Update: Irsan Taken Into Custody

Typically, honor killings occur in African or Middle Eastern countries. They occur when male members of a family feel “dishonored” by a female member of the family. A young woman will abandon an arranged marriage. She will post to social media too often. Or the clothes she wears will show a little too much. The excuses for these heinous murders are both numerous and complex. And in 2011, Houston, Texas was the site of two murders that prosecutors were quick to label: honor killings.

Mahwood-Awad Irsan was disappointed when his 23-year-old daughter, Nesreen Irsan, fled home to be with her boyfriend, Coty Beavers. Why was it such a big deal? Coty was American-born — and a Christian. Nesreen converted to his faith to make their relationship more tenable. But it had the opposite effect for her father.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh was an Iranian women’s rights activist who championed Nesreen’s desire to convert to Christianity, but she was found dead. Police considered it likely that her murder was politically motivated by hate groups in the area. They didn’t even begin to connect the dots until ten months later, when Beavers was found dead in his apartment in 2012.

It was then that investigators started looking into Ali.

Nesreen told them that her father had been agitated over her relationship with an American man, her departure from home, and her conversion to Christianity. She said that he believed the two murdered individuals had stained his family’s honor, and that she and Beavers had always feared for their lives. Ali, she said, had a known history of violence.

Before the murders, Nesreen had asked authorities for a writ of protection against her father. This prevented Ali from having access to guns — but it was too late for that. After Beavers was found murdered, police obtained a warrant to search Ali’s property in Conroe. They found something more damning than firearms inside, though: they found an envelope with at least two license plate numbers and addresses, belonging to Bagherzadeh and Beavers. 

The dots were finally connected. This man was obviously responsible somehow.

Harris County Special Prosecutor Anna Emmons described the raid to the documentary, A Wedding and a Murder: “So that one piece of evidence, that envelope, connected Ali to both Coty and to Gelareh, who were both dead.”

Later, Ali was taken into custody and charged with capital murder for the two killings. His wife, hoping to avoid charges as an accessory to murder, decided to testify against Ali in return for a plea deal. During a subsequent trial, she described his perhaps poorly laid out plan to murder Nesreen as well, noting that he only failed because he couldn’t sabotage her car successfully.

But it turned out that Ali’s son, Nasim, was involved in the murders as well. It wasn’t until August of this year that Nasim pleaded guilty to the murder of Bagherzadeh. The arrests haven’t helped Nesreen feel safer — she lives in isolation for fear of reprisal.

Irsan was sentenced to death.

Protests Erupt In Bethlehem After 21-Year-Old Woman Murdered By Family

Israa Ghrayeb was a 21-year-old Palestinian woman who grew up in Bethlehem and had a promising future — until she was murdered by her brother, Ihab. Even more disturbing is that Israa’s own father ordered her brother to commit the crime. What the family saw as an insult to their honor is hardly unthinkable in much of the rest of the world.

Israa had posted pictures and videos online of she and her fiance. The social media posts weren’t controversial in any way. So why did her family get so upset? Because a young woman and her fiance aren’t supposed to be together — or be seen together — prior to marriage. When relatives caught wind of the posts and alerted Israa’s father, he ordered Ihab to beat and kill her.

Ihab did as he was commanded, but Israa escaped — barely. She fell from the second story of the family home, severely injuring her spinal cord in the process. 

Subsequently, she made another Instagram post about her injuries, but made no mention about how she sustained the injuries.

She said, “I’m strong and I have the will to live — if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday. Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

Israa was recovering in a nearby hospital when they apparently came for her again. Video of the attack there allegedly shows her frantic, begging her attackers to let her live. But that’s not the official story, and has been contested by her family, who say she passed away after a heart attack. 

Palestinian NGO Adalah Justice Project didn’t mince words during a statement made after the killing: “Israa was murdered by members of her family after she posted a selfie video of an outing with her fiance. The crime is being called an ‘honor’ killing, but this is misleading and false. There is no honor in murder.”

Many want justice for Israa. Others are asking if the same thing could happen to them, including a high school friend: “After I heard what happened to Israa, I was terrified. I live with my family and I have my freedom to go wherever I want. But what if someone started to spread rumors about me? Will that lead to my death, too?”

Protesters are begging the Canadian government to arrest Ihab for his sister’s murder, since he currently resides there.

Pakistan’s “Kim Kardashian” Was Murdered But Her Killers May Walk

Even though laws across the Middle East and parts of Africa are swiftly catching up with the civils rights expectations of the rest of the world, they don’t always change the underlying practices they have begun to outlaw. Highest among those underlying practices is the routine and ritualistic “honor killing” of women who have somehow been perceived to have disgraced or dishonored the male members of the family.

