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?
Joanne, thanks so much for this contribution. I have been holding my breath, hoping that someone with a more accurate and detailed sense of the realities on the ground would chime in. You have done so, brilliantly.
I do wonder, though about your blunt analogy,
a dishonoured woman is faulty merchandise, and an HK is a kind of product recall, a PR move to reinstate the family status as a producer of marriageable females.
Thanks, John, that's very kind!
I confess the analogy is all my own, but although I didn't outline it in depth in my post above, but it's not meant to have the narrow commercial focus on marital transactions through financial exchanges, but also to consider how marriage accrues social capital/status/solidarity which may serve as sufficient benefits to the patriline to motivate an extreme conformity to normative standards of women's marriageability. These benefits - social capital and solidarity - are of particular value to families in societies which are corrupt and nepotistic, underdeveloped, and with a history of conflict. So I'm not researching the marriage market as if it were just a market, but to tease out strategies and self-interest underpinning marriage arrangements on the part of those who have the power to make them.
I'm aware that the language of commerce is unpopular in discussing marital arrangements, but on the other hand, a survey in the Kurdish region of Turkey found that nearly 61% were married by brideprice, but 80% of women disapproved of brideprice as a practise, and around 60% volunteered that this was because it made them feel commodified, and that it increased the husband's power over them - that 'it bought all rights over their sexuality and reproduction'. It does make me wonder how much of the literature which disassociates marital financial exchanges from commercial exchange derives from male respondents [link - Ugandan women on brideprice]. I don't know if you saw that recent case of the Afghan girl tortured by her in-laws which in the news - when she was finally recovered, the family said 'we paid for her, we can do what we like.' Activist women have told me that brideprice marriages are very prone to being abusive, and an researcher acquaintance of mine has found connections between suicidality of young women in Kurdish regions and brideprice - amongst various forms of traditional marriage.
Among Kurds, as many Middle Eastern peoples, endogenous cousin marriage (with FBD preference) is considered normative even if it is not always the majority form - there's a good deal of variance. So it could be that brideprice marriage, being exogamous, is more isolating, through placing a woman in a 'stranger-bride' position, where her family require her to maintain the relationship so they can continue to benefit from the high-status exogamous link, but where she is considered a source of potential disruption by the affinal family - such as a mother-in-law who doesn't want her to alienate her son's affection from herself. As a stranger-bride, she would stand as the most significant representative of her patriline's conformity to values.
To move to your second question: the male native idiom of 'honour' is often related to contamination, e.g. 'she has blackened our faces', or social exclusion, 'no one would look me in the eye', 'now she is dead we can hold our heads high again.' Women's lost 'honour' is often analogised as 'a broken glass', 'a dead match', 'a trampled flower' all connoting that women's honour is irreplaceable. The act of an 'honour' killing is analogised as cutting off a diseased limb, of not allowing infection to spread throughout the patrilinear unit.
The terminology for 'honour' is rather more varied than is encompassed in translating it into a single English word suggests. In South Asia, the term is izzat, and it's a collective form of honour which applies to a family. But in Farsi, Dari and Kurdish there's at least two significant terms - namus and sharaf. Sharaf is the same as in Arabic, whereas the sense of namus is rendered in 'ird. The relationship between these two is not precisely gendered, but would appear so if you looked at HK in isolation. Honour which is lost by a woman is 'namus', the honour which is restored to the patriline by men when they kill her is 'sharaf' - but this doesn't mean you only women have namus, and only men have sharaf. Bourdieu's Kabyle studies suggest that sharaf is an active form of honour while the contrastive term is passive, and I think this is closer to the actual connotations of the terms.
Joanne's observations are right. Some one in this thread has cited a wiki article that quoted some cases/figures of HK in Sindh, Pakistan. Luckily, or not, I am from Sindh where men and women both are killed in the name of honour, though in a few cases men are not killed, as Joanne said earlier, to avoid tribal feud. I also agree with her that as long as gossip remains private (inside the family), the girl may survive, but as soon as it goes public, family members sit together and make a plan to do away with her.
