How do anthropologists view honor killing? Is it a patriarchal mechanism to control female sexuality? Or is it the result of jealousy of men to control reproductive capability of women? Or is it historical-cultural practice to punish violators of social norms? Or is this practice rooted in biology to control and keep genes of a group within the group?

What do you people have to say about this?

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Thanks for following up. Returning, then, to your original question,

why would [HK] vanish without too much fuss from most of Mediterranean Europe, but be maintained, and possibly increase, in the central belt?

Is it fair to say that you are looking at trends post-WWII and that the cases from 2006 and 2008 that you cite are now extreme outliers?

If so, could the vanishing without much fuss be due to such mundane factors as economic prosperity and a relatively strong social safety net, both reducing dependence on relatives beyond the nuclear or stem family; plus a shift in sources of prestige and self-esteem to wealth and education or other forms of cultural capital?

I think, I have probably mentioned this on OAC before, of a hard-boiled detective thriller titled Double Deuce by the late Robert Parker. Parker's hero, Spenser is a very tough guy, indeed. His ally/alter ego Hawk is an even tougher guy, black instead of Irish-American. In the scene I am thinking about, Spenser and Hawk confront a gang of teenaged drug dealers living in the project from which the novel takes its title. It is clear from the outset that the teenagers stand no chance at all in a fight with Spenser and Hawk, but they fight anyway. When the fight is over, Spenser asks Hawk, who is supposed to have grown up in a similar ghetto, why they didn't just run away.

Hawk's explanation is poignant and, I believe, speaks strongly to the persistence of "honor" and "honor killing" in the Middle East and South Asia. Think about it, he says, everybody wants respect. Some of us get it for the stuff we own. Some of us get it for the stuff we know. But what if you don't have or know anything that other people care about. All you can do is fight. If you back down you have nothing left.

Imagine yourself living in the Arab or North Indian street, not desperately poor, but the kind of person who has to scrabble and hustle to get by. If something bad happens, you depend on your neighbors or kin. What is perfectly clear about the rich people you encounter or see on the TV, especially those from OECD countries, is that you are inconsequential to them. You don't have anything they want. They regard what you think you know as primitive nonsense. All you've got is the "honor" you cling to. Your resentment keeps alive traditions that have already died among people who live more comfortable lives. If you give them up—you are nothing. 

Could that be the answer to your question?

When discussing 'honor killings' one cannot avoid the greater discourses surrounding the idiom of  'honor'.


A most provocative and interesting remark. Please elaborate.

Simeon, it's  good that you  brought up "honor" as it will drive us to the point of view that "honor killing" is best studied using multiple theoretical scopes.  I don't think a feminist view that plays around the politico-biological of reproduction is enough.  The problem is the effect of multiple causes that are in a web of relations; thus, a web of  theories is imperative.

First off, I find the biology  of honor killing very interesting.  The physiology of shame, guilt, or rage cannot be easily dismissed.  People kill others or themselves (since suicide is also a form of honor killing) also because of their body chemistry that affects their minds, ability for reasoning, and feeling of compassion.  If there is a biochemistry for depression, I think adrenaline rush, rage, and violence, its extreme opposites, also have.

The political economics of honor killing is the usual suspect.  It is perpetrated from a micro to a macro level or by an individual or a society.   A Muslim brother kills his sister after marrying a Hindu to preserve his family's name.  What's in a name?  For someone whose culture is highly controlled by the community or society where he belongs, protecting his name or honor is everything.  It is his capital.  People listen to him or lend him money or invite him to celebrations or establish relationships with him because of his status in his community.  When one's honor and, consequently, status are ruined, his only way to restore them is through honor killing.  Without it, he is either ostracized or vanished, and becomes an outcast.       

Honor killing can also be an ecological issue that relates to insufficient resources, competition, over-population or under-population, and the human ecology of poverty and criminality.  A country with a billion of population, tolerance to honor killing is higher.  Also, in a less populated community, honor killing becomes a social code to prevent incest and intra-marriages.

