Killing in the Name of Honor

Honor killings have been defined as the homicide of a family member, typically a woman, due to the belief that the victim has brought dishonor or shame to the family. This dishonor is usually brought upon the family due to rumors involving the woman having an affair or a relationship with a man, who does not meet the family standards. These honor killings are predominant in regions of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Often, these honor killings go unreported and never reach the public eye.

In a recent article in The Jerusalem Report, a young woman was a victim of an honor killing, due to rumors that she was having a relationship with a Muslim man, something her Christian family did not deem appropriate. Due to these accusations, the woman was stabbed and killed by her cousin’s brother. The victim’s cousin, Sarah, reflects on the moment she figured out what had happened to her cousin and discusses the constant outbreaks of honor killings throughout Egypt that made her want to come out and tell her story. The link to the article can be found here:

Death is always viewed as a solemn event in any culture; however, it is more tragic to hear that a family member would kill their own. What is even more shocking is when the death is the result of a mere rumor. It makes you question how far people are willing to go in the name of honor and how people in these societies belittle the value of a human life, or more specifically, the value of a woman’s life. This article brings up the debate of when a cultural practice or ritual is no longer ethical and if it should still be tolerated. Would it be considered ethnocentric for Westerners to say that these killings are inhumane and should be stopped, or do the men in these cultures have the right to kill members of their family in the name of honor because it’s simply the way their society works?


3 responses to “Killing in the Name of Honor

  1. William Daniel Snyder

    I find this particularly interesting because it helps dispel the idea that honor killings are somehow solely a part of Islamic belief. The topic of honor killings seems to be often used as a critique, unjustifiably so, of the religion of Islam and to depict it in a light as violent or backwards. The reality is that a lot of religious institutions, or rather, religious individuals partake in violence. And I would say that this sort of thing, although maybe more common in these particular regions, is not completely restricted to them. This is not particularly related, but I just recalled the case of a Jewish man who was hung from a tree by a lynch mob for the supposed murder of a young girl. He is often considered innocent of this crime by modern historians, but the largely Christian community (not to criticize Christians) convicted him to death solely for being a well-off man of the Jewish faith. This kind of violence incited by religion occurred even in the United States within the last 100 years. Sorry if I just went on a complete tangent, but that’s the line of thought that I followed after reading this post.

  2. This post and the article are intereststing but both are from a very foreign perspective. Anthropologists have taken a look at honor killings from a variety of approaches, and a final paper I wrote recently for a class them aimed to look at honor killings from a culturally relatavistic perspective. When examined closely, though not necessirailly condoning these killings, one can see why these occur. You were correct in saying that these happen most often in Muslim communities, but they key to understanding the mindset of these people is that honor and shame are ideals that are held to most importance. In these societies, shame often times means social, political or sometimes even economic “death” for the family. This leaves great pressure on the males in the these families to remove the sourc of shame. This is what causes them to kill these girls. Often times it is seen as inevitabley necessary for the survival and reputation of the family. I’m not agreeing with the practice at all, but there great complexities among this issue and it seems as though the original article doesn’t necessarily address that. Cool and definitely interesting topic!

  3. This post underscores how issues of death are entangled with our ethical commitments. “Saving lives” and “protecting the value of life” are often justifications for interventions in “other” societies—whether or not we accept them as sufficient. We should recognize (as Will and Shade have already brought to our attention) that honor killings—like female circumcision and sartorial covering practices—often functions to represent certain groups of people as exceptionally different from “us” (whoever “we” may be)—that populations among whom such practices occur are backward and primitive. What results from such representations is a hierarchy that privileges “us” over “them” and permits questions of intervention to be entertained. Shade points to anthropology’s ability to ask questions about why such behaviors occur as well as ethical questions. She, rightly I think, draws our attention to the economy of honor and the very real and often material consequences of securing or losing honor. Are there parts of U.S. society in which the circulation of honor is comparably important? I suspect there may be. To understand violence in these cases, then, it may be necessary to understand how economies of honor work. The point is not to forego ethical evaluation, but for such evaluations to be informed by an understanding of the complex context within which violence occurs. Thanks for such an interesting post.

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