Ghosts in the honor killing

Time magazine has a feature story on the death of Noor al-Maleki, a young Arizona woman who was killed by her own father. He was convicted this week of her so-called “honor killing,” and I write “so-called” because I have trouble putting the word “honor” next to any practice so barbaric as spilling your daughter’s blood in order to cleanse your family’s reputation.

Anyway, reporter Nadya Labi does a good job of tackling the subject by choosing to focus in on this one case. As we discussed just a couple of days ago, the topic is fraught with tension and reporters struggle in covering honor issues. I was thinking back to the story of the Muzzamil “Mo” Hassan and how it would have been covered if he’d been the head of, say, Focus on the Family’s broadcasting division instead of the head of a Muslim TV network.

In this story, we learn about Noor and the mother of her boyfriend, Amal Khalaf. Noor was living with Khalaf because things were very rough at her home. She bristled against her parents’ strict rules — and the marriage they arranged for her — and they didn’t appreciate her independence or acceptance of American freedoms. Much of the story goes through the sequence of events that led to her death. Noor and Khalaf were run over by the Dad’s car. Khalaf survived her injuries. Noor did not.

For his part, Faleh al-Maleki says he only intended to scare his daughter and to spit on her when he accidentally ran the car over them. He was convicted on Feb. 22 and faces up to 46 years in prison. The story does touch on religion, such as here:

Islam doesn’t sanction honor killings, and the practice is not limited to Muslims. The crimes also occur in Christian communities in the Middle East and in non-Muslim communities in India. Last July, for example, after a number of Hindu girls were killed for dating out of caste, the Indian Prime Minister convened a commission to investigate whether harsher laws are needed to curb the crimes.

The majority of crimes, however, do occur in Muslim communities, and some of the perpetrators seem to believe that killing for honor is their religious duty. Strict attitudes toward sexual behavior in Islam — sexual relations outside marriage are punishable by death in Saudi Arabia and Iran — don’t discourage that mind-set.

I don’t know how helpful it is to say that “Islam does this” or “Islam does that.” I’d like more specifics about how Islam doesn’t sanction honor killings or why most honor crimes occur in Muslim communities. These are very complex issues, and I recognize the difficulty of discussing them, but there has to be a bit more in a nice feature-length piece such as this. I’d love to know more about how religious attitudes can influence not just the practice of honor killing but the treatment of women in general. For instance, one thing that I thought of when reading this story was how a single honor killing can exact a huge cost that extends well beyond the family in question. How many women behave a certain way out of fear of being killed? How does it affect the reporting of rapes?

I thought the story was interesting for how much it tried to explain Faleh’s point of view. I’m not saying that you don’t come out of it thinking of him as a monster. You will. And at times it seems like he and his supporters speak a foreign language where up is down. But I think the reporter did a good job of letting him explain his actions as well as he could.

I thought the ending was the most provocative. When Faleh talks about his motivation, he focuses a lot on tribalism:

“The whores … burned us,” Faleh said in another jailhouse conversation with his wife. He added, “They destroyed me.” Seham responded, “May God seek revenge on them, God willing.”

Seham reassured her husband that “the people are not letting you down. They know you are a good-hearted person and have nothing.” At a later point, Faleh urged her to round up Iraqis from his tribe to protest his imprisonment at the American consulate. “No one hates his daughter, but honor is precious, and nothing is better than honor, and we are a tribal society that we can’t change,” Faleh said. “I didn’t kill someone off the street; I tried to give her a chance.”

Haunting quotes. We learn that Seham, the mother, tried to raise $100,000 in cash for a lawyer. She met with an imam at the al-Rasool Mohammed mosque in Peoria. She stopped going when no money was forthcoming. She also failed to get help from the Iraqi Cultural Association.

But the reporter doesn’t just stop there and write that this is evidence that Faleh had no support for his actions. She takes it a bit further to ask some pointed questions:

It is easy for the community to distance itself from Faleh now that he is a convicted murderer. But who spoke up for Noor when she was reportedly being brutalized at home and forced into an arranged marriage? Did any of Faleh’s contemporaries defend her right to dress herself how she wished? Why is Khalaf’s husband so quick to insist that Noor was a virgin and never involved with his son? Why do the teenage girls at al-Rasool mosque scold Noor for violating the precepts of their religion? …

Asked whether the community has taken away any lessons from Noor’s murder, the owner of an Iraqi grocery store in Peoria nods, explaining, “They don’t want their daughters to become like Noor.”

