the name of God, religion, culture and tradition; his actions are nothing but a gross violation of the human rights of those innocent children. Mohammed Shafia could have stayed in Afghanistan and not come to Canada if he holds his religion and honor dearly; to think his daughters brought up in Canada would think just like him is unconscionable.

Honor killing is barbaric and therefore, unacceptable in any civilized nation. Those who believe in the despicable act should have in mind Western tradition of values and the core principles in free and democratic society, before taking their voyage to live in a civilized society. Killing in the name of honor and religion is not the basis for Western democracy. The practice could not be imposed on others, by those who believe in it. Western education teaches civil rights and equal protection. killing in the name of God and honor violates such doctrines and therefore, has no place in a civilized world.

Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations, and the United Nations.

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