This week a jury in Kingston, Ontario convicted three people of first degree murder: Afghan immigrant Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son Hamed Shafia. Dead are Mr. Shafia’s three daughters and his first wife.
While the facts of the case were interesting in their own right, to me the most important feature of the trial was the labeling of the murders as either “honour” killings or simply just another case of domestic violence.
After the verdict was handed down the local talk shows gave considerable air time to a prominent local feminist. During that time she correctly pointed out that “This is about violence against women. This is about power and control.” I would agree with these obvious facts as any would. She then tried to pursued the listeners that there was no comparison between these killings and other common domestic disputes involving a dominating male over a female. Her claim was that any any distinction in culture or religion was irrelevant to the case. To her the fact that a man killed females is all that is of interest to this case and all that should be focused upon.
This is a superficial simplification of what is actually a much more complex affair. Yes, honour killings are typically men murdering their wives and daughters but it is not simply the same as any other domestic violence.
The reason for the crime is what is at issue here, not simply that a man killed another women (ignoring Tooba Yahya’s involvement) or that it is inherent in the male sex to want to dominate and control the female sex, which is a patent falsehood. Many feminists see this as simply a male-female issue ignoring or misidentifying the root cause of this kind of violence, that being the culture, the religion, or the philosophy of the killer. Why does one kill his wife or daughter? That is the question that can’t simply be glossed over with the pat statement that it is a lust for control by a man over women.
The feminist’s argument runs like this: since women are being killed in Canada as well as Islamic countries and since some Christian men have also killed their wives then the issue is not one of religion or culture but one of men and women.
Of course it is true, that domestic violence occurs in Canada to non-immigrants and that Christian men have been know to murder their wives or daughters. What is also true but is being deliberately ignored is that the prevalence for non-Muslim male-female violence in Canada is lower than similar violence in Muslim countries and that the reason non-Muslim men kill their wives or daughters is substantially different than the reason Muslim men kill their wives and daughters.
A man and women get into a fight. Who do you think will come out the survivor? The stronger of the two of course (in most cases.) The fight could be over money, jealousy, housekeeping, what to watch on TV, drunken idiocy or any number of motives. Rare is it that a non-Muslim Canadian will kill his daughter because she went out on a date or chatted with someone on Facebook or didn’t want to wear a particular piece of clothing, or gave birth to a daughter.
Although honour killings are not exclusive to Muslim societies, the fact is that predominantly Muslim societies have a long tradition of treating women as property. Men often, quite literally get away with murder in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia because their tribal cultures, rooted in Islam, has given the authority over women to men.
Canadian Muslim, Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress published an article in the Canadian edition of the Huffington Post on December 7th called “A Man’s Honour Lies Between the Legs of a Woman.” In it he quotes the particular verse in the Koran, verse 4:34, sanctioning the right of a husband to beat his wife:
“Men are in charge of women by right of what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend for maintenance from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. But those wives from whom you fear arrogance – first advise them; then if they persist, forsake them in bed; and finally, strike them.”
If we cannot acknowledge this part of the Muslim religion as being key to the second-class status Muslim men give women then it will be impossible to move towards true liberation for women in predominantly Muslim societies and Muslim families here in Canada.
Mr. Fatah goes on to say that Sharia law sanctions the stoning of women for adultery. A practice that is continued today in many Muslim countries. He cites Professor Shahrzad Mojab of the University of Toronto, who testified at the Shafia trial that women embody the honour of the men to whom they belong – first fathers and brother, later husbands.
“A woman’s body is considered to be the repository of family honour. Honour crimes are acts of violence committed by male family members against female family members who are held to have brought dishonour onto the family. Cleansing one’s honour or shame is typically handled by the shedding of blood.”
It wasn’t until 9/11 that many Canadians even heard of “honour killings.” But since then our focus has turned, as it has been forced to, to Islam and Muslim culture. Since then our knowledge of this common practice of the ownership of women by Muslim men has increased and we can properly address the situation.
Many of us correctly identify the murders based on the motive of keeping the family’s honour. For prominent feminists to disregard motive in the murder and abuse of women is only prolonging the suffering of these people. To fix a problem you must first properly identify the root cause of it. In the case of honour killings it is the religion and the cultural practices of the men and women who commit the murders. We can’t forget that women also take part in committing these honour killings.
It is ironic that in Canada we have people refusing to call something by its real name when in Muslim countries it is identified for what it is. In Pakistan, for example honour killings are known as “karo kari.” While the Pakistani government is supposed to prosecute these killings as they would any ordinary killing the practice by the police and prosecutes is to often ignore it. In a sense there are some Canadians who are ignoring it as well. Not the crime but the cause.
If we consider the problem of honour killings even further we understand that it is not simply a matter of religion or culture but of social metaphysics. In an article for the Objectivist Newsletter of November, 1962 (vol. 1 no. 11), Nathanial Brandon defined social metaphysics as
“…the psychological syndrome that characterizes an individual who holds the consciousnesses of other men, not objective reality, as his ultimate psycho-epistemological frame-of-reference.”
“There is an invisible killer loose in the world. It has claimed more victims than any other disease in history. Yet most of its symptoms are commonly regarded as normal. That is the secret of its deadliness.
“These symptoms may be observed all around one: in the lives of all those who are dominated by an obsessive concern with gaining the approval and avoiding the disapproval of their fellow me.; who lack a self-generated sense of personal identity and who feel themselves to be metaphysical outcasts, cut off from reality; whose first impulse, when confronted with an issue or called upon to pass a judgment, is to ask not “What is true?” but “What do others say is true?”; who have no firm, unyielding concept of existence, reality, facts, as apart from the judgments, beliefs, opinions, feelings of others.”
This defines the perpetrators of honour killings. They seek honour in the approval of others, be it their family, their friends, or their tribe. While this syndrome crosses all religious and cultural spectra it is more prevalent in those countries lacking the history of individual freedom we enjoy here in the West.
It is this syndrome which must be argued against when dealing with the warped sense of honour which would cause a parent to kill a child or a man to kill his wife because of any perceived shame they may have brought them in the eyes of others.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #235, February 2, 2012)