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Recent blogosphere debates on the definition of "honour killing"

On Muslimah Media Watch:

How Tarek Fatah got it wrong on both “honor” killing and domestic violence November 19, 2008

Recently, there has been much discussion in the media over the use of the term “honor killing”. Is the term racist? Does it implicate Islam for killings that are not religiously sanctioned? Are “honor killings” really domestic violence that is no different from domestic violence that occurs in every society?

The National Post published a feature this past weekend that looks at these questions. The story itself was balanced, getting a variety of viewpoints and presenting the issue in a balanced rather than sensationalist manner. So to the National Post I give kudos.

However, while reading the article I couldn’t help but notice Tarek Fatah’s comments:

“For all these lefties who have formed alliances with Islamists, I accuse them of racism of lower expectations,” said Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Coalition.

Mr. Fatah believes that honour killings should be viewed as sui generis crimes. “The courts must recognize the unique nature of the crime. If honour killings are not mentioned and defined in the Criminal Code, it will allow apologists of this crime to continue to deny its existence.”

He said the case of Aqsa, for example, who allegedly was entrapped by family members and killed in her house last December, was something that bears little relation to the common arc of a domestic dispute.

“Domestic abuse is usually about a dispute between partners. Child abuse is different, and [the Aqsa case] is about a girl who did not want to cover her head and did not want to live in the lifestyle imposed on her by her brothers and fathers,” Mr. Fatah said. “We also know that one of the brothers didn’t want to live in these conditions and he left home. But did they kill him?”

There are so many disturbing things said in Mr. Fatah’s statements. The first is the idea that people who abhor the term honor killing are “Islamists” and the dismissal of non-Muslims who abhor as “lefties”. He shows little respect for people who see honor killing as a problematic term and instead of debating the position resorts to ad hominem and sensationalist attacks that add nothing to the discussion. Would it have been that difficult to discuss whether or not honor killing is a racist term?

Then to make it worse, he accuses his opponents of being racist and borrows from a term from President Bush “the bigotry of lower expectations” replacing bigotry with racism. Again, one has to wonder why Mr. Fatah feels the need to attack people who don’t agree with his position in such a sensationalist manner.

What really upset me about Fatah’s argument however is his “definition” of domestic abuse. Mr. Fatah believes that honor killings are different from domestic violence, but his reasoning rests on the wrong idea of what domestic abuse is. Fatah says that domestic abuse is usually about a dispute between partner. One has to wonder if Mr. Fatah has ever taken a course on the family, taken any Women’s Studies courses or at least read a book on either. Domestic abuse is about much more than a “dispute between partners.” It is about a desire to control. Additionally, domestic abuse or more appropriately, the intimate terrorism that resulted in the death of Aqsa Parvez and is the domestic abuse that we commonly think of, is rooted in patriarchy. So domestic abuse, which can also include child abuse, is about much more than a dispute between partners.

Thus, I ask how Mr. Fatah’s distinguishes between Aqsa Parvez’s death and domestic violence that occurs in Canada. Does the distinction ultimately come down to the ethinicity and religion of the perpetrator and victim? More importantly I ask whether Mr. Fatah can speak about this issue in a manner that is informed and non-sensationalist? If Mr. Fatah wants to help women, including Muslim women, then this will be necessary whenever he speaks about “honor killings” or domestic violence.

To read original article as well as comments, go to:

On Progressive Islam:

Pushback against the term 'honor killing:' Attempt to refocus on larger abstraction of 'patriarchy'
by: Salaam

Wed Nov 19, 2008 at 11:59:42 AM EST

Honor killings target spouses suspected of infidelity or even being the victims of sexual assault. Young women sometimes can be victimized if they are seen as embracing outside cultures.

Yasser Abdel Said: Suspected of hiding in his native Egypt. Will Egyptian authorities extradict him to face trial if a vocal clique of US Muslims and secular feminists imply prosecuting crimes like his serve the purposes of religious persecution?

Salaam writes: Muslimah Media Watch has several posts up right now that support the position that the term 'honor killing' is a slur of religious persecution - a position I oppose. Follow the link for a better understanding of that point of view.

The protesters are correct in asserting that public education is needed that honor killing is nowhere sanctioned in the deen. But the protesters favor an abstract feminist intellectual construct of domestic violence (systematic power and control by men), thereby obscuring and ignoring the fact that these killings are ignited at the cultural nexus of religion and male control of women's bodies, ie, religious men's fanatical concern with female modesty, imparted to them from the strident conservative modality of Islam.

In fact, I see the non-Muslim feminists position here as particularly unsavory: They come with an agenda, essentially using the case as a platform to promote their generic complaint about gender-based violence in the larger society, thereby leaving the motivations of Aqsa Parvez's killers unaddressed, thereby pulling the blanket over social dynamics in the Muslim community that will lead to other honor killings.

One girl who went to school with the Said sisters wrote this at Raquel Evita Saraswati's blog:

Amina was my best friend when we were in 7th grade and her and her sister's murder hit all of us here very hard. I was so dissappointed and hurt that some people expressed no sympathy what so ever. They felt that the girls got what they 'deserve' for having boyfriends. No one deserves to be shot and left to bleed to death by their own father.

Clearly, a problem continues to exist specifically among some in the Muslim community and that group needs to challenged and educated. Ignoring them and making the victims of honor killings invisible in a sea of undifferentiated domestic violence is anti-feminist and anti-Islam in dangerous, deeply irresponsible ways.

From the National Post of Canada:
It is the grizzled face on a Wanted poster that usually catches the eye, but as the FBI realized late last month, the words matter, too.

In its initial poster seeking fugitive Texas cab driver Yasser Abdel Said -- sought for the double homicide of his teenaged daughters -- the bureau said he disapproved of their dating non-Muslim boys, and stated that they were murdered "due to an 'Honour Killing.' "

Although family members speculated that the father's Islamic beliefs motivated the crime, the use of the phrase "honour killing" incensed the local Muslim-American community, which argued that the accused's religion should not be linked to the double homicide, which left his two daughters dead in the back of his taxi.

After a public outcry, the FBI struck the offending words three weeks ago.

A Bureau spokesman explained that unlike a hate crime, there is no legal definition of an honour killing. "It's not our job to label this case anything other than what it is, what it is from a criminal perspective," he said, apologizing that the writer did not see "the misunderstanding" the wording would create.

The girls' great aunt, however, was not satisfied. "Everyone knows this is an honour killing," she told "But even our law enforcement and the FBI succumb to the pressure?"

Whether these kinds of crimes take place in Texas, Europe or even in Mississauga -- where the father and brother of teenager Aqsa Parvez, 16, will soon appear in court charged with killing her last December -- the term itself is already on trial, a topic that speaks to the extreme hair-trigger sensitivities of multicultural balance.

Just this week in Toronto, advocates from a range of feminist, domestic violence and race-relations groups held a news conference to denounce media reports that categorized the murder of Aqsa as an honour killing.

Critics argue that the term is inherently racist and distracts the conversation from the main issue: domestic violence. But others argue that gagging the discussion by making this topic off limits is counterproductive, undermining a community's ability to acknowledge this particular abuse and eradicate it. The debate raises questions about whether any consideration of what motivates crimes like this is unfair and even culturally biased, or whether, instead, it is critical to gaining an understanding of motive.

Honour killing is the phrase used to describe a crime committed by male family members who feel that their spouses, daughters or even sisters have brought shame to a home. It typically targets spouses suspected of infidelity or even being the victims of sexual assault. Young women sometimes can be victimized if they are seen as embracing outside cultures.

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