Siddiqui (p.264) defines an honor crime as consisting of:
a range of violent or abusive acts committed in the name of honor, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and other controlling and coercive behaviors such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation which can end, in some extreme cases, in suicide or murder. (13)
These felonies, it is true, can happened, and do happen, in any civilized country but they are legalized, accepted (sometimes even condoned) and happen to an unimaginable extent in societies that are marked by their Islamic way of living.
The Southall Black Sisters, for instance, have consistently argued that men from minority cultures have often used religion and culture to justify the range of violence and humiliation that they impose upon women. We do find many cultures that have extreme views perpetuating misogyny. This includes cultures such as Mormonism, fundamentalists Judaism, fundamentalist Christianity, and other fundamentalists faiths as well as various cultures. Therefore, it is not always minority cultures that perpetuate misogyny. Misogyny in fact seems to be a factor that transcends culture. The degree of violence, misanthropy, and chaos as well as woman-hatred seems to be, however, peculiar to Islamic culture. In these cultures, womens reputation is closely guarded and their behavior required to be chaste without a scintilla of criticisms or suspicion. Men too have certain dictates of honor, such as homosexuality, but in many cultures (not just Islamic), it is the behavior of the woman that is most closely observed, discussed, and controlled.
It is interesting that the British qualification of honor differs so markedly from that of the Muslim one. To the British, honor implies images of a duel fought to protect the woman. Ironically, the image — and purpose of the honor act – is counter polar to that of the Islamic image of honor. In the one, the woman is defended; in the other she is killed. May it be because the one of defense originated from a tortuously won history of open mindedness and will to understand others and to establish as much as possible a Utopian state? Britain was not always this way. In its middle ages, for instance, it detested the woman as much as Islamic society does today. Ironically enough, when Islam defended the woman and sought to establish peace-loving cultured communities, Britain, in the middle of their smog and morass of primeval times assaulted the female. It was when Britain turned to human rights in general and to female rights in particular with its becoming more of a philosophical and humanistic enlightened country, that women began to be respected as people and that violence became censored as a crime. Islam, on the other hand, regressed into centuries of backwardness and neglect, and in these regions women became assaulted for the very crime of being female and violence became a norm.
Not all observers, however, agree that misogyny is peculiar to Islam. Although Aslam certainly seems to make this point (at least imply it) in his book “Maps for Lost Lovers ,” other critiques on honor killing such as those authored by Lynn Welchman and Sara Hossain in their edited collection entitled “Honour: Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence Against Women” argue that misogynism is transcendental to all continents and countries. One of the essays, for instance, shows that honor killings occurs also in Brazil, Mexico and across Latin America with the intent of dispelling the myth that honor killings are peculiar to Islamic society.
Honor crimes it self is seen as having a multiplicity of meanings as Sohail Akbar Warraich observes about honour crimes in Pakistan, “…
local understandings of this term vary depending on who kills whom and the perceived transgression of social norms..” (p78)
On the whole, however, honor crimes can be defined as an act / behavior that is more generic to women than to men. As Radhika Coomaraswamy says in the Preface:
“Honour is generally seen as residing in the bodies of women”
Coomaraswamy proceeds to elaborate by noting that: “in many societies the ideal of masculinity is underpinned by a notion of honour — of an individual man, or a family or a community — and is fundamentally connected to policing female behaviour and sexuality.”
Some of this policing includes violence and murder “as well as indirect subtle control exercised through threats of force or the withdrawal of family benefits and security.”
Honor crimes take place in various parts of the world and, according to Purna Sen, are characterized by six features. Two key characteristics include the following:
nGender relations that problematise and control womens behaviours, shaping and controlling womens sexuality in particular; and nCollective decisions regarding punishment, or in upholding the actions considered appropriate, for transgressions of these boundaries (p50).
Just as Siddiqui writes and Aslam implies, it is womens bodies and sexuality that become the territory for perceived family, conjugal, and community honour. There are even western societies that indirectly assist in rampaging womens honor such as Britains killing Zoorah Shah for having poisoned her husband despite the fact that Shah was living in a forced marriage and had been subjected to sexual rape and sexual exploitation, including with other men who were not her husband. Yet because Shah did not fall into the British schema of the demoralized demeaned Muslim woman, Shah was killed (Siddiqui ). Indeed:
international human rights law requires states to exercise due diligence in protecting women from such violations by private actors, while domestic legislation, court practice and informal legal structures vary in the level of protection and remedy they offer women, in particular where family or conjugal honour is invoked.” (Welchman and Hossain, p3).
Many of the western countries too conflate honor killing with arranged marriage . The two, though are utterly distinct ( Siddiqui). Aslam noticed this distinction and tried to point it out.
In short, therefore, although Welchman and Hossain state misogyny and violence to transcend all coutures, there is a degree of violence and misogyny that is particularly characteristic of Islamic societies. These societies not only legitimize such actions but also actively pursue them to a greater or lesser degree. And almost always, these countries that pursue such violence are characterized by backwards and poverty. It is a s though one condition instigates the other. The fact that, as Welchman and Hossain (2005) note, countries, other than Islamic regions, such as Mexico and Latin America, demonstrate violence and misogyny too – extending and including honor killing- imply that violence may be somehow related to backwardness and certain sentiments towards women. And the more backwards the country, presumably the more intense the violence. Pakistani art and culture is there — in fact the novel is full of it and reads like one itself. The misery and heartache, however, the coldness and desolation is not attributable to the Islamic culture of poetry and art; rather Aslam attributes it to a religion / social ethos that has gone askew and lost itself in the morass of the years. Backwardness has resulted in misogyny. In turn, misogyny culminates in violence. And the spiral continues.
Aslam, N. (2005) Maps for Lost Lovers Knopf, UK
Lynn Welchman and.