On the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day -- What Are Feminists Doing About Honor Killings?

Editor's note: The following is adapted from a speech delivered on March 8 by the author in observance of  Women's History Month to theGender Fairness Committee of the New York City Supreme Court.

When my Second Wave generation of feminists started out, Gender Fairness committees did not exist nor did as many women lawyers and judges or the number of feminist lawyers, both male and female, whom I see here today. As many of you know, my or should I say, our generation had the privilege of changing all that.

We also named and exposed the hidden epidemic of physical and sexual violence towards women and children.

Second Wave feminists challenged sexism in advertising, (we still do), the pornography industry, (which has grown), and prostitution which now includes human sexual trafficking.

We also challenged corporations for economically discriminating against women; that work continues. We took on drug companies whose medications caused women to die from cancer. We championed women’s reproductive and sexual rights but we also challenged birth control. We waged a war to save women’s lives. The work continues.

Courtesy of Second Wave feminist activism, more women entered previously all-male professions, and some men became feminists.

Before the Second Wave began making waves, mothers received little child support and less alimony—that has improved although custody battles have, in some ways, gotten harder, more terrible. The 25th anniversary edition of "Mothers on Trial" will be published this summer with eight new chapters.

Our generation had a universalist vision of human rights—one standard for all. I still do. While I believe in cultural diversity, I am not a multi-cultural relativist. Therefore, I have taken a strong stand against the persecution of Muslim women and dissidents. Thus, I now submit expert courtroom affidavits on behalf of Muslim girls and women who have fled being honor murdered and are seeking asylum here.

Those of us who expose the plight of such women, and this includes Somali-born feminist hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as well as myself, have been demonized as “Islamophobes” and racists because we do not, in the same breath, blame America, the West, or Israel for their suffering.

In my view, western academic feminists, including gay liberationists, are so afraid of being condemned as “colonialists” or “racists” that this fear trumps their concern for women’s rights in the Arab and Muslim world.

What is Islamic Gender Apartheid? Islamic gender apartheid is characterized by normalized daughter- and wife-battering, forced veiling, female genital mutilation, polygamy, purdah, (the segregation or sequestration of women), arranged marriage, child marriage, first cousin marriage; girls and women are honor murdered if they resist such practices, if they wish to divorce a dangerously abusive husband, and if they are viewed as too independent, too modern.

Today, at its most extreme, Islamic gender apartheid is characterized by acid attacks, public stonings, hangings, and beheading of women in Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia—countries in which girls and women who are raped are further victimized: jailed, tortured, and executed.

Feminists should be crying out from the rooftops against these practices. Some are. I am. Yet, many Muslim men and women, as well as many intellectually “progressive” western infidels, are not. They are demanding or welcoming the imposition of Islamic religious law, Sharia law, not only in Egypt and Saudi Arabia but also in the West.

I have published two academic studies and nearly 100 articles about honor killings both in the West and in the Islamic world. How is an honor killing defined? An honor killing is a collaborative conspiracy carried out against one victim, usually a young girl, by her family of origin. Both her male and female relatives believe that their “honor” demands her death; that her “impure” behavior has shamed and destroyed her family’s reputation and community status. A battered wife—or one who dares leave her tormentor—may also be "honor murdered" by both her husband, assisted by his relatives, and to an extent, the wife’s relatives as well.

In the West, honor killings are a mainly Muslim-on-Muslim crime. Hindus and Sikhs perpetrate such killings but mainly in India, not in the West.

An honor killing is not the same as western domestic violence or western domestically violent femicide. Many honorable feminists disagree with me. They believe that honor killings are the same as western domestic violence. Understandably, such feminists fear that by singling out one group for behavior which may be common to all groups they will stigmatize the token group and minimize the suffering of all the other groups. They have a legitimate fear—and yet if, for reasons of “political correctness,” we fail to understand a crime, we will never be able to prevent or to prosecute it.

Honor killings are shameful, secretive; they are allowed to flourish and fester precisely because the perpetrators and their collaborators do not want them exposed. Instead, they blame the victim, and they blame those who expose it.

I began writing about honor killings in the United States, Canada, and Europe in 2004. My first study about such honor killings first appeared in 2009 in Middle East Quarterly, the second appeared there as well in 2010. In the most recent publication, I studied 230 victims who were honor—or “horror” murdered on five continents over a twenty year period in 172 separate incidents. (More than one person was murdered in some of the incidents).

A murder is a murder and must be treated as such. However, honor killings are not like western domestic violence or domestically violent femicide.

Unlike Western domestic violence, honor killings are carefully planned by the victim’s own family of origin who have warned her, repeatedly, from childhood on, that they will kill her if she dishonors her family in any way: If she is even slightly disobedient; refuses to veil, veils improperly, rejects an arranged marriage, wants to leave a violent marriage, dresses in too Western a fashion. Worldwide, women are honor-murdered based on mere rumors of inappropriate behavior, for wanting to choose their own husbands, having infidel friends, choosing a non-Muslim friend or husband—or a non-Muslim God.

It is rare for a domestically violent western father to routinely batter, stalk, patrol, and murder his own daughter or to be assisted in this gruesome task by his entire family.

While men are also honor killed, young girls (average age: 17) and older married women (average age: 36) are the primary targets.

