Although often portrayed as a practice born from Islam or Arab culture, honor killings are really a Mediterranean punishment that herald from Greek civilization. And there are cases of honor killings in American history.
Nonetheless, the modern association with Islam is warranted for the Arab-Muslim world is one of the remaining regions where honor killings are still practices and sanctioned under state law.
Although murders of horrific, honor killings are above par for the attribute to the murder the right to kill another person because he deems that family honor was been maligned. A life then is no longer the right of an individual woman but cheapened to hold the woman bondage to the “honor” of her family. Other murders are motivated by passion or revenge, but honor killings are motivated by the belief that man has a right to demand in a question of life-or-death that a woman does not take actions on her own free will that would offend his “honor.” All murders cheapen life, but I just can’t help but believe that honor killings do so more. And they go unpunished often. The United Nations estimates that at least 5,000 women fall victim to such crimes every year.
In countries like, say, Saudi Arabia, brothers and fathers almost never face punishment for killing their sister or daughter if they claim that the woman merited death for dishonoring the family. What counts as dishonor? Usually sex outside of marriage or improper dress. Even when a woman is raped, she is liable to be killed for her rape is blamed on her supposed immodesty that made her vulnerable to rape. Women are then killed and the medieval murders allowed to continue to lead free lives.
Saudi Arabia is exceptional in its repressive, misogynistic culture, but even secular Arab countries allow for honor killings. Besides being an increased phenomenon in post-Saddam Iraq, honor killings exist in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria to note the Levantine nations. In an illustration that honor killings are more about culture than Islam, secular Syria, which bans even the moderate Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, had until recently unrestrained honor killing laws on its books. But, fortunately for Syrian women, that is beginning to change.
Last year, the government began to look into changing the law. The law in question is Article 192 and 548. The former allows judges to dismiss any crimes deemed to be motivated by the question of “honor” while the latter, which reinforces the former, “exempts men from the usual sentences for murder and assault if provoked by ‘illegitimate sex acts’ or ‘the suspicious state’ of female relatives.”
Because of is blatant nature, Article 548 has been modified but as long as Article 192 stay intact, as it currently does, men can still get off [relatively] claiming that they killed due to “honor.” I say relatively because while the previous law did not mandate any minimum prison sentence and a maximum of only one year, President Assad has issued a presidential decree mandating at least two years prison sentence for any “honor” murders. But unlike “normal” murders, those who kill under the pretext of “honor” can be free after just two years.
So while Syria still needs to do more, including an information campaign to change attitudes, it is heading in the right direction. What about other Arab countries? Unfortunately no.
Jordan’s parliament has repeatedly blocked a law that would impose harsher penalties on men who kill their female relatives for the sake of honour; the lawmakers say it would encourage adultery. Despite campaigns by local lobbies and charities, the penal code in Lebanon still imposes lighter sentences for crimes of honour.
The only Arab country that has a zero-tolerance policy for “honor” killings is Tunisia. Other Arab nations needs to emulate Tunisia. In the 21st century, there should be no respect for any thug who thinks he can kill another woman because she “dishonors” him. It is time the rest of the Arab world joins modern civilization in treating women with the indisputable right to life.