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.