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Honor Killing and Why It's So Horrible In Modern Civilization, how Tribalism and Honor fits in modern society

Updated on February 5, 2012


Honor killing is usually defined as killing of one's daughters/sisters to protect the family honor, and it is usually practiced in Islamic/tribalistic cultures. Since 1999, there had been 12 honor killings in Canada, where there are only 3 in the previous 40 years. There was an honor killing in the US as far back as 1989. The large influx of immigrants had somehow brought honor killing into the Western Civilization, and it is almost beyond comprehension to Westerners.

A most recent case, which happened in 2009, but the trial concluded only recently in Canada, has riveted attention from around the world. We shall explore the crime, its origins, and why it is so horrible to Western civilizations.

Details of the 2009 Crime

In 2009, four dead woman was found in a car submerged in water in Canada. At first, officials thought they had driven off the road and drowned. The four women are 3 daughters (19, 17, and 13) and one wife of Mohammed Shafia, and thus, he was the primary suspect.

Soon he, his second wife, and their eldest son were arrested for murder of all four, and the details started to emerge. Apparently the father consider himself dishonored by the behavior of his daughters, who had adopted American mannerisms, revealing clothing, and so on. And such "poison" had even spread to his first wife, who had taken the daughters' side instead of the fathers.

Somehow, the thought of dishonor had turned to murder, and a conspiracy was hatched. The Crown prosecutor contended that the four were drowned, then placed in a car, which is then pushed into a canal.

The three conspirators were arrested, and put on trial at the end of 2011. The four month trial riveted Canadians and their neighbors across the border, as Westerners just cannot comprehend: what can justify killing sisters, wife, stepmother, and daughters? These are the closest blood that one have!

Canada had honor killings before

In 2007, Aqsa Parvez was found strangled in her home in Missisauga, Ontario, and her father had confessed to the killing. She was 16. Police later arrested the eldest son (Aqsa's oldest brother) as the actual strangler. Aqsa had arrived in Canada 5 years ago from Pakistan with her 7 siblings and had wished to assimilate more into the local culture, and do what other girls do, such as part-time job and not wear the head scarf (known as the hijab). Unfortunately, this would eventually lead her to being murdered by her own father and brother.

Aqsa, 3 months prior to her murder, had previously plead with her school that she is afraid her father will stalk her and kill her. Her school counselor arranged for her to stay at a shelter, but apparently the father caved after 3 days (apparently went to police to file missing persons) and she went home, but the seeds of violence had been sown.

In the "Agreed Statement of Facts" obtained by CBC News, it was revealed that the father was frustrated with Canadian laws. He reported remarked to school official:

"woman are able to open their mouths because they have rights, but if the same woman is in Pakistan she don't dare open her mouth."

Furthermore, Aqsa confided to her friends that her father had sworn on the Koran that if Aqsa ran away again he will track her down and kill her. Her friends claimed her father could not have been serious. Turns out they were wrong. He was deadly serious.

Honor Killing happens even in the US

The first recorded honor killing in the US happened in 1989, in Missouri, when a Palestinian father, member of Abu Nidal terrorist group, stabbed his 13 year old daughter to death, with his wife's help. FBI had him under audio surveillance due to his ties to terrorists, and was horrified that they actually recorded the murder taking place. After careful deliberation, they turned the evidence to local police, who quickly arrested the father and mother.

The father was unrepentant, claiming he was the injured party, that his family and personal honor had been destroyed and the murder was completely justified, at least in his mind. The father was convicted of first degree murder and put on death row, but died of diabetes before his sentence could be carried out. Wife had her sentence commuted to life in prison.

In a different case in 2007, two sisters were found shot to death, believe to have been committed by their father, though the father had fled and to date is still at large. Their relatives confirmed it is obviously an honor killing, because they have boyfriends, and have actually fled with their mother, but were shot.

Is it an ultimate form of domestic violence?

Some experts believe "honor killing" is simply a really demented form of domestic violence. There is some logic in this, as domestic violence is a way for the abuser to control the abused, and honor killing, ultimately, is about controlling behavior, esp. of the daughters.

Essentially, the father of the household, expects the daughters to behave as if they are still in the East, in a village in the middle of nowhere, not in the West. They are supposed to wear the "hajib" (head scraf), cover up appropriately (no revealing outfits), not take on boyfriends, not be "corrupted" by Western culture, and not to be too bright in school. If the daughters don't step in line, they will be punished, and if necessary, killed, as the father considers himself dishonored if he cannot control the family.

However, there is also some major flaws with this view, as "western" form of domestic violence rarely results in death, because once the subject's dead, it is a total loss of control. Whereas "honor killing" is purely premeditated murder, for something as intangible as "honor".

Or put it another way, "normal" domestic violence, even those that result in murder, is a purely PERSONAL crime. The perpetrator is doing it for a purely selfish reason.

"Honor killing", on the other hand, was a crime that was somehow justified by "ethics" and "honor". It is a personal crime that was somehow justified through impersonal motives and ethics. .

