Back in 2007, the mother-in-law and husband of Surjeet Athwal were sentenced to life for arranging for her murder in Punjab. The Surjeet case was widely described as an ‘honour’ killing in the press, on the basis that Surjeet was engaged in an affair and sought to leave her husband. One right-wing blog displayed a picture of Bachan Athwal, the mother-in-law, in traditional Sikh dress, entitled ‘Muslim Granny Kills Daugther-in-law for Honour’ above an anti-Muslim diatribe. When I attempted to correct the blogger, he informed me that Sikhism was a branch of Islam – at which point I decided he didn’t deserve the compliment of rational opposition. Such a co-option of ‘honour’ to an anti-Muslim agenda is widespread. I will not link to Pamela Gellar but you are welcome to google her. Read more
Tag Archive for stereotypes
The terms ‘honour’ killing and ‘honour’-based violence (HBV) as they are used in the English speaking world have often been criticised. The criticism relates to two main points, firstly that ‘honour’ has positive connotations in English and can be seen to legitimise violence, and secondly, that demarcating certain crimes as having a basis in ‘honour’ separates them from other acts of violence, often with little more distinction than the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators of the victim and the perpetrators, feeding a xenophobic discourse. These points are certainly worth raising, but there are pragmatic reasons why ‘honour’ remains a useful term.
Firstly, while there is definitely a tendency in the press to call an act of violence an ‘honour’ crime even when the most significant aspect of collectivity is missing, it is necessary in terms of the provision of protection for authorities to distinguish between threats against a vulnerable person which involve a single potential assailant, and those which involve a collective. The recent trial in the case of Shafilea Ahmed suggests that both parents played a part in her death, an example of collaboration which is common to many so-called ‘honour’ killings. Read more
It is impossible to ignore the fact that so-called ‘honour’ crimes are predominantly associated with Muslims, as part of a general public stereotype in which Muslim women are seen as uniquely oppressed, and Islam as an exceptionally misogynistic religion. Newspapers cover ‘honour’ killings in gory detail, often describing the perpetrators and victims as Muslim in their headlines and body copy; TV coverage deploys stock footage of veiled women walking past minarets to a soundtrack of calls to prayer, ethnicising and exoticising ‘honour’ crimes as foreign and horrific, another aspect of xenophobic attitudes which seek to depict minority communities as backwards and barbaric. All of these cues give the impression that ‘honour’ crimes are not merely committed by Muslims, as sadly many of them are, but are an intrinsic aspect of Islam itself, within an atmosphere of distrust of Muslims and the rise of extremism.
It’s understandable then, that recent articles have suggested that ‘honour’-based violence that there is no relevant difference between acts of intimate partner violence, and ‘honour’-based violence besides the religious and ethnic identities of the communities where it occurs; to see the ethnicising of ‘honour’ crimes as part of a broader current of xenophobia. ‘When domestic abuse involves an Asian perpetrator and victim, it is almost always labelled an honour crime,’ says Huma Qureshi. Read more