Besides, I have observed one more thing here. Sexual relationship or just a romantic affair of a girl with a close male relative is in many cases often tolerated within a family. It gets serious reaction from the family, that may result in her death, only when a girl is found to have an affair with a person of another tribe, the enemy tribe.
In yet another instance, a girl, even though she has an affair with a person, may not be killed if she agrees to marry a person selected by her family. But she will have to face death if does not.
In the context of South Asia, marriage is not the contract between two individuals, but between the two families. Hence, in most of the cases, marriage is arranged by the parents. If the girl does not want to marry a person selected by her family, she would be killed.
In case a man of one tribe has an affair with a girl of another, this would cease to be a matter of a family honour. It would now become a tribal honour. In such cases, any member of the tribe can kill a woman and a man who dishonour the tribe.
Such HK practices are more common in rural areas than urban ones in Sindh. A tribal family that kills a girl in the name of honour in a rural village, is less likely to kill her if the family lives in a big city. This shows how the conept of honor varies within the same family according to their place of residence.
However, even if we provide many details of HK in various parts of the world, the question is still remains: What's the cause of HK? Be it a tradition or a cultural practice as some believe, it cannot never be an explanation. HK has different contexts and histories in different cultures. Shouldn't we look for a general cause that could explain this phenomenon in all the cultures and throughout history. Shouldn't we think beyond "tradition" or "cultural practice" concepts and look for a new, though different, concept/theory?
Thank you Mohammed, and thank you for starting this discussion! Sindh, like Haryana, is indeed notorious for high levels of HK, where there are even special graveyards for 'kari' (black/dishonoured) women. I agree with you that the cross-cultural and cross-historical nature of HK requires a different explanation than one based in tradition or cultural practice, because there is so little cultural contiguity between for example, a Catholic Callabrian mafioso family, a nominally Muslim, non-practising Albanian, and a devoutly Sikh Punjabi, and yet the manifestation - of collectivity, of 'redemption' through violence, of the definition of 'honour' - is very simillar in all these contexts.
You're right to point up the inconsistency of 'honour' - certain behaviours are tolerated in some circumstances and not in others. Relationships with outsider groups tend to be more fiercely opposed than those which are not. My feeling is that, where a woman embarks on a relationship which is sufficiently similar to that which her family would have chosen for her then it's rather more acceptable than one which is with an outsider-group.
I'm not sure though that the rural/urban divide is as clear as you suggest though, Mohammed. Mapping incidences in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq I found more in suburbs than agrarian areas proper, and slum settlements around Turkey's main cities have a high incidence level. Although one of the major problems of researching HK is the almost complete lack of reliable statistics, not least because, as the crimes often have a conspiratorial basis, they are readily disguised as suicide or accidental death. Yet the levels of HK in Western diasporic communities may outstrip those in the perpetrator's countries of origin. I'd suggest that the sudden confrontation between traditional and modern values catalyses intergenerational conflict - through greater contact with outsider-groups, increased opportunities for education and work, later marriage age etc.
Joanne, thanks again. Very informative. I must confess that when I saw the title of the thread, the first thing that came to mind was a stereotype along the lines of Victor's description. I assumed the killing of a woman by her kin, on the grounds that she had dishonored the family, a practice found primarily in the Middle East and associated with fundamentalist Islam. Then, when I turned to the Wikipedia article to which Victor pointed us, I found that the opening paragraphs read as follows.
In the modern age, the term was first used by a Dutch scholar of Turkish society, Ane Nauta in 1978. Nauta sought a term that could be used to distinguish honor killings from blood feuds.
I hadn't known that the English phrase "honor killing" was coined in 1978 for the particular purpose of distinguishing honor killings from blood feuds.
Human Rights Watch defines "honor killings" as follows:
Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.
These remarks are, of course, consistent with the stereotype. Then, however, I read,
The loose term "honor killing" applies to killing of both males and females in cultures that practice it. For example, during the year 2002 in Pakistan, it is estimated that 245 women and 137 men were killed in the name of Karo-kari in Sindh.
That struck me as very interesting, indeed. I hadn't imagined that men as well as women might be killed for similar reasons, a possibility suggested by the the use of "Karo-kari" to refer to killings of both men and women in Sindh. I was also struck by the tiny ratio of reported cases to the population of Sindh.
