Menu

OPINION

Are Some Honor Killings More Equal Than Others?

If an honor killing is committed by Muslims in North America, chances are you won’t read about it in the mainstream American media, except perhaps locally, and briefly. However, if the honor killing has been perpetrated by Hindus or Sikhs, and in faraway India, the crime merits prominent treatment in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and of course, in The New York Times.

For example, on Saturday, July 10 the Gray Lady ran a front page article about a caste-related honor killing in Koderma, India. 

The murdered young woman, Nirupama Pathak, a journalist, was a Brahmin, considered the highest caste; for more than a year, she was secretly engaged to a “top” fellow student who belonged to the “middle upper caste.” Ms. Pathak was also secretly pregnant. For her, there was no going back. And, unlike the law in many Muslim countries, the Indian law was on her side: Despite tribal tradition, inter-caste marriages are specifically permitted. Poor Nirupama was found dead in her bedroom in her family home. The family told the police, variously, that she had either electrocuted or hung herself. They produced a suicide note. However, according to an autopsy, it seems she had been suffocated. Since only her mother had been at home with her, her mother was arrested.

In late May, The Washington Post also did a major story about a Hindu couple in India whose marriage was ruled “incestuous” (they were from the same clan as well as caste); thus, the groom was strangled and the bride forced to drink pesticide. Their bodies were dumped in a canal. The fact the murderers and their victims were Hindus was openly—almost gladly--discussed.

Why do I write “gladly?” Because this, after all, is proof that honor killings are not specific to Muslims. Nevertheless, according to my 2010 study in Middle East Quarterly, 84% of those who commit honor murders in North America have been Muslims and 96% of honor murderers in Europe were Muslims. 

Yes, Hindus and Sikhs have committed honor murders in the West. Apparently, the kind of Hindus who emigrate to the West do not bring such tribal or religious customs along with them.

But Muslims do.

In addition, unlike Muslims, Hindus do not honor-murder their women for refusing to veil, for wanting an education or a profession, or for refusing to marry their first cousins. The control of marriage and reproduction follows a different pattern among Hindus where marriage to someone who is too close is viewed as “incestuous” and prohibited. Even marriage to same-caste members who happen to live in the same village is forbidden.

However, to their credit, the Indian police are swiftly making arrests, the Indian Prime Minister is calling for a cabinet-level commission to legislate and enforce harsher penalties for such honor killings. One does not see a similar concerted effort in Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, or in the disputed Palestinian territories.

As the author of the book "Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman," as well as of two studies about honor killings, worldwide, I am not surprised that women, like men, also participate in honor killings. In fact, like Nirupama Pathak’s mother whom, according to the Times, may have had a hands-on role in her daughter’s murder, many Muslim mothers lure their young daughters home to their deaths with sweet words.

If the American media had treated such stories as prominently as they have now begun to treat Hindu honor killings, Americans would have known that Muslim girls and women are being murdered in North America for the “crimes” of being too Western (or for refusing to be battered any further)—and that their female relatives, including their mothers, sometimes play a role in their deaths.

But, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times did not write any in-depth stories or send their own reporters to cover the honor killings of:  Noor-Al-Maleki in Phoenix (2009); Aasiya Z. Hassan in Buffalo (2009); the three Shafi daughters and a first wife in Kingston Canada (2009);  the two Said sisters in Dallas (2008); Sandeela Kanwal in Atlanta (2008); Aqsa Parvez in Toronto (2007); Khatera Sadiqi in Ottawa (2006); Dr. Lubaina Bhatti Ahmed in St. Clairsville, Ohio (1999); Methal Dayem in Cleveland (1999); or, about the first known honor killing on American soil, that of Palestina Isa in St. Louis (1989). In five of these nine cases, mothers played a key and murderous role.

Rather reluctantly, certainly belatedly, The New York Times covered the gruesome Buffalo beheading of Aasiya Hasan, by her media tycoon/batterer husband Muzammil. The article quoted many experts who claimed that honor killings are like domestic violence everywhere: regrettable, but in no way specific to Muslims. This is not true.

North American and European fathers and mothers do not collectively murder their young daughters. Western batterers do not usually behead the wives who dare to leave them and, while wife-murder in some ways looks “the same” everywhere, there are also crucial differences. Batterer-murderers who commit femicide are not valorized by their families in the West nor are they helped by their own families-of-origin or by their wife’s family-of-origin. This seems to be the case in 40% of honor killings, world-wide.

Why is so much of the American media, with some honorable exceptions, so afraid to use the word “Muslim” and “honor killing” in the same article?

Are they afraid they will be attacked as “Islamophobic,” or “racist?” Does this fear blind the media to the fact that the victims are mainly women--who also happen to be Muslims and women of color? Is the mainstream media afraid of being fire-bombed by the more fanatical members of the “religion of peace” for telling the truth about Islamic gender apartheid or barbarism?

On thing is clear: The liberal-left mainstream media in America is no longer reporting the news when it comes to Muslims. One last case in point: One of the "Harry Potter" actresses, Afshan Azad, (who plays the graceful and lovely Padma Patil), was recently threatened with death by her father and brother because she was dating a Hindu man. They beat her up as well causing her to flee her home and to go into hiding in London. Of course, Afshan’s family is Muslim and from Bangladesh.

I never thought something so explosive, so newsworthy, would be kept out of the American media for fear of offending…the White House? The Muslim world?

You tell me.  

Dr. Phyllis Chesler is Emerita Professor of Psychology and the author of thirteen books including Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman and The New Anti-Semitism. She may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com

Fox Forum is on Twitter. Follow us @fxnopinion.

Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, the author of thousands of articles and of fifteen books, including "Women and Madness," and "An American Bride in Kabul." She archives her articles and may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com