The phrase ‘honor killing’ seems like an oxymoron in the 21st century. And it is. However, these controversial and tradition-bound honor killings are on the rise, not unreasonable by those who see them as justified.
In its most basic definition, an honor killing is a murder committed by an individual, family, or community group because the victim is perceived to have brought shame or dishonor upon them in some way. Usually (though not always) the victims of these honor killings are girls or women, and their crimes include seeking a divorce, talking to or associating with boys or men, wanting out of an arranged marriage, marrying someone not chosen for them, or wearing clothes considered inappropriate by the family.
While it would be wrong to say that all honor killings occur within Islamic countries and communities around the world, the sad truth is that many honor killings‚ – and usually the most publicized ones – do occur in Muslim communities. Though the Koran does not sanction honor killing, stories of honor killings often come from countries like Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. In Turkey, a 16-year-old girl’s body was recently recovered; she was buried alive and conscious, as indicated by the large amount of earth in her stomach and lungs.
In India, a pregnant woman and her boyfriend were killed in May 2008. They had been childhood sweethearts, but were not allowed to marry because they were from the same village, and though not related by blood, were viewed as siblings. Additionally, she had been married off to another man, whom she left to be with her childhood sweetheart. The highly traditional Hindu community stood united behind the double murder.
There is another type of honor killing as well, one that is often overlooked by those of us in the US, Canada, or Western Europe, because it masquerades under a different name ‘crime of passion.’ Until 1991 in Brazil and 1980 in Colombia, men could kill their wives with impunity, particularly if the wives committed adultery. In many countries, non-premeditated murders carry a significantly lower punishment, and in some countries, including Brazil, the sentence can be as low as 1-3 years – or nothing, if the judge feels the murderer was affected enough by the crime that additional punishment is unnecessary.