In the name of honor

Sophie Ghaziri

Published: Updated:

Killing to defend or protect one’s honor is both traditional and archaic, but it still exists across the globe and, unsurprisingly, the main victims happen to be women and girls.

True statistics on this matter are hard to come by; however, the United Nations has previously estimated that up to 5,000 people around the world are victims of honor crimes yearly.

Honor killings are just another example of the lack of equality between men and women.

Sophie Ghaziri

This month, in Jordan alone, international media reported a minimum of two cases. Just this week, a Jordanian man reportedly confessed to slitting his sister's throat and stabbing her 20 times in the face and chest. According to police reports, the reason this man took such forceful action was because his sister was rarely at home and he apparently had “to cleanse the family honor.”

In Jordan on April 15, police said they found a burned body of a pregnant woman whose throat had been slit and belly cut open, which inevitably bared her four-month-old fetus. This too was an apparent “honor killing.”

Under Jordanian law, the murder of a relative who is believed to be committing adulterous acts carries a reduced sentence. Most honor killings are not classified as such and are rarely prosecuted. In the Muslim world, if such charges reach the courts the result is more often than not a relatively light sentence, totally out of proportion to the crime.

“The current law is nothing less than an endorsement for murdering women and girls,” said Nadya Khalife, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The women of Jordan need protection from these vicious acts enshrined in law, not preferential treatment for their killers.”


The killing of a female family member seems to be easily brushed aside and dismissed among the local community as a fitting punishment for her apparent misdemeanor. However, acts like these should not go unpunished, otherwise they will continue to happen given the consequences are relatively lenient.

Jordan is not the only country where such crimes befall the female members of a family. Such occurrences take place in Pakistan, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and even in Western countries like the UK and the U.S.

When an honor killing takes place in the West, people along with the police shy away from calling it an honor crime. It is, however, referred to as either a domestic violence case or a new phenomenon ‘femicide’ – the killing of women.

This just goes to show that authorities are finding it hard to deal with these sensitive and family related issues. Honor killings are acts of vengeance and a woman can be targeted for a range of reasons.

She may be refusing to enter into an arranged marriage; she could be the victim of sexual violence, maybe even seeking a divorce from an abusive husband or allegedly committed adultery. (And, here, I say allegedly.)

The sheer fact that a woman has behaved in such a way, as to bring so-called dishonor upon her family, is enough to instigate an attack on her life. Women are being persecuted or put to death by immediate family members or relatives, who for the most part, have little substantiated evidence and, in a lot of cases, the murderous acts are spearheaded by rumors or an impulsive deed of spontaneity.

In order to deal with this epidemic, we have to begin to understand what exactly makes these murders unique. They differ from homicides, serial killings, crimes of passion and domestic violence as they are based on cultural codes of morality.

It stems from ones environment, culture, tradition and behavior, which is often reinforced by fundamentalist religious views. Making it a very unusual issue for security authorities to handle.

These cultural and ethnic values, for the most part, are not condemned in the developing Muslim world by religious and political leaders or in immigrant communities in the western world. In fact, a certain enforced silence is maintained on the matter.

But, how can one be silent on the issue of murder? How can people live with themselves after taking someone’s life especially a family member?

The question that begs to be answered is how this epidemic can be addressed. Should there be a tighter restriction on immigration in the west? Yes. Can law enforcement take tougher action on these individuals, again I say yes.

Last but not least, religious establishments and leaders need to take a stand by educating, preventing and even prosecuting efforts in the matter of honor crimes.

Honor killings are just another example of the lack of equality between men and women. In the Middle East, men who commit adultery and other crimes of passion receive a relative slap on the wrist compared to the price women pay, which more often than not results in the loss of a precious life.

One thing that is a certainty is that there is no ‘honor’ in taking the life of another.

Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.