Saher Alyasry, a mother in her mid-30s praying at al-Rasool mosque, speaks out firmly, in Arabic, while her teenage daughter, rocking a newborn, translates. “I think what he did was right. It’s his daughter, and our religion doesn’t allow us to do what she did,” she says. “A guy who cares about his reputation, he should do that because people will start talking about him if he doesn’t.” When asked if honor is more important than love, she responds, “Yes. What’s the point of loving her if she’s bad?”

Because I have parents who, thank God, love me even when my behavior shames them, these quotes are almost incomprehensible to me. I think the story did a lot to explain how powerful “honor” is in certain cultures, but I sense, in light of that last quote in particular, that a bit more discussion of religious precepts would have taken that understanding much further.

Still, a captivating story about a very sad domestic situation.

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  • Jerry

    Islam doesn’t sanction honor killings, and the practice is not limited to Muslims. The crimes also occur in Christian communities in the Middle East and in non-Muslim communities in India. Last July, for example, after a number of Hindu girls were killed for dating out of caste, the Indian Prime Minister convened a commission to investigate whether harsher laws are needed to curb the crimes.

    The majority of crimes, however, do occur in Muslim communities, and some of the perpetrators seem to believe that killing for honor is their religious duty.

    I think you missed a chance to focus on the honor killings that take place in Christian and Hindu communities as well. It’s not the target of this story, but have there been stories about Christian honor killings?

    And I would have wanted him asked where in the Quran or Hadith honor killings were sanctioned assuming he did believe it’s his religious duty. Or perhaps since he said nothing is better than honor, perhaps asking him why honor was more important than his duty as a Muslim would have been a useful approach depending on his answer to the first question.

  • Bob Smietana

    Her father was convicted of first degree murder. According to Time, prosecutors call it an honor killing — but he was convicted of murder.

  • Corita

    I listened to an NPR story this week about the Hassan murder, which specifically focused on it not as an “honor killing” but as a domestic violence murder. In fact, the Muslim community of Buffalo, especially, has tried to do a lot of work to educate about DV in the wake of that tragedy.

    I am interested in the intersection of religious beliefs and patriarchal violence. This too is a tremendously difficult topic to explore in journalism.

    I do wonder if we give too much credence to the religious component when focusing on these events as “honor killings”, which makes it all about religious beliefs dictating behavior (which we are loathe to criticize, much less restrict), and thus we eliminate the possibility for delegitimizing the violence against women that is acceptable in other cultures.

    A link to the NPR story here:
    http://www.npr.org/2011/02/21/133882697/buffalos-muslims-battle-stereotype-after-murder

  • Jerry

    One other thing occurred to me. I’d like to know more about any changes in the assimilation of the current wave of immigrants whether from Muslim-majority countries or elsewhere. The story is, from a different perspective, about an assimilated second-generation immigrant’s struggle against her first-generation father. I suspect this is very common but I’d like that assumption tested in a news story.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry,

    I agree. You can’t really tell the story of America without that story, and it’s a universal struggle that lasts generations. I think about what I like and dislike about assimilation as it relates to my own and other cultures all the time.

    Corita,

    What I found interesting about this particular honor killing is that the father seemed to talk about in terms of pure tribalism while some of the other quotes brought up religion. I think “honor” is not an individualized issue and so the entire culture — from tribal aspects to religion — is open for discussion.

    For instance, one of the things I liked about an AP story I linked to earlier in the week is that it didn’t just speak with Muslims who condemned violence against women but also looked at Koranic verses that are used by some to justify violence against women. It’s such a complicated story and there’s no reason to make it just about one aspect of one’s culture and not a mixture of many aspects.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Bob,

    He was actually convicted of second-degree murder. If you read this TIME story, you’ll see there’s very little dispute, if any, about whether this was an “honor” issue. His own quotes make that clear. For his part, as I noted above, the father says he only meant to spit on his daughter when he ran her over with his car.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: I thought the story was interesting for how much it tried to explain Faleh’s point of view

    I don’t want Faleh’s point of view to be explained. He’s a tribalistic savage, and that’s all we need to know. Should we expect a news story talking about drug dealers in Brooklyn to give the drug dealer’s point of view too?

  • Dave

    I’d love to know more about how religious attitudes can influence not just the practice of honor killing but the treatment of women in general.

    Mollie, it was notorious before Islam became a major element in US politics — ie, before 9/11 — that practices such as honor killings, female genital mutilation and total-body covering of women in public are locally attributed to Islam where they are practiced but are in fact tribal customs mistakenly given Muslim camouflage.