Then, in the section on "Honor Killings in History" I discovered that the practice was not, it appears, confined to the Middle East.
As noted by Christian Arab writer, Norma Khouri, honor killings originate from the belief that a woman’s chastity is the property of her families, a cultural norm that dates back to 1200 B.C., under the rule of Hammarabi and other Assyrian tribes.
Matthew Goldstein has also noted that honor killings were encouraged in ancient Rome, where malefamily members who did not take actions against the female adulterers in their family were "actively persecuted".
Lavinia, in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, is killed by her father after having been raped and mutilated. In Lewis Grassic Gibbon's novel Spartacus the Romans are described as killing their women who had been raped by the rebel slaves. In ancient Rome, being raped was seen as dishonorable to the point of destroying a woman's life and reputation, and honor killing was supposed to be a "merciful" act. The origin of honor killings and the control of women is evidenced throughout history in the culture and tradition of many regions. Roman law Pater familias gave complete control to the men of the family for both their children and wives. Under these laws, the lives of children and wives were at the sole discretion of the men in their family. Ancient Roman Law also established historical roots of honor killings through his law stating that women found guilty of adultery could be killed by their husband in whatever manner the husband desired. In Greece, the lives of women were too dictated by their husbands as women were considered socially below males. 
It has been noted how in ancient Babylonian, Egypt, Chinese, North American Native American tribes and Persian cultures, women convicted of adultery were subjected to extreme punishments. In Babylonian societies, women suspected of adultery were forced to throw themselves into a river to prove they were innocent. In Egyptian culture, imprisonment, flogging, or mutilation were common punishments for women who had been convicted of adultery. Chinese culture suggested that husbands cut off the hair of adulterous women and then lead them to their death by an elephant trained to kill. Some Native American tribes punished adulterous women by cutting off their limbs and mutilating their bodies. In Persia, adulterous women were left to die after being placed into a well. 
Qays bin Asim, ancient leader of Banu Tamim is credited by some historians as the first to kill children on the basis of honor. It is recorded that he murdered all of his daughters to prevent them from ever causing him any kind of dishonor. 
I am deeply aware of the need to take with large grains of salt anything found in Wikipedia. But the mention in these references of China and Native American tribes challenged my casually assumed association of honor killing with the Middle East. The Assyrian and Roman cases are also intriguing because they predate Islam.
Turning, then, to the section on national laws currently in force, I find a wide range of variation, but pardon where available appears to be conditional on a man catching a kinswoman committing adultery in flagrante delicto. Sometimes only the husband is forgiven if the woman in question is his wife. At the other extreme are no pardon and collective guilt for all those who participate. In the case of the husband who kills his wife, one defense amounts to a form of temporary insanity, overwhelming rage at the shame he feels. This sort of defense would, of course, be hard to maintain in the case of a collective killing by a kin group or community, unless one accepted the hypothesis of a species of the madness of crowds.
Because of my own hobby horses, derived from interest in philosophy of science and methodology, I find myself wondering how the stereotypical case relates to variations of practice and justification when a group kills one of its own members who is said to have dishonored the group, especially if one includes men as well as women among the victims. Is, for example, the Sindh Kara-kori a shared term for reaction to offenses that differ depending on the victim's gender? Are the men in question gay or have they committed other offenses unrelated to sex?
This leads me to wonder if the "honor" being defended is an exchange value or something more fundamental, something along the lines of the sacred objects that are never sold or given as gifts, a distinction drawn by Maurice Godelier in The Enigma of the Gift.
I do run on when I start to think with my fingertips on a keyboard. Any reactions you might have will be much appreciated.
Oops, clearly my fingers are no more disciplined than yours.
Yes, I would agree with most of that Wikipedia entry, and add in more examples - take the Rape of Lucrece, where she decides to kill herself not because she has done wrong, but because she believes that to do otherwise would lead to immorality amongst women; or see the Kanun of Lek, which allows HK, and says at marriage the husband acquires, amongst the various packages of rights marriage connotes, the right to kill her in the event of immorality. The historic aspect is hard to discern though, because HK is more akin to a form of vigilantism than a legal punishment for an offence so any relationship there is between HK and laws on adultery/fornication cannot be taken for granted. Islam's attitude is hard to discern and there is no mention of HK that I have found. Sikhism explicitly condemns HK, in fact calls for the community to shun an honour killer (it hasn't been very effective, sadly.)
