We Shouldn't Hesitate to Call Honour Killings Barbaric

The spectre of honour killings is upon us once again. Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia lie buried along with their stepmother, Rona Amir Mohammed -- all allegedly victims of a brutal crime few dare to label an "honour killing."

In a recent press release, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women called the murders "customary killings." Liberal MP Justin Trudeau also chided the Conservative government for calling honour killings "barbaric."

But why such reluctance to call these heinous crimes using terminology that best describes them? Is it political correctness that prevents many from addressing the issue head on? Is it fear of stigmatizing a particular culture or religious community? Is it simply naivete of the worst kind?

There are several reasons for such deliberate misuse of words and the resultant obfuscation of facts on honour killings. Some individuals fear Islamist groups and avoid terminology linking this phenomenon to fundamentalist Islam. The left-leaning multiculturalists also believe in showing deference to each subculture within Canada, despite the rampant abuse of women within these communities. They hence reject certain words deemed culturally charged.

Furthermore, these liberals promote the view that such murders occur in all religious and ethnic communities. In an effort to appear open-minded and accepting of diversity in Canada , they also unwittingly condone various misogynistic practices within these communities.

But it is now time to call a spade a spade. The murders of the Shafia sisters, Aqsa Parvez and other victims of Islamist fury are honour killings -- not customary killings or domestic violence -- if the latest accused are found guilty. It is imperative to use accurate terminology to describe the crime and the pathology that drives it. The linkage between honour as a sociological construct and the crime is unmistakable.

The idea of honour is rooted in the medieval notion that men own women, that they are responsible for the conduct of these women.

Ultraorthodox Islam most certainly encourages this view, as it places much emphasis on the segregation and veiling of women. Furthermore, it assigns men the task of enforcing this segregation, even through punitive measures if necessary.

According to this view, a woman must not even talk to strange men, as that may lead to immorality and promiscuity. These strictly demarcated gender roles come to be firmly entrenched in the minds of fundamentalists. Hence, women seen as flouting social, cultural and sexual norms ought to be severely reprimanded and punished, according to these religious zealots. Men must also not hesitate to exercise their authority and control over women if it is threatened, or else they would come to be perceived as weak men. In order to demonstrate their ultimate authority over women, they feel they must kill the women at times. This is the only way they can retrieve their lost honour. This is how they prove to the world that no matter what the women do in the short haul, it is the men who are in ultimate control of their lives. While honour killings can and do occur in other patriarchal communities, it is Islamism's preoccupation with regulating sexuality that makes the incidence of honour killings among fundamentalist Muslims far more likely.

The Conservative government is right in calling honour killings barbaric. It must now go a step further to legislate strict penalties against the crime. Too many innocent lives are at stake. Young Muslim women are often victims of beatings, confinement and abuse. Canada needs stricter laws to prevent another tragedy in the name of honour.

Farzana Hassan is the author of Islam, Women and the Challenges of Today.

This was first published by the Calgary Herald.

Send questions or comments to Farzana Hassan