Honour Killing

A first-degree murder conviction was handed down Sunday to the Afghan-Canadians Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed for the killing of four female members of the family. In their opinion, the victims had strayed from the traditional values of their society.

No Canadian court could accept the defence that a clash between Afghan and Canadian cultures would excuse the crimes. Therefore, it seemed superfluous to claim with patronizing righteousness, as some media did, that the verdict was a triumph of the rule of law. Triumph over what?

There was unanimous agreement that the guilty verdict was just. It was important to learn from authoritative commentaries in the press that the concept of honour killing is condemned in Islamic societies as firmly as it is in Western societies.

Nothing can excuse the barbarity of the cold-blooded murders, the misogyny and the medieval despotism and cunning of the tyrannical father. There was never any danger that tolerant Canada would condone them. This, however, should not preclude the possibility that, in future when sentencing, judges should be allowed to take such a culture clash into consideration. In this case, because of the extensive publicity, the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole may have a deterring effect. But one wishes that, in addition to some punishment in Canada, a procedure for deportation was available.

The concept of honour in this connection is, of course, confusing. “Murders in Defence of Patriarchal Tyranny” would be a more accurate description.

“What is honour? A word,” says Falstaff in Henry IV, Part One. “What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ’Tis insensible, then…. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so ends my catechism.”

Some good may come out of the case.

Dr. Amin Muhammad, professor of psychiatry at Memorial University in Newfoundland, was quoted in the National Post (January 30) as saying that honour killings have been on the rise in Canada over the past decade. There have been more than a dozen cases since 2002, which is actually very little compared to the United States and the United Kingdom, which have seen hundreds of such killings since then. He hopes the outcome of the Shafia case will make people more vigilant now. “So many people approach for help and intervention in the past were not taken seriously, even those potential victims that don’t have the courage to come and speak openly about it,” he says. “Now at least it will give them a little courage.”

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6 responses to “Honour Killing

  1. “The concept of honour in this connection is, of course, confusing.” — Indeed! Does it never occur to these “tyrannical patriarchs” that cold-blooded murder of near kin, albeit mere women, might possibly qualify as a blot on the old escutcheon?? The underlying issue, it seems to me, is the viewpoint from which women are objects, possessions, rather than people. And it wasn’t so long ago in Western societies that women were treated similarly. Faramerz Dabhoiwala was interviewed on CBC-Radio One’s The Current on Wednesday Feb.1. In his new book The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, he says that “[as recently as] a few hundred years ago, Europeans executed adulterers. And for most of history, all civilizations handed down severe punishments to those, especially women, who broke the sex rules.” Thus, our loudly proclaimed deploring of “honour killings” is a relatively recently acquired refinement.

  2. Michael Gundy

    Muslims, Jews and Christians share the prophets and so subscribe to the Commandment: “Thou shall not kill.” The fact that the victims were the truly vulnerable makes the case more odious. So called “culture” has nothing to with this crime.

  3. I don’t recall. Have men ever been executed for adultery? The Bible clearly states that Thou should not commit adultery.

  4. “Orthodoxy is the enemy within” Pierre E. Trudeau.
    Show me a fundamentalist religion which accepts women as equals.

  5. I wish people who feel themselves mortally dishonoured by the actions of their female relatives would respond in the traditional Japanese way.