The distinction between the model of passion/flagrante delicto/chaud melle that has historically been considered a mitigating factor in Western law and HK is very interesting - colonial laws which apply in Arab states have the crime of passion concept, but these may in practise may be juridically interpreted to allow a judge to ignore the need for evidence or an unbalanced state of mind to allow a perpetrator a lessened sentence. When an HK gets to court, it might have a formulaic presentation - in Syria, for example, the perpetrator says 'I slit her throat from ear to ear' and this is taken as a signal that the crime was an HK.
So HK are often presented as being impulsive, but rarely are so. HK may often be delayed for weeks or months after a collective decision to kill has been made. Once the decision to commit a crime is made, it's often irrevocable, and there are cases of women and men killed decades after their 'offence', after the family has made painstaking efforts to locate them.
The karo is normally killed by the 'dishonoured' family of the woman, who may already be dead at this point. In India where a young, lower-caste man is perceived to be courting a higher-caste woman, it's seems more likely that he will be killed and she will not. Gay men are killed by their own family as a rule. In some cases an informal community court will order a family to kill their own son, or a family who has killed their daughter will press for the death of her 'accomplice' and if they have sufficient clout, this can happen.
Thanks for the book-tip, I'm on a library run tomorrow and I shall look for it!
PS - the Sindh figures are gathered from media reports of HK in the region and so aren't a very good basis to determine actual prevalence.
Joanne, fascinating. It's a pleasure to be able to dig into detail with someone who knows her stuff as well as you obviously do. Allow me to offer for consideration as contrasting examples two now largely if not completely extinct practices once found in Japan. The first is love suicide. A couple separated by social position but irresistibly drawn to each other resolve the contradiction between giri (obligation) and ninjo (human feeling) by committing suicide together. In one classic theatrical plot, the lovers are a courtesan and a man who lacks the funds to buy her freedom from the brothel to which she is indentured. The second is the custom once found in rural villages that allowed young men who had reached a certain age to join the wakashu, young mens' group, and then be entitled to slip into the homes of willing young women at night. When a young woman became pregnant, a marriage would then be arranged. What interests me here is trying to unpack the structural differences between these situations and those that give rise to honor killings.
Consider, too, an alternative view of daughters as economic assets that my wife and I encountered in Taiwan in the late 1960s. A friend who had worked in another place in Taiwan told us, "Culture shock is discovering that your best informant and closest friend has sold his daughter into prostitution to buy a motorcycle." In the place where we did fieldwork there were several new houses built, we were told, with funds provided by daughters working in brothels frequented by U.S. troops on R&R from Vietnam. The attitudes involved in these arrangements are complex but common throughout East Asia. Historically prostitution is not something that nice girls from well-to-do families engage in, but local folklore is full of stories of filial daughters sold to pay off their impoverished parents' debts, some of whom make their fortunes by attracting wealthy patrons who pay off the debts and set them up as concubines, or, in the best possible outcome, even make them their No. 1 wives. I observe that from this hard-nosed perspective, killing a daughter who was fooling around would likely be seen as a waste, there being in place a market for second-hand goods.
Nasty stuff to think about but possibly part of the global context in which thinking about honor killing needs to be placed.
I too want to thank Joanne for her very interesting and authoritative contributions to this thread. However, I don't think it would have been possible for her definition of HK to be so specific and detailed if it weren't drawn from her studies of a specific cultural complex, with clear geographical boundaries, i.e., the world of the Middle East and South Asia. (Please correct me, Joanne, if I'm wrong, but I assume this is the context from which you drew your definition.) I must thus respectfully disagree when she too easily goes along with John's efforts to universalize this tradition to the point of meaninglessness:
I agree with you that the cross-cultural and cross-historical nature of HK requires a different explanation than one based in tradition or cultural practice, because there is so little cultural contiguity between for example, a Catholic Callabrian mafioso family, a nominally Muslim, non-practising Albanian, and a devoutly Sikh Punjabi, and yet the manifestation - of collectivity, of 'redemption' through violence, of the definition of 'honour' - is very simillar in all these contexts.
