Honor Killings: The Epidemic that Isn’t
My previous article describes how anti-Muslim bigots use young Muslim murder victims as props in their campaign of hate. Sensational headlines, haunting photographs, and lurid tales of cold blooded murder are indispensable tools in their campaign to vilify Islam. This campaign is bolstered by a set of core themes that are reinforced through tireless repetition.
Islamophobes portray honor killings as a special kind of evil that is unique to Islam, and greatly exaggerate the prevalence of these crimes. Atlas Shrugs, Jihad Watch, and Frontpage Magazine rarely miss an opportunity use the phrase “Islamic honor killing,” which has joined “creeping sharia” and “stealth jihad” in an endless parade of misleading slogans and catchphrases. All of these themes converge in paranoid conspiracy theories about Muslims taking over and imposing barbarism in the Western world.
Most of their arguments depend on casual acceptance and do not stand up to scrutiny. With the help of some grade school math, relevant facts, and a healthy dose of global context, it is fairly easy to set the record straight.
The term “honor killing” was not coined by Islamophobes, even though it serves their agenda well. Many human rights organizations track honor killings as a subcategory of homicides or femicides (killing of women). For our purposes, that’s a good thing because it allows us to refute the idea of widespread honor killings using statistics from credible sources.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates there are 5,000 murders classified as honor killings each year worldwide, and they are not all perpetrated by Muslims. To put that into perspective, consider that the World Health Organization says there are over half a million annual homicides in the world. Using basic math, we can conclude that honor killings make up less than 1% of all murders.
If 1% of the world’s Muslims perpetrated an honor crime each year, we could project at least 1 million incidents. The number is far lower, and leaves 99.99% of the Muslim population innocent of this crime. Why should all Muslims be indicted for the actions of a negligible minority?
Pamela Geller says, “over 90% of honor killings worldwide are Islamic,” and Robert Spencer quotes the exact figure at 91%. Chesler quotes the same estimate of 5,000 annual honor killings worldwide, but she says the true number is “much greater.” “Definitive or reliable worldwide estimates of honor killing incidence do not exist,” she concedes, yet she is somehow certain the the number is much greater. Spencer links to an article on the Middle East Forum as the source of this statistic. This is an anti-Muslim propaganda site founded by Daniel Pipes, and the articlethere is authored by Phyllis Chesler, who is yet another rabid Islamophobe.
She cites a study of the media throughout her article, which found, “there were 100 victims murdered for honor in the West, including 33 in North America and 67 in Europe.” Taking her study at face value, do you think 33 honor killings constitutes an epidemic? Stinging insects kill more than 40 people each year in the US, which is more than the number of honor killings Chesler reported over the course of her study for all of North America. Chesler says, “to combat the epidemic [emphasis mine] of honor killings requires understanding what makes these murders unique.”
In the US, an estimated 1200 women are killed by their spouse or partner each year. Chesler herself states that, “In the non-immigrant West, serious domestic violence exists which includes incest, child abuse, marital rape, marital battering, marital stalking, and marital post-battering femicide.” Yet for some reason, she feels it is more important to focus on the unique nature of honor killings than to address the broader issue of violence in her own country.
To her credit, Chesler does not blame honor killings on Sharia Law, nor does she say these crimes are religiously sanctioned in Islam. Instead she resorts to blaming them on Islamic culture. The Director of Human Rights Watch says that honor killings cut across cultures and religions, and that dowry deaths and crimes of passion have a similar dynamic.
Dowry killings actually outnumber honor killings, and they are on the rise. Women with insufficient dowries are murdered or driven to suicide in what are often disguised as kitchen accidents. For this reason they are sometimes called “bride burnings.” In 2008, there were over 8,000 dowry deathsreported in India alone.
Murders for crossing caste boundaries are also similar to honor killings in that they are a cultural inheritance, victims are usually killed by their own family members, and the crimes are oftenendorsed or encouraged by village-based caste councils. The caste system is outlawed, but it remains entrenched in parts of India and Nepal, neither of which has a Muslim majority.
Honor killings also share features with other forms of femicide outside of the Middle East and South Asia. Just a 10-15 minute drive from El Paso, Texas, USA, there is a border town in Mexico called Ciudad Juarez. Over the last two decades hundreds of women have been kidnaped, brutally raped, tortured, and murdered in Juarez, and the perpetrators remain free. Femicides in Mexico have nearly doubled from 1,085 in 2007 to 1,926 in 2009.
There were nearly 700 murders of women in neighboring Guatemala in 2010, and 1,110 reported cases of femicide in Honduras between 2008 and 2010. Of the cases in Honduras, only a 211 made it to court, and a mere 4.2% resulted in a conviction.
High rates of homicide and femicide also plague many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war in a systematic pattern of destruction that has claimed an estimated 2 million victims. The conflict in the Congo has resulted inmore deaths than the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur (Sudan) combined.
The United Nations says, “The brutality and scale of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo almost defies imagination.” Over five million people have died in the last 10 years in what 60 Minutes described as a “War Against Women.”
Imagine the photos Geller could harvest for “Islam’s Gruesome Gallery,” featured on her website Atlas Shrugs, if only this were an Islamic country. Since the overwhelming majority of the people in the Congo are Christians, these crimes don’t receive the spotlight on anti-Muslim hate sites.
How can anyone genuinely interested in the rights of women ignore the situation in the Congo? Even if Islamophobes could substantiate their claims that honor killings are exceptionally barbaric and unique to Islam, that would not be a justification focusing on them exclusively.
True human rights activists don’t discriminate among murder victims. All major human rights organizations address honor killings in context, and they do not promote these crimes as a way to spread fear and hatred toward Islam. Islam also takes a universal approach, likening the killing of one human being to the killing of the entire human race (Qur’an 5:32, 6:151, 17:33).
In her book proposal for Stop the Islamization of America, Geller described herself as, “One of America’s foremost activists for human rights and freedom.” If she were sincere, she would give up her vicious campaign against Islam and join us in the struggle to end violence against women from all cultural and religious backgrounds.