This was the case when Pakistani social media icon Quandeel Baloch, or the “Pakistani Kim Kardashian,” was murdered by her two brothers, Aslam and Waseem, in July of 2016. Although they were subsequently charged with Baloch’s murder, they might be released — because an outdated Pakistani law stipulates a woman’s murderers can be legally pardoned (in the case of an honor killing) when the defendants’ family members forgive them for committing the act.

In other words, if the entire family agrees that the honor killing was justified, then really — what was the crime? 

Baloch’s parents are reportedly trying to establish just such a pardon for brothers Aslam and Waseem, who they have apparently forgiven for killing their daughter.

The tactless tactic shouldn’t work, however, because Pakistani legislators actually closed the loophole nearly as soon as Baloch was murdered. Currently legislation does still provide family members with some power over the legal process — by forgiving the murderers, they can prevent employment of the death penalty.

Here’s the rub: because the loophole was only closed after Baloch was murdered, the family and their legal representatives are trying to say that the new laws don’t apply in this situation. Whether or not the legal strategy will pan out is still up in the air.

Baloch had over three-quarters of a million subscribers on Facebook, and tens of thousands spread out across Instagram and Twitter. Waseem strangled her because he did not want the limelight provided by her liberal views and massive following.

These ritualistic killings are still common in Pakistan, where civil rights groups estimate at least 1,000 women are killed every year. The government contends that the number of deaths seems to have fallen since the new laws were passed, but honor killings often go unreported, leaving many to question whether the updated statistics have any real accuracy at all.

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Where Are Honor Killings Still Legal?

It might seem like an absurd question to ask in 2019, but ask it we must: where are honor killings still legal? Even though the law may take a hard stance against it, in many countries those who commit such crimes still manage to walk away free because the same authorities who are supposed to maintain justice are the ones most likely to turn a blind eye. In other places honor killings are still legal because of blatant inaction or laws that implicit allow these heinous acts.

Pakistan. The country passed an anti-honor killing law in October 2016 when a high-profile celebrity was murdered by a family member. Although many saw this as an enormous step in the right direction, honor killings have continued unabated. Part of the reason is society only watches those who they deem important. Many others slip through the cracks because the crimes go unreported. Another problem is the pressure that law enforcement and government officials face from groups who condone this type of murder as just.

North Africa. Many honor killings take place in this region, but a number also occur in France because of the large North African immigrant population. Shockingly, French laws do little to combat the epidemic of violence as they are so strongly rooted in the Napoleonic Code, which itself treated honor crimes with a great deal of leniency. Many international laws are trying to circumvent this systemic lack of caring by drafting new legislation that guarantees a person’s right to life. How big an effect this will have in the future — if any at all — remains uncertain.

Libya. Victims of honor crimes in this country have little recourse: whereas the killing of a woman who is caught in a “dishonorable” act is not technically legal, it is still considered a mitigating factor. This means that family members of these unprotected women will be treated less harshly by the law than other murderers, and will receive sentences that hardly fit the crime.

Iran. Honor killings occur most often outside of major metropolitan areas and occur most often among minority populations. Access to education is considered to be the best tool against this practice, which is itself pervasive in a society so strongly dominated by men. When a man’s social status is perceived to be under attack — especially because of a woman’s actions — honor killings become much more likely, and the law does little to prevent them or provide adequate protection.

The Psychology Of Honor Killings: Why Do They Still Happen in 2019?

Those of us who live in the United States regard many of the crimes committed in the Middle East as barbaric or inhumane — sometimes we even view the punishments for those crimes with similar disdain. However, they happen for a reason. Women are still marginalized in every society in the world, and some male-dominated communities would rather perpetuate terrible violence against women to keep them subjugated than view them as equals. Why?

Family members who commit honor killings very rarely show remorse for what they have done. Not only do they believe their acts were necessary, but they see them as justified both by the laws of men and in the eyes of their faith.

The reasons for these crimes are varied: a woman might run away with a man after a previous marriage was arranged; a woman might appear in public without a chaperone; they may have been raped; they may be too friendly towards their male counterparts; they may have shown their faces in public rather than wear a hijab. 

While many of us might see the impractical reality of these crimes, even psychologists have difficulty comprehending the human capacity for violence toward other members of a family. All animals, humans included, have an instinctual resolve to keep members of their own family safe from harm. Yet in these cases — some in which women did absolutely nothing wrong at all except wander into the wrong place at the wrong time — a parent’s love for a child might be overwritten by the urge to shirk an imagined dishonorable act.

That means the answer is deeply entrenched in Middle Eastern culture and practice. Honor killings occur, even today, because reputation is important to those who live in the Middle East, as is tradition. Men who live in these parts of the world epitomize the modern concept of fragile masculinity: they strive to be as masculine as possible, as rough and tough as they possibly can be. They will not tolerate disrespect from anyone, and certainly not from a member of the opposite sex.