I can go on and on.  One thing is clear:  honor killing is not as simple as it sounds.  It is not just a killing due to honor.        

@M Izabel

Well said, good to have you back. What's cooking? ;-)

Hi guys!

First off, I find the biology  of honor killing very interesting.  The physiology of shame, guilt, or rage cannot be easily dismissed.

It's a very interesting thought to note that some of the areas with high levels of HK in proportion to the population are ones with experience of conflict - such as Palestine and Kurdish regions - since the experience of conflict, trauma and humiliation in childhood leads to physical alterations in the brain, including aggression, poor impulse control, low self-esteem and other nasty things that could well play out into violence.

The political economics of honor killing is the usual suspect.

I agree, but I'm saying that marriage is an integral part of that political economy, a means by which families accrue social capital, or reinforce solidarity. My working title is 'Honour and the political economy of marriage'.

Victor - Could you find me an example of another harmful, irrational, tradition which has survived over such an incredibly long period of time, and such a large and culturally diverse area?


Thanks for the welcome, John.  I've been busy cooking.

Joanne, female feticide or infanticide, which can also be a form of honor killing.

I agree that the biological argument is can not be disregarded however, like many socio-biological arguments, It feel they are a bit reductionist. That being said, if we consider 'honor' almost as a kind of ideology the other killing such as feticide or infanicide would not be considered HK's. All killings under that sort of definition could be conisidered honor killings.

 If a society does not have code of honor then how can they have hk's. There has to be a distinction made between killing as a political, biological or economic act (which all killings might be considered) without a code of honor and one done based on a code. If a individual is killed but the society s/he lived in does not use honor as a moral code can it be considered an honor killing. Then HK is open to discourse. It might even be considered as a performative act.

If  we  go beyond the  exoticization of  honor killing, we will have an inclusive definition that is beyond  the honor killing that happens in South Asia and Middle East and in some Balkan States, where the killing is usually familial or among family members or between two families.  Gang shooting due to establishment of territories and power in the streets in Los Angeles is honor killing too, and so is the suicide by  failed businessmen in East Asia.  Female feticide or infanticide that happens due to the intense desire of parents to have sons to continue the "family name" is also honor killing.  The mere fact that the intention is generational or patrilineal continuity, such killing is still biological.  Rage also causes feticide or infanticide.  A married woman who got pregnant by another man is a good example.  Her husband's ego, honor, and sense of self can only be restored by killing the unborn child not his.  The question then is when is killing an honor killing?  If the bullied kills his bully, is it honor killing?  If a rape victim kills her rapist, does she kill for her honor?  If a soldier commits suicide after being called a coward for not killing an enemy, does he commit self-murder to prove that he has balls and principles?  I consider such scenarios as honor killings. It is not only because they are all related to the restoration of a lost or besmirched honor, but also due to the cultural histories behind those killings and the social narratives they convey to us.  Gangsters kill to make themselves legendary in their groups.  They are no different to the headhunters of Borneo (Dayaks) or of Northern Philippines (Ilonggots).  They kill for self-glory, honor, and legendary narratives about power and exploits. What makes honor killing a social code is its established cultural history and social narrative. 

The extreme form of "honor killing" is practiced in Southern Philippines among Filipino Muslims.  The victims are not solely women or individuals.  It is called rido or "ubusan ng lahi" (extinction of genes or descendants).  It is basically a war between clans feuding for honor.  Even babies and children become victims.

In Albania, honor killing that is almost similar to rido also occurs.  They call it kanun.  The only difference is that women and girls are spared.  Killing them is taboo.

M., It's important to remember that the concept of honor killing was developed to describe the killing of a member of a group by members of the same group, precisely in order to distinguish it from feud. Both feud and honor killing may involve ideas about group honor, but retaliation against an enemy is not the same thing as killing one of "us" who has done something disgraceful.

Or is it? That's an interesting question. Is the victim of a honor killing always someone who is seen has having gone over to the enemy?  Joanne?

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