The Dis-Honor of Murder

In this ever-changing world of technology and scientific advancement, it’s hard to imagine any convenience that hasn’t already been created or is in the process of being formed. Lights turn on with the clap of a hand; electronic cars freely roam the streets; computers are no longer a novelty – but an absolute necessity in every home; IM terminology has become a part of mainstream language and the email phenomena has made its mark – effectively changing the way we communicate with each other forever. And although as a society, we seem to be progressing forward, every once in a while we get a cold dose of reality – that as much as things seem to change, they also stay the same.


I’ll never forget a story I saw on TV when I was a teenager (which was sadly many moons ago). It was the story of a Pakistani father in the Bronx. A Pakistani Muslim father had killed his teenage daughter because she allegedly had a boyfriend. The father declared that his daughter’s action had caused such irrevocable dishonor to his entire family that his only recourse was to end her life. It was a matter of honor. At the time, it was shocking to me that a father would actually kill his own daughter because of what he perceived to be a stain on his family’s honor. With her blood, he washed away the shame.


And as shocked as I was at the time about what happened here – on American soil – I’m even more amazed that this phenomenon continues today, around the world. As much as the world seems to be progressing, honor killings aren’t a thing of the past. It’s a present-day reality that continues with grisly fervor. Sadly, it’s not just an Arab or Muslim issue – because according to the statistics (which are ridiculously skewed due to under-reporting and cover-ups), the victims are from a number of different religions and continents.


A simple Google search of “honor killings” garners over three million hits. It’s a practice that continues today, outside the lines of being a mere religious or cultural occurrence. It centers on the tribal belief that a woman is the property of her family. Even more at the heart of this practice is the belief that a family’s honor rests in the chastity or perceived chastity of the female. Thus, if a woman is raped, or if she is believed to have engaged in illicit extra-marital activity, she has theoretically shamed not only herself, but her entire clan. The family can only regain its honor by ridding itself of the offender.


Simply put, it’s yet another atrocious example of global violence against women. Very rarely do we hear about the males being subjected to such gruesome fates. If a woman’s chastity can only be destroyed by her activity with a male, why aren’t the men murdered as well? If the male engages in the same act as the female, why hasn’t his family been equally dishonored by their collective action – or perceived action?



What’s even more skin-crawlingly disturbing is that in some countries, the murdering family member (oftentimes a father or brother), receives an insignificant jail sentence for his horrific action. In countries like Jordan, a father who has murdered his daughter in the name of family honor could receive up to six months of jail time if he is able to show that he acted in a “fit of rage”. In a country where honor killings account for a third of the overall murder rate, which is considerably low to begin with, it’s amazing to learn that a person convicted of certain drug-related offenses could face the death penalty, but a brother who kills his sister for “shaming the family” could only receive six months imprisonment.


Although Jordan is infamous for its lenient “honor killing law” and its refusal as recently as 2003 to amend its penal law on this subject, it’s not the only offending country. The killing of a sixteen year old girl in Syria created quite a stir recently, where about 200-300 honor killings are reported each year. In Turkey, family members have found a clever way to sidestep persecution for honor killings; families pressure and coerce “fallen” female family members into committing suicide. Honor suicides have become the perfect alternative: the female is efficiently removed without her blood spilling on the hands her brother or father.



In a recent pow-wow about this subject with my disheartened friend, we brainstormed about what we can do. Realistically, what can we do? Create graphic campaigns to raise awareness about the issue? Find ways to bring the topic into the forefront of conversation? In my naivety, I felt that this is one case where we should fight extremism with extremism. If the indiscretion of a female with a male is deemed to cause such unbelievable shame to a family that it must kill the offending female – I propose we draft a law where the offending male receives insurmountable punishment as well. In theory, this man is not only indirectly responsible for the death of the female that he ruined, but he’s also responsible for shaming an entire family. There should be consequences for his actions – legal consequences. If we are able to stop the male from initiating the act or perceived act out of fear, we are saving not only the life of the female, but the shame of her whole family.


As absurd as my proposal seems, so is the thought of thousands of women dying each year at the hands of their family. Ideally, family should protect you from harm – not cause it. I’ll never forget the face of that beautiful Pakistani teenager who died a number of years ago. Her doe-eyed smile in her graduation picture remains embedded in my brain. It’s a constant reminder that although we seem to progress as a society in certain aspects, we’ll never fully progress as long as our mentality towards women stays the same. And sadly, the death of thousands of women each year in the name of honor shows exactly that.


For more information on honor killings, visit

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About Eman Ahmed

Born and raised in New York, Eman Ahmed is an Egyptian-American attorney specializing in employment discrimination. She received her B.A. from St. John’s University, Suma Cum Laude, and her J.D. from New York Law School where she also served as an editor at the New York University Law Review. Eman is an active member of the Network of Arab-American Professionals and is a member of the NYSBA Committee on Women in the Law. She appeared in the 2003 edition of Who’s Who Among American Law Students and currently appears in the Madison Who’s Who.

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