Honor killings are at the heart of the real war on women, as Lee Habeeb critically reminds us. But they are not a problem only in Turkey, Pakistan, and other Muslim-majority countries. The practice is emerging here in the U.S., though you won’t find any mention of it in the Violence Against Women Act that passed the Senate on Thursday.
Over the last couple of years, American cases of violence against women in order to preserve the honor of a woman’s family have been reported in the media and by human-rights groups, but no police records are kept nationwide on these crimes. Congressman Frank Wolf (R., Va.), chairman of the House commerce-justice-science appropriations subcommittee and a dedicated human-rights champion, thinks it’s important to know more about the extent of the “honor” violence occurring here. He has initiated legislation directed to finding out and, tellingly, he has done so outside the politically correct VAWA.
Lest anyone doubt the reality of this global phenomenon, some recent accounts are worth reviewing. Overwhelmingly directed at Muslim women by male relatives and often linked to forced-marriage practices, these murders are “widely reported in regions throughout the Middle East and South Asia,” especially in places that apply sharia, according to Amnesty International. But, as the group is also careful to point out, honor-killing incidents are now being reported in the United States.
In the U.K. last December, police recorded at least 2,823 honor attacks for the previous year, with 39 of the 55 police forces reporting. Among the twelve forces that kept records in 2009, there was a 47 percent increase in the number of attacks, according to the BBC.
Just how many of such crimes are being reported in the U.S. is not known, since no statistics are being kept on them. This month, CBS News reported on a number of honor killings in the U.S. and in Canada. It found that police and social-service groups assert that they do not know how to handle such cases. CBS reported:
“We don’t have the mechanisms in place here in the U.S. to take care of these girls,” says Det. Chris Boughey of Arizona’s Peoria Police Department. “What do we do with a teenager runaway? Ninety-nine percent of the time, we take her home. But some of these girls end up getting killed.”
Boughey, as CBS notes, is in a position to know. In October 2009, he was the lead investigator in the Arizona murder of 20-year-old Noor Almaleki. He is quoted as stating: “[She] was run down in broad daylight by her father who was angry that she had become too Westernized and did not want to accept a marriage her father had arranged for her in the family’s native Iraq.”
CBS affiliate KPHO also reported that, earlier this year, Phoenix police arrested the mother, father, and sister of 19-year-old Aiya Altameemi after they allegedly beat her and restrained her for reportedly talking to a boy and refusing to enter into an arranged marriage with a 38-year-old man. The family, also originally from Iraq, pleaded not guilty to charges of suspicion of aggravated assault and unlawful imprisonment.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has closely followed these two cases from Arizona, his home base. In a recent USA Today op-ed, he wrote that such cases are not the only ones occurring here: “For every Noor al-Maleki (run down and killed by her father in the West Valley in 2009) and Aiya Al-Tameemi, there are hundreds of other cases of honor abuse, from the mild to the extreme, that are often brought on by things like dating, drinking, dressing ‘immodestly’ or rejecting Islam.” Jasser added: “Muslim leaders often whitewash the problem.”
These crimes are unusual in that they are culturally, not individually, motivated. The U.S. branch of Amnesty explains:
So-called honor killings are part of a community mentality. Large sections of society share traditional conceptions of family honor and approve of “honor” killings to preserve that honor. Even mothers whose daughters have been killed in the name of honor often condone such violent acts. . . . In addition, communal acceptance of “honor” killings furthers the claim that violence in the name of honor is a private issue and one to be avoided by law enforcement. Community acceptance of these killings stifles accurate reporting of the number of violent crimes against women in the name of honor. As a result, the true extent of the prevalence of “honor” killings is still not fully known.
Because it does not fit easily into other patterns of domestic violence, honor violence needs to be explicitly addressed in any law aimed at protecting women from violence. Though the Senate’s Violence Against Women bill mentions “domestic violence” 38 times, and makes provisions for such esoteric subsets of domestic violence as those committed by non-Native Americans on Native American reservations, it fails to mention honor violence even once. Amidst its generous funding for a panoply of feminist causes, it does not provide a single dollar toward studying or preventing this unique and growing crime pattern.
AHA, the organization founded by courageous activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is attempting to research and draw attention to the problem. But, as AHA’s communications director, Amanda Parker, told CBS, “Without numbers, it’s hard to get funding and get law enforcement to pay attention and get people to take it seriously.”
Noting the “lack of statistical information on the occurrence of honor violence in the United States,” Representative Wolf has introduced language into the FY13 appropriations bill directing the Department of Justice to “study this matter and recommend ways to determine the prevalence of honor violence and recommend best practices for law enforcement and service providers for prevention and response.” Wolf’s bill, containing the honor-violence provision, was reported out of the full House Appropriations Committee on Thursday and will be on the House floor on May 8. It is expected to pass.
— Nina Shea is the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.