Honor killings are probably the most recent and misunderstood crime in North America that is associated with specific demographic and religious backgrounds. Some people in the US and Canada don’t really understand other cultures and world religions very well. This only exacerbates the problem, and causes it to be treated like a odd issue. It puts honor killings in the category of an “insane person” killing spree. It’s unpredictable, unexpected, and rare. Or so we think as the general public. In reality, there is far more to honor killings than that provided by the snippets in the media, which just sensationalize the act and not the cause.
A Bit of History
To start with, let’s not forget that only in the 19th century was the Western world ready to treat women as equal human beings instead of some kind of family property.
Honor killings have occurred for decades in India, Pakistan, some African countries, among other places. The concept of honor killing is associated with a blend of tribal customs and fundamental religious views skewed by local perspectives. No surprise, fundamental religious leaders can have a big influence on setting the stage for honor killings, given the type of teachings they provide to small communities that take every word literally.
The focus of the act starts with the premise that a family’s honor is tied to the innocence of a family’s daughter. This is combined with communities that believe that family elders are the ones to decide who such a young person should be married to or involved with, not the girl herself. The concept is also fostered by a culture that believes young girls, teens as well as young adult unmarried females cannot mix casually with males, aside from relatives.
Why Family Honor Matters
The basic principle behind family honor is that young women and teens are treated like second class property who have no ability to make decisions for themselves. However, it is justified in the eyes of the family because it protects such teens and women from being taken advantage of. Keep in mind, this is a principle that is rooted strongest in cultures where families are in or come from small remote villages and rural area, and the community is often extended family who know everything about each family member. So the idea of an young woman acting independently or acting on her own is unheard of. When a marriage does occur, it is pre-planned and matched as the best means to carry the family forward, not for what the young woman wants. As a result, the definition of honor killing can seem very foreign and primitive when discussed or considered in the US and other western countries.
Honor killings in America are a result of a global culture clash. More and more people migrants who would never otherwise be seen in the West are relocating. The issue seems like a new one, because for decades those that actually traveled from the Middle East and similar countries were often educated, from urban cities, and from families that were far more liberal than families in rural tribal areas. As a result, the concept of honor killing was not near as enforced among such elite because they themselves were living “compromised” lives and doing things that fundamentalists at home would not allow anyways.
Honor Killings and the Culture Clash
However, the world has changed, and the ability to travel is far easier today than it ever was. Further, many families from India and Pakistan as well as the Middle East are being relocated to the US, bringing all of their culture and practices with them without any transition. They suddenly find themselves moving from Lahore, Pakistan to Cleveland, Ohio in the blink of an eye. That sets the stage for a culture clash when their children, who are the most adept at change and learning, immediately pick up western practices and thinking to the shock of their conservative parents.
Even back in their home countries, globalization has brought Western ideas to communities that for centuries did not ever consider the right of the female individual, much less what she might want in a relationship partner. A combination of Western involvement in the Middle East and third world countries, the Internet, and more education opportunities for young people has caused mixing of thought and ideas, creating a catalyst for conflict inside families.
What the Media Says
Honour killing stories that we see in the media today are frequently limited to a father, uncle, cousin or sibling killing a female family relative who has gotten involved in with a male outside the family. In other cases, this female has married who she wanted to be with as opposed to a family directive. To western media readers, it reads like an instantaneous flash of insanity and anger. In reality, a honor killing frequently has quite a bit of buildup to the actual crime in our society. As noted above, the seeds may have been planted years before, with youth growing up westernized in a home that is transplanted by still conservative parents. The conflict continues over the years. The family tries to hold onto its culture via honor, and the child exercises new-found rights. In the homeland, such behavior could result in stoning. But in the Western world, families try to keep the issue behind closed doors, knowing western observers won’t understand.
When honor killings do occur, it can often be by deceit to get the young woman and her partner to a protected, vulnerable location. This is often in the guise of an invitation to visit the family home. While some honor killings may just be by one individual, such as a father, many are coordinated events with multiple family members, showing a level of intent and conspiracy in the action as well as the end result. However, the family honor is considered far more important.
Dealing With Honor Killings in the US
Western authorities have been perplexed by honor killings, doing very little to prevent them or reeducate migrants about women’s rights. It’s considered a family issue or religious issue, which police often don’t want to get involved in. So they only respond to the action and crime instead of trying to prevent it. Given how much immigration is occurring, as well as the reach of the Internet, the issue is only likely to continue and become more frequent.
Western authorities and law enforcement have to begin developing outreach programs versus relying on local domestic violence non-profit entities to take the brunt of the work. Honor killings are not a specific culture issue to pass off as an oddball event; they are an old practice clashing in a modern world, and heinous crime in our society. But that doesn’t automatically make such families criminals before the act occurs. Outreach will be the key factor that helps break this practice in migrant families, but also with time, effort and funding.