    Since 9/11 the presence of Islam in a story, howsoever tangential, has distracted both journalists and readers from this fact.

  • http://demographymatters.blogspot.com Donald

    Hector: If you want to know why people do what they do, then, yes, we should know.

  • freenarnian

    The tribalism thing is interesting. Jews had tribalism and Scripture provides C
    Jewish Law simply did not allow kiliing willy nilly as Islam does. All ancient peoples killed their children for disobedience. Many offered infants and grown children as sacrifices to various deities so the parent would succeed materially, or have success in a specific endeavor. Judaic Law forbids child sacrifice and forbids a child from being killed even for disobedience only upon the authority of the father.

    Instead, the law breaker had to be brought before all the people, each side had to be heard fully, and no capital offense could be executed without TWO eye-witnesses to the forbidden act, who then had to throw the first stones. The upshot is adultery cases were quite hard to prove. A young girl (not engaged to be married) who had relations, was considered raped, much like our statutory rape laws.

    One must remember that Islam mandates specific cultural behaviors, a specific form of government and a specific law. Religion is not merely personal or private. Further, they are also expected to copy Muhammed as the IDEAL man. Even to the having of cats, not dogs. So examine Muhammed. Did he honor kill?

    The most interesting issue is the issue of telling the truth.

    The man’s own quotes make it very clear also that he can lie without batting an eye. Who in his right mind, thinks he can hock a loogi and hit a target going fast enough and close enough to run them down?

    The fact that it is regarded by those in his community as an honor killing also says a lot, Nobody actually seems to regard it as accident. Neither does he. For he says it is not as if he killed a stranger, he tried to give her a chance. That is his defense. Not anything like “It was a horrible accident.”

    The fact that the Koran allows lying to protect Islam, or to achieve the goals of Islam, such as the killing of infidels. And further allows a Muslim to expiate himself from an oath if necessary, begs this question, which will ultimately have to be answered and I forsee will lead to much conflict. . .

    Is the testimony of a Muslim in the cases of terror or honor killings actually worth much in a court of law?

    C.S. Lewis did not consider Islam in his book comparing religions and how they adhered to “The WAY,” because there simply is not THE way to behave in Islam in regards to morality, but many. It depends upon who you deal with– a believer or an infidel. it is situational ethics. The end justifies the means.

  • http://demographymatters.blogspot.com Donald

    freenarnian: “The fact that the Koran allows lying to protect Islam, or to achieve the goals of Islam, such as the killing of infidels. And further allows a Muslim to expiate himself from an oath if necessary, begs this question, which will ultimately have to be answered and I forsee will lead to much conflict…”

    Is dissembling in defense of one’s religion really unique to Islam?

  • Ryan

    “The crimes also occur in Christian communities in the Middle East” I’m also curious about this claim, I have never heard anything like this in the sense of Honor Killings (Domestic Violence sure). If true it would be interesting to explore this in the light of the Gospel readings of the Woman at the Well and the Woman caught in Adultery.

  • John M

    As a result of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives having been accused of adultery, the standard for conviction for adultery is four eyewitnesses. The judicial punishment for adultery is stoning. Honor murder (I like that term better than “honor killing”) is *not* founded in orthodox Islam despite its pervasiveness in Muslim cultures. (In addition, honor murders can come about due to circumstances far short of adultery, including a refusal to submit to an arranged marriage–also contrary to orthodox Islam as the woman must consent to a marriage.)

    Now, asking why the practice of honor murder has followed the spread of Islam (at least as far as South Asia–not sure about south and east of there), and why Islamic jurisprudence on standards of evidence and punishment are not followed is a very interesting topic that I know nothing about.

    -John

  • http://demographymatters.blogspot.com Donald

    @ John M: We may be understating the dispersion of honor killings.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divorce,_Italian_Style

    “Divorce, Italian Style is a satire, telling the story of a Sicilian nobleman, Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni) who wants to marry his cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). Since divorce was illegal in Italy at the time, he has to try to make his current wife Rosalia Cefalù (Daniela Rocca) have an affair so that he can catch her in flagrante delicto, murder her, and receive a light sentence for committing an honor killing.”

    Unless Italy is actually an Islamic nation in hiding … This article (http://www.wluml.org/node/3950) on the murder of a Pakistani woman in Italy makes the point that honor killings were accepted as cause for judicial leniency until 1981.

  • wncchester

    “..honor killings, .. also occur in Christian communities in the Middle East and in non-Muslim communities in India.”