Is it perversion of Islam?

There is nothing in the Koran or in any of the hadiths (sacred texts) that specifically allows any sort of honor killing, according to Muslim scholars. However, other scholars who study Islam but are not Muslim, and more critical of the religion, believe that Islamic roots from the tribal era, may not outright state that honor killing is legal, but have several passages that can be cited to "support" honor killing. Such as:

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.”

There are several hadiths that can be cited to "support" honor killing as well. Indeed, a UN report estimates that over 5000 women are killed each year around the world in honor killings, mostly in Jordan, Palestine, and Pakistan, but also in Islamic immigrant communities around the world, such as France and Germany.

(Though to be fair, there are claims that the above quotes from Koran may be out of context, but then, I'm not an Islamic scholar.)

Indeed, some radical Islamists are known to have taken far more extreme position, such as this gentleman, (hailing from the Gaza strip, Palestine) who wrote:

I am very unhappy. Our way of life is under attack. And we are not fighting back. Deep down, we know that when a woman has disgraced her family, nothing will restore honor except by killing her. This is understood in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza strip and the West Bank. So why are we Arabs telling the Western press that honor killing is cultural, that it is not really part of Islam? Our way of life is based on maintaining our honor. And make no mistake about it: a woman does tarnish her family's honor by engaging in pre-marital sex, or by getting herself raped, when she seeks divorce and when she marries against her family's wishes.
(excerpt from )

With Jordan routinely giving light sentences to men who committed honor killings (one got merely 3 months, and was actually allowed bail), Islam's Sharia law seem to actively tolerate honor killings.

Thus it can be argued that Islam, if not actively condone honor killing, at least turned a blind eye to it, or in some cases, let the offenders off with a slap on the wrist.

Honor Killing NOT LIMITED to Islamic societies

While honor killing is often reported in Islamic countries, such as Pakistan (where it is called "Karo kari"), it is by no means unique to Islamic countries.

Honor killing actually is still practiced in India, often in more outlying regions where tribalistic traditions still hold sway instead of modern civilization and society. If a girl from a "higher caste" fell for a boy of lower caste, and refused to amend her ways, she may be killed for dishonoring the family. Such misbehavior can include flirting, been seen in public together, eloping, or getting the big score: having sex. However, even merely expressing a desire to marry an unsuitable partner, or even talking about avoiding the arranged marriage, may subject one to honor killing.

Explanation offered in 1961

Back in 1961, in the Analog magazine, John W. Campbell had an essay titled "Tribesman, Barbarian, and Citizen", in it he had proposed an explanation where the evolution of society would make the two adjoining stage look at each other with absolute horror.

Tribesman, for example, don't know much, so everything is reliant on the chief, who really don't know much more than regular tribesman except some tradition. Tribal honor must be preserved. The next state, Barbarian, values individual prowess and leadership. Only the strong may lead, and weaklings are replaced. Individual honor is most sacred.

Thus, barbarian sees tribesman as weaklings who defers everything to the chief, and tribesman, in turn, sees barbarians as savages without tradition to guide them.

The next stage is citizen, where democracy rules and the leaders are elected.

Thus, citizen sees barbarians as individuals with no unity and easily defeated in detail, while barbarians sees citizens as weaklings who actually "elect" their leaders instead of depending on prowess.

Each stage views prior stages of society AND the subsequent stage with horror.

And that is why we, citizens, sees the tribalism customs such as honor killing with such horror. We no longer have the same sense of tribal honor that guides our behavior. And indeed, this is why Al Qaeda and many Islamic fringe fundamentalists are fighting: to preserve their sense of tribal and religious honor that is becoming increasing irrelevant in the modern society and progress.

And indeed, that is why honor killings take place: the fathers are increasing trying to held back the tide that their control over their own family is quickly becoming irrelevant. They see Western culture with the horror that western culture sees the horror of tribalism and its superstitions.


Is there a way to stop the honor killings, one asks?

I will ask you a question right back... Do we want to?

Before you become outraged, please calm down and hear me out.

Honor killings happen because some individuals somehow hold their family honor ABOVE that of family member's lives, a view that is NOT consistent with the society they are living in (i.e. the West). They don't seem to realize that the idea of "family honor" is outdated in the modern world.

Furthermore, it's adapt or die, and by removing their children, they are removing their genes from the gene pool. So perhaps, they deserve a Darwin Award. And if this keeps up, evolution will take its course... maybe.

Now for a more practical solution: Education is the only way you can defeat ignorance and attempt to cling to old ways (i.e. tribalism) and you have to start at the place they go to, and that means the mosques, temples, churches, and schools

Once we got the teachers and religious leaders convinced of the less radical ways, the rest will follow. Less radical ways would include exile (don't ever come back), legally/religiously disown the daughter, and so on, are certainly possibilities. Basically, the idea of "family honor" must be modified to suit the modern world.

IMHO, of course.


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