Today, near Nablus, on the West Bank, a Palestinian husband killed his wife because an ultrasound test had revealed she was carrying a female fetus. Although this man already had three sons, he was said to envy his brother who had nine sons. Knowing nothing about biology (sperm is responsible for determining the gender of offspring), this as-yet-unnamed man killed his wife for failing to give him what he wanted. “Palestinian police officials said the argument that followed the ultrasound test was just one of many and that it was not the sole reason behind the murder…According to police, abrasions were found on the man’s body, indicating that the wife struggled as he was choking her to death.”
Technically, this poor woman did not “disobey” her husband or their cultural values by talking to another man or by trying to leave the marriage in which she was, allegedly, routinely battered; but she had “disobeyed” the culture’s preference for boys over girls. Thus, we may think of this as the act of a batterer-murderer but also as a specific kind of honor killing, one that does not ostensibly involve the hands-on participation of the victim’s family-of-origin or the husband’s family-of-origin—a more cultural honor killing in which one lone domestic terrorist seeks to enforce his culture’s increasingly misogynist values. As I’ve recently shown in my second study on honor killings world-wide in Middle East Quarterly, there are two kinds of honor killings and/or two distinct victim populations which differ by age, and this honor killing may represent yet a third type of honor killing.
This kind of murder—and the many more classical examples of honor killings which are epidemic and indigenous to the Arab and Muslim Middle East and central Asia—were not studied by the research team which published their findings in The Lancet earlier this year. They sought to blame an increase in husband-wife “intimate partner violence” on the so-called Israeli occupation. I have written about this here and published a letter which condemned the study in The Lancet. These researchers, led by Harvard’s Cari Jo Clark, had a political, not an objective, academic agenda. Indeed, they did not even refer to the recent UN statement about honor killings on the West Bank nor did they cite the dramatic findings of a study published in 2008 by Emma Hansson who worked through the offices of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.
The tragic practice of female infanticide—the murder of newborn girls, or the choice to abort female, but not male fetuses–is practiced elsewhere as well. Historically, China murdered unwanted newborn girls; under Communist rule, families are only allowed to have one child. Ultrasound tests reveal the child-to-be’s gender and girls are aborted. Thus, China now has an abnormal ratio of 120 male live births to 100 female live births. In nature, the male to female gender ratio of newborns is about 105:100. India also indulges in ultrasound tests to determine gender and female fetuses are increasingly aborted.
What may we conclude? First, that impoverished cultures cannot afford to raise a girl who then departs to serve her husband’s family; they also cannot afford the dowries demanded. Second, that female life is still held in contempt and is vulnerable to vicious violence on many continents. This is true despite differences in religion, geographical location, political administration. However, it is also true that when these much-preferred boys finally grow up and seek wives, there will be a shortage of them. Families in certain Chinese provinces have been kidnapping girls from other countries as captive wives for their sons.
It is also true that in polygamous cultures, where wealthy men have multiple wives, and where gender apartheid demands that women be segregated from men, that more and more young men will have not have access to wives or girlfriends—and little money to purchase a "Lady of the Night." They will not have sons. Why live? Thus, this particular demographic may be exceptionally susceptible to jihadic temptation. Seventy-two virgins at their disposal in Paradise versus no girlfriend, no wife, on earth, may seem like the perfect resolution to a psycho-sexual conflict.
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969), the National Women’s Health Network (1975) and the author of thousands of articles and of thirteen books, including Women and Madness (1972), Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman (2002) and The New Anti-Semitism (2003). She may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com
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Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies. She is the author of 4 studies about honor killings and 16 books.