In the West, the majority (91%) of honor killings are Muslim-on-Muslim crimes. While Hindus and Sikhs do honor murder, they mostly do so in India, not in the West. Both men and women are honor murdered for marrying someone from the “wrong” caste.

Honor killings are also distinguished by their barbaric ferocity. The female victim is often gang-raped, then burned alive, stoned or beaten to death, cut at the throat, decapitated, stabbed numerous times (10-50), suffocated slowly, etc. This may resemble what western serial killers do to prostitutes.

Worldwide, 54% of female victims were tortured before being murdered; that number was 68% in Europe where the temptation to assimilate must be very great. Hence, a barbaric object lesson, a human sacrifice, is required. In Europe, 83% of the girls under eighteen who were honor murdered were torture-murdered.

Their killers were seen as heroes. In the West, child-murderers, wife batterers and wife-killers are now (courtesy of Second Wave feminism), seen as criminals. Those who commit or assist in the commission of honor killings view such killings as heroic and even view the murder as the fulfillment of a tribal, a family, and, rightly or wrongly, as a religious obligation.

Based on my research, I have increasingly been asked to submit expert affidavits on behalf of girls and women who have fled being honor killed and who are seeking asylum in the United States or Canada. I have, thus far, worked on four such cases in the last 16 months.

My first case was that of an abused Muslim-American teenage immigrant who had secretly converted to Christianity. This was a high profile case. Lawyers in Florida, (she fled there), and in Ohio, (the court returned her), both won her the right to remain in foster care and helped her obtain a green card. The girl now lives in hiding, apart from her family, somewhere in America.

My second case concerns a North African woman who has fled a small European country to seek asylum in America. Just because a Muslim woman lives in Europe does not mean that she lives in a Western environment. Her large, tight-knit, violent, Islamist family inhabits a parallel universe in a country which has viewed such parallel bastions of gender and religious apartheid as “politically correct;” as a convert to Christianity, this woman’s family will hunt her down until they kill her. They will never stop trying. This case is still pending.

My third case concerns a brilliant graduate student from a prominent family in a south east Asian country. She has applied for asylum here. What is her crime? She dared to marry a man whom she loved but who belonged to a different sect of Islam; she did so against her parents’ wishes.

My fourth case concerns a woman who was born and raised in the killing fields of Congo. After her father was murdered, her mother fled to a neighboring African country, where she married a Muslim man who insisted on marrying his new stepdaughter off as the fifth wife to an elderly Muslim man; in turn, her chosen husband insisted that she be genitally mutilated.

Desperate, defiant, this brave soul fled Africa and arrived in the United States with falsified documents. Without going into too much detail, let me say that she has languished in jail in Buffalo, New York for more than three months. Last week, a judge ordered that she be deported to Congo. She has six weeks to appeal this decision.

One must ask: Should the United States and Canada be taking in so many persecuted victims from other countries? That’s certainly what America and Canada are about—but can either country afford to subsidize the wholesale rescue of so many persecuted human beings? Can we afford not to? Whatever our answer, we nevertheless have a responsibility to those immigrants and citizens who already live in our countries.

How should we address the problem of honor killings in the West? Obviously, immigration, law enforcement, legislative, and religious authorities all have important roles to play in terms of education, prevention, and prosecution.

In addition, just as we have shelters for battered Orthodox Jewish women, shelters for battered Muslim girls and women should be established and multilingual staff appropriately trained in the facts about honor killings. For example, young Muslim girls are frequently lured back home by their mothers. When a shelter resident receives such a phone call, the staff must immediately go on high alert.

Perhaps the equivalent of a federal witness protection program for the intended targets of honor killings should be created; England has already established just such a program. British police are uniquely empowered to return British citizens who have been kidnapped to Southeast Asia and married against their will.

We must issue clear government warnings to all immigrants to the West: Honor killings, daughter- and wife-battering, female genital mutilation, etc.—all “culturally sensitive” areas-- will be prosecuted under western law. Since honor killings are collaborations, conspiracies, the perpetrators, accomplices, and enablers will all be prosecuted.

European courts have recently begun to do all this. Unlike the United States, they have a large Muslim immigrant population.

In 2006, a Danish court convicted nine members of a Pakistani-Danish clan for the honor murder of Ghazala Khan.

In 2009, a German court sentenced a Turkish-German father to life in prison for having ordered his son to honor murder his sister; the 20-year-old son was sentenced to nine and a half years.

In 2010, a British court, with the help of testimony from the victim's mother and fiancé, convicted a Kurdish-British father of a 10-year-old honor murder after the police reclassified old, unsolved crimes.“

Like Islamic gender apartheid, an honor killing, is a human rights violation and cannot be minimized or justified in the name of cultural relativism, tolerance, anti-racism, diversity, or political correctness. As long as Islamist groups continue to deny or obfuscate the problem, and as long as western government, police, and judicial officials accept their inaccurate versions of reality, women will continue to be killed for honor, not only in Muslim-majority countries but also in the West.

The battle for women's rights is central to the battle for Western values. It is a necessary part of true democracy, along with freedom of religion, tolerance for homosexuals, and freedom of dissent. Here, then, is exactly where the greatest battle of the twenty-first century is joined.

This op-ed was adapted from a 2011 women's history month speech for the New York County Supreme Court.