Now that we’ve discussed how a few of the seeds planted throughout history have led to patriarchal rungs of society and laws and practices that have favored men — leading to brutal violence against women — it’s time to take a more in-depth look at “honor” throughout history and how it came to be part of the practice of killing women in a vain attempt to restore it.
Professor of Anthropology Sharif Kanaana at Birzeit University said, “What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What’s behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.”
Although this is primarily an opinionated statement, any truth to it could mean that the men don’t really feel “dishonored” at all — they simply feel like a person who they feel should be submissive has attempted to usurp their power, either through adulterous actions or by dating someone who does not share similar religious beliefs.
The Ottoman Empire has a lot to tell us about the concept of “honor” and how it might relate to the killing of women. Arabs under Ottoman rule would sometimes commit the vile act, and then take the murder weapon, now drenched in blood, to walk through the streets and show the community what had been done. It wasn’t enough to kill the victim. The people who knew that the family’s honor had been stained must also know that the family’s honor was restored through the death of this individual.
Amnesty International made a relevant statement some time ago: “The mere perception that a woman has contravened the code of sexual behavior damages honor. The regime of honor is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honor by attacking the woman.”
Anyone in the United States can easily visit a personal injury attorney in an attempt to recoup damages. Chicago has one of the highest murder rates in the country, for example, and that means victims can simply visit the website of their nearest attorney and file a lawsuit. In other countries, the same opportunity isn’t always afforded. And even when it is, male family members sometimes prefer to act outside the law’s boundaries because the law doesn’t have anything to do with a person’s honor.
But that’s the primary difference between societies in which honor killings occur and those where they do not: The very concept of justice and how it is enacted either within or without the bounds of law. In some places, justice doesn’t matter — because the very possibility that a community might begin to gossip about an act is a reason for a man to conduct an honor killing, even when the grounds for that gossip are baseless.