This is because this facade of masculinity is viewed as a key to one’s success in life. Without it, failure would follow. Of course we know this is not true, but perception is reality to those who commit honor killings.

Unfortunately honor killings have been reported in the United States as well. Any Criminal defense attorney will tell you that statistics regarding these crimes aren’t necessarily falling as time goes on, and part of the reason is because radical elements of both conservative and liberal bias are on the rise all over the world — and the more radical a person’s beliefs, the more likely it is they will perpetuate this crime. What can we do to change the outcome? The answer to that question is simpler: we can start talking.

Four Honor Killings Reported In Phoenix, Arizona

After killing his wife, two daughters and the man whom he thought was having an affair with his wife, Austin Smith, a Muslim, was arrested. Why did he commit such a cruel act? According to the Phoenix Police Sergeant Tommy Thompson, Smith believed that “in God’s eyes, it was all right for him to deal with someone in this manner who had been involved in adultery, extramarital affairs.” He also elaborated that he killed his 7-year-old daughter because she was “weeping for the wicked.”

How does this differ from domestic violence? It doesn’t. But the fact that his justification for his crimes refers to God indicates that this is an honor killing. The sad part is that many friends of the wife, Dasia Patterson, did not believe that she was having an affair. What makes this very scary is the fact that Austin Smith was a convert to Islam and was not brought up in the culture where honor killings are happening quite frequently.

If this crime had taken place in Palestine, Austin Smith would be pardoned, given a suspended sentence, or six months to three years of imprisonment. If this crime had taken place in Syria, he would have to serve two years imprisonment. In Turkey, a woman who is accused of violating the family’s honor is forced to commit suicide so family members can avoid jail time or the act is done by young boys so they can serve less jail time for being a minor.

Luckily (but is it?) this heinous crime was done in the United States. Austin Smith will face the death penalty, life in prison without the possibility or parole or life in prison with the chance of parole in 25 years FOR EACH COUNT OF MURDER.

Until Islamic culture changes around the world, honor killings will still be prevalent throughout the world even here in the United States.

Do Middle Eastern Women Have A #MeToo Movement?

Women across the United States have begun to speak out about the issue of rampant sexual assault and harassment by their male counterparts, and the #MeToo movement shows no signs of slowing down. Most notably, comedian Bill Cosby was sentenced to years in prison, while actor Kevin Spacey has finally been charged with just one of his dozens of alleged assaults. No one can argue that it’s far past time for such a movement, but do women outside of the United States have the same options?

The movement–or similar movements–do exist outside of the United States, but they don’t always have the same impact. Part of the reason is rooted in Middle Eastern culture. In that part of the world, women are supposed to be submissive, and accusations of sexual assault aren’t taken seriously. Female accusers often face contempt, and sometimes find themselves in even more danger.

Once upon a time, it wasn’t unheard of for a woman to be stoned to death for being raped outside of her marriage vows–as if it was her fault. It still isn’t unheard of for family members to turn against a young woman who is even thought to have strayed from the path that men think she ought to tread.

Arab celebrities have also managed to escape the rule of law, even when accused shortly after a crime has been committed. This is especially true of singers or actors who are on the road, and have every opportunity to leave the country by skipping bail or provide a mouth-watering settlement offer to poor women who are more likely to accept.

Women who reside in Iran continue to battle against the notion that a woman must be covered by a hijab. Women in Israel are jumping onboard the #MeToo bandwagon, and rather successfully at that.

Life is a little rougher in Pakistan, where an average of 1000 girls of Hindu or Christian faith are kidnapped. These girls are then converted to Islam and married to Muslim men by force. There are still far too many honor killings. On top of that, it isn’t out of the ordinary for prepubescent girls as young as six to marry men who could be their grandfathers. It happens all the time so families can settle feuds.

Protests are in the works because of this barbaric behavior, and the brutally violent crimes against women are finally finding their place in the international spotlight. But is that enough to effectuate real change?

When Were The First Documented Honor Killings?

The gruesome brutality of honor killings is finally becoming more universally opposed, and laws are beginning to trickle down through the Middle Eastern world. How did these killings become so common? How did honor killings become so acceptable to so many? Honor killings similar to those we know now have been documented at least since ancient Greek and Roman times when men had the legal right to kill a daughter or adulterous spouse free of consequence.

Other documents show that honor killings were somewhat common during the Middle Ages. Jewish law prohibited adulterous behavior and punished the crime by stoning the perpetrators. The practice is still documented all around the world, but this murderous behavior is most abundant in the Middle East and parts of Africa.

The ritualistic act has evolved over time. During the Ottoman Empire, killers would collect the victim’s blood and sprinkle it on their own clothes. They would then take to the streets with the murder weapon. This tradition was ironically thought to increase one’s honor.