    Making an aligation like that is meaningless, as quoting that a guy in a bar once said a friend of his was told…”, etc, is not proof. IF that acusation were true it would get splashed in the world’s “news” media as if it were a Christian generated Holocaust, with promises of “film at 6″. Since there is no proof I figger it’s untrue due to the lack of proof. ??

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    It is easy for the community to distance itself from Faleh now that he is a convicted murderer. But who spoke up for Noor when she was reportedly being brutalized at home and forced into an arranged marriage? Did any of Faleh’s contemporaries defend her right to dress herself how she wished? Why is Khalaf’s husband so quick to insist that Noor was a virgin and never involved with his son? Why do the teenage girls at al-Rasool mosque scold Noor for violating the precepts of their religion?

    That last question piques my curiosity. Co-religionists in any tradition sometimes “scold” members who are not adhering to its precepts. That seems to be an entirely different thing from the other questions. I presume the writer isn’t actually equating scolding (or other verbal recognition of misconduct) with the other things he lists, which all reflect ways in which the community did not respond in the conventional American fashion.

  • freenarnian

    Correction:

    “Scripture provides Cities of Refuge to deal with the reality of vengeful family action taking place outside the law.” These cities spaced throughout the kingdom were required to provide protection from tribal law.

  • John M

    @Donald,

    While I don’t have statistics handy, would you dispute that honor murders are more common in the Muslim world than they are in even the Mediterranean part of Europe?

    I’ll also go out on a limb without any evidence and guess that honor murders were not de rigeur among, say, the shamanistic Turkic peoples of central Asia prior to the arrival of Islam.

    It’s at least heard of among the Hindus of India, but not–so far as I know–among the Han of China or the Japanese.

    There’s something fishy going on here, and I’m sure there’s some fascinating and horrifying research for someone who’s looking for a PhD thesis topic.

    -John

  • Shehata

    Dictums of Quran and Hadiths which may dictate/incite honor killing:

    Quran- 4:15 “If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four (reliable) witness from amongst you against them; if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them. Or God ordain for them some (other) way.”

    Quran-24:2 “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication—flog each of them with hundred stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the last day.”

    Quran-17:32 “ Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).

    Quran-33:33 “stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display.”

    Now some sahih hadiths:

    Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 196:
    Narrated Abu Huraira: A man from Bani Aslam came to Allah’s Apostle while he was in the mosque and called (the Prophet ) saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse.” On that the Prophet turned his face from him to the other side, whereupon the man moved to the side towards which the Prophet had turned his face, and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse.” The Prophet turned his face (from him) to the other side whereupon the man moved to the side towards which the Prophet had turned his face, and repeated his statement. The Prophet turned his face (from him) to the other side again. The man moved again (and repeated his statement) for the fourth time. So when the man had given witness four times against himself, the Prophet called him and said, “Are you insane?” He replied, “No.” The Prophet then said (to his companions), “Go and stone him to death.” The man was a married one. Jabir bin ‘Abdullah Al-Ansari said: I was one of those who stoned him. We stoned him at the Musalla (‘Id praying place) in Medina. When the stones hit him with their sharp edges, he fled, but we caught him at Al-Harra and stoned him till he died.
    (See also Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 195.)

    Sahi Bukhari: 8:6814:
    Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah al-Ansari: “A man from the tribe of Bani Aslam came to Allah’s Messenger [Muhammad] and informed him that he had committed illegal sexual intercourse; and he bore witness four times against himself. Allah’s Messenger ordered him to be stoned to death as he was a married person.”

    Sahi Muslim No. 4206:
    “A woman came to the prophet and asked for purification by seeking punishment. He told her to go away and seek God’s forgiveness. She persisted four times and admitted she was pregnant. He told her to wait until she had given birth. Then he said that the Muslim community should wait until she had weaned her child. When the day arrived for the child to take solid food, Muhammad handed the child over to the community. And when he had given command over her and she was put in a hole up to her breast, he ordered the people to stone her. Khalid b. al-Walid came forward with a stone which he threw at her head, and when the blood spurted on her face he cursed her.”

    Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol 2. pg 1009; and Sahih Muslim Vol 2. pg 65:
    Hadhrat Abdullah ibne Abbaas (Radiallahu Anhu) narrates the lecture that Hadhrat Umar (Radiallaahu Anhu) delivered whilst sitting on the pulpit of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam). Hadhrat Umar (Radiallahu Anhu) said, “Verily, Allah sent Muhammad (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) with the truth, and revealed the Quran upon him. The verse regarding the stoning of the adulterer/ess was from amongst the verse revealed (in the Quraan). We read it, secured it and understood it. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) stoned and we stoned after him. I fear that with the passage of time a person might say, ‘We do not find mention of stoning in the Book of Allah and thereby go astray by leaving out an obligation revealed by Allah. Verily, the stoning of a adulterer/ress is found in the Quraan and is the truth, if the witnesses are met or there is a pregnancy or confession.”

    Al-Bukhari:
    The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever guarantees me that he will guard his chastity, I will guarantee him Paradise”.

    Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, An-Nisa’i and others:
    Abu Hurayrah reports that the Messenger of Allah said, “No one commits adultery while still remaining a believer, for faith is more precious unto Allah than such an evil act!” In another version, it is stated, “When a person commits adultery he casts away from his neck the bond that ties him to Islam; if, however, he repents, Allah will accept his repentance”.

    Al-Bayhaqi:
    The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “O mankind! Beware of fornication/adultery for it entails six dire consequences: three of them relating to this world and three to the next world. As for the three that are related to this world, they are the following: it removes the glow of one’s face, brings poverty, and reduces the life-span. As for its dire consequences in the next world they are: it brings down the wrath of Allah upon the person, subjects him to terrible reckoning, and finally casts him in hell-fire.”

  • http://demographymatters.blogspot.com Donald

    John: “While I don’t have statistics handy, would you dispute that honor murders are more common in the Muslim world than they are in even the Mediterranean part of Europe?”

    I’m not disputing anything about current frequencies.

    I did think it important to point out that, in an impeccably Western republic located at the heart of Latin Christendom, the idea that one could murder one’s female relative for their betrayal of family honour and get away with a reduced sentence was not only sanctioned by law well into our lifetimes, but it could provide the premises for amusing hit films. That alone would seem to suggest that Islam is hardly the explanation for honour killings, right?

    http://books.google.ca/books?id=EUON2SYps-QC&lpg=PA318&ots=wgCnC3sbZv&dq=honor%20killing%20italy%201982&pg=PA318#v=onepage&q&f=false

    A more accurate answer might be that the idea women are fully-fledged people is something new.

  • freenarnian

    Shehata, respectfully these verses i do not see immediately how they would cause honor killing, unless you also show that in Islam it is widely understood that these killings may be done outside a formal court by an individual, specifically the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s family.

    Otherwise, they are simply legal punishments for adultery or fornication. Can you provide this link??

    RYAN,

    Yes, the “woman at the well” shows a woman in a small town who knocked around with five separate men, and who was shunned by the women, because she was at the well alone at high noon instead of the morning or evening when women went to gossip quite clearly demonstrates in some places the law was administered faithfully even to the protection of the guilty.

    Interestingly, Jesus reveals to her he knows her deeds, And announces that he is the LIVING WATER, if man were to drink of he will not thirst again. (She is the first person in this Gospel he clearly reveals himself too.)

    She gleefully goes about town telling everyone “Come meet a prophet who told me everything i ever did! Human nature being what it is everybody came to get in on the scoop.

    The adulterous woman is equally interesting because most see that she was brought without the guilty male party. Clearly the law was not being administered correctly. It is evident in the deaths of most of the prophets who were often stoned without trial, as Jesus himself almost was and many of his followers also.

    What is not usually understood was that by asking for the first two to throw the stones to be without sin, he was UPHOLDING Judaic law. Cause they would have been the male adulterer and a peeping tom!!! Picking up the stone was therefore an admission of guilt. Jesus KNEW she was guilty. He said “Your sins are forgiven you, Go and sin no more.”

    He doesn’t turn a blind eye, leaving the confessor aching for resolution to their guilt. He FORGIVES.

  • freenarnian

    Donald an even more accurate idea is that children are the possession of the father and he may do with them whatsoever he pleases, including murder them is a VERY OLD idea and has been fully resurrected.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The Hassan killing has all the marks of an honor killing. to call it anything else is a form of denial. Normal domestic violence does not involve execution with blades and beheading.

    NPR is doing no one any good by trying to fit Muslim actions into American boxes.

    I know this is a flawed juxtapostion, but it also captures best the state of who is on both sides. It also means that some people are caught in the middle, like Noor, and they are the ones who die.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Here is a very good link on the issue of honor killings. https://americankafir.wordpress.com/category/oppression/women-in-islam/honor-killings/ I think the emphasis on torture as a facet of so many of them is worth noting.


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