It’s important that we all understand the nature of the “crime” that may precipitate an honor killing needn’t be proved. It needn’t have even occurred. The crime that these butchered women committed was falling to accidental suspicion, something that isn’t tolerated in certain parts of the world, and never was. This suspicion is what really tarnishes someone’s honor, and so the victim must be killed.

This kind of rationalization is about as ancient as you might expect. Men think it makes more sense to kill someone rather than let groundless rumors spread or be blown out of proportion.

There is a historical context for other types of honor killing. We’re all familiar with the idea of a duel. This type of honor-defending behavior was popular in Canada even into the late 19th century.

The English King Henry VIII had his fifth wife beheaded after she was accused of adulterous behavior. Shakespeare was notorious for including honor-based murder and execution in his plays. Other stories passed down through time include the notion of killing on a shocking scale in order to protect one’s honor. Perhaps the best example of this is the Trojan War.

Thankfully, the prevalence of the practice seems to have diminished over time.

Woman Stabbed 80 Times in Gruesome Honor Killing

It can be difficult for one culture to understand the beliefs of another, especially when those beliefs allow men to get away for murder–but that’s what happens in many Middle Eastern countries when they so often turn a blind eye to the honor killings committed against women. There are hundreds each year, and the rest of the world barely takes notice of the women who don’t survive. Those who do are often afraid to tell their stories.

In Abu Dhabi, an Arab man currently stands accused of the murder of his sister. His trial is underway. The Khaleej Times described the arguments between the accused and the victim prior to the murder as “heated” after the defendant questioned the morality of his sister’s actions. He stabbed her 80 times, only calling the authorities after he was certain she was dead.

Like so many similar trials, the outcome is up in the air. The defendant’s mother has managed to stall proceedings by requesting medical reports evaluating his mental state prior to the murder. According to the Khaleej Times, he should still find himself under the scrutiny of an official sentence even if his mother decides to drop her personal right charge.

Although honor killings occur in countries all over the world, they are far more common in the Middle East. When a woman was thought to have cheated on her husband earlier in the year, her father murdered her. In a separate case, one woman’s new husband made allegations that she was not a virgin–after he murdered her. When another woman ran away from home, her husband brutally killed her. Another live-streamed an honor killing using Facebook to disseminate the event publically.

These killings won’t stop until we raise public awareness that they’re happening in the first place, and put pressure on human rights entities to do more than they’re doing now. The practice is under increased scrutiny in some Arab countries, where legislative bodies are finally taking action to protect the rights of the women who live there. One of the biggest issues is how many of these honor killings remain unreported by other friends or family who know they’ve been committed. The law must not accept this in order for it to change.

Connecting The Muslim Holiday of Ashura To Honor Killings

Depending on which sect of Islam you ask, Ashura is a special day in Islamic history. The term itself means “Tenth” in Arabic and that’s directly connected to the Islamic calendar.

Ashura’s origins stem from a related Judaic day for atonement. According to Sunni Islam and NJ Employment Attorneys, this day was reserved as an important one by Prophet Musa (Moses) to thank God for all that he had provided Israelites. In addition to Prophet Musa, the day is also marked as being close to Prophet Mohammad, who would fast on this day and also encourage others to do so as per tradition of the Jews.

However, in the case of Shias, Ashura is solely reserved for the 10th day of Muharram and as a means to remember Husayn Ibn Ali’s martyrdom in the year AD 680. It’s important to note this is not a celebration but more of a way to remember the sacrifices of those who came before this generation. This is often commemorated with a deep period of mourning. In this case, the mourners will congregate in one place (i.e. Mosque) and work on remembering Husayn Ibn Ali with sorrow and will also take up chants such as “Ya Hussain” while beating drums. During this period, many scholars will take up the time to speak to the masses and help shed light on what’s being honored and why it’s essential to mourn.

One of the prominent stories told during the day would be about Husayn Ibn Ali’s sacrifice as it can help illustrate why the mourning is important and what it implies. It is a way to get closer to the religion and also appreciate what the Husayn family had to deal with at that time.

Ashura is not reserved for a specific country and is observed in various parts of the world.

However, the way it is set up can vary with Arab countries (i.e. Iraq, Syria, Iran) focusing on the storytelling whether it has to do with the Battle of Karbala or the martyrdom of Husayn Ibn Ali. Iran is also renowned for taking up the time to put up plays that can help illustrate what happened on that fateful day and why it’s important to keep it in one’s heart as a Muslim.

In South Asia, there are many sermons and the day is often capped with celebrations that go on throughout the Shia community. There are often processions that take place throughout the course of the day but this can vary from place to place.

There are many mosques around the world, which take the time to speak on this day and what it means to Muslims. Many will visit their scholar and look to rekindle their passion for the religion and deepen their understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. We hope on this day that those who have been murdered in an honor killing will also be remembered.