First of all, I challenge either John or Joanne to explain HK outside of either tradition or culture. It is clearly not universal, or it would be found everywhere. So what is its origin? And if you prefer not to call it a tradition, then what do you want to call it?
Secondly, Sicily and Calabria were conquered by the Saracens during the Middle Ages, and several regions in Italy came under Ottoman Turkish control in the 15th century. Albania was conquered by the Ottomans in the 14th century. Punjab is part of South Asia. I'm not saying HK is limited to Arabic and Islamic societies, because all the evidence suggests an earlier origin, possibly much earlier, most probably in either West or South Asia, with subsequent spread into southern and eastern Europe and possibly China and Japan.
As far as Roman Law is concerned, once we recognize that HK must have originated prior to Islam, it's not difficult to see the Roman Empire as a carrier of essentially the same tradition, which could have been transmitted from the Near East via Greece and Turkey. I'm not saying it happened that way, and it's always possible that the Romans developed a similar tradition independently. But even if that were the case, it would not negate the clearly traditional and culturally distinctive nature and history of HK in Asia -- as so clearly defined above by Joanne. Simply because one can cite somewhat similar instances in other societies in various parts of the world, that can never negate the strong role of tradition in its mainstream history, again, as so precisely elucidated by Joanne. And as I've said before, if anyone has an alternative theory, let's hear it.
As far as the treatment of women in general is concerned, there are, of course, many other places where women are regarded as inferior and treated more or less as property. Here we also have, as I see it, a cultural complex, but a more general one with a far wider province. Nevertheless, this too can be seen as a tradition, with a history and a point of origin. Such treatment of women is certainly not universal and there is moreover a discernible pattern in its distribution. As strongly suggested by my own research (http://soundingthedepths.blogspot.com/), our common ancestors in Africa in all likelihood lacked such traditions -- and if that is in fact the case, then we are talking about something that is not innate, not universal, but had a specific point of origin at a specific time and place.
Thanks Victor! Yes you are correct, I'm deriving my definition,often based on the experiences of clients seeking help the organisation I work for, who are Middle Eastern/North African/South Asian and occasionally Eastern European. There is a current marked geographical 'belt' of HK, with a larger area going back through the generations - inasmuch as I can be accurate in assessing such things. So we are talking about Eurasia, plus some North African countries.
I was planning to re-read Lerner's Creation of Patriarchy, and due to your thoughts, I'm adding that to my library list for tomorrow, because I think if we want to find a point of origin it may well lie in her discussion of Ancient Mesopotamia (taken from these cribnotes):
The father had the power of life and death over his children. He had the power to commit infanticide by exposure or abandonment. He could give his daughters in marriage in exchange for receiving a bride price even during their childhood, or he could consecrate them to a life of virginity in the temple service. A man could pledge his wife, his concubines and their children as pawns for his debt; if he failed to pay back the debt, these pledges were turned into slaves. Such power derived from a concept that a person's entire kin-group was to be held responsible for any wrongdoings of its members.
If we were looking at cultural transmission, it might be worth noting that parts of India were part of the Achaemenid Empire, and the Indo-Iranian language group, which would provide an alternate explanation for lesser prevalence down South. My interest has been more into the decline of the practise (or tradition) in various areas so far, because finding out the conditions under which it declines appeared more pressing than those where it prevails.
I'm afraid though, I'm understanding 'tradition' in a lay sense, so I don't understand how clearly it is possible to track a tradition across time. If you could direct me to some criteria, that would be great.
Victor, I am not denying the existence of either tradition or culture. Nor am I opposed to research that begins by defining honor killing as "the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community, notes that, "Honor killings are directed mostly against women and girls, but have been extended to men," and observes that honor killing, so defined, is largely confined to a contiguous that stretches from central Asia across the Middle East to North Africa and a large part of India. What I am saying is
What I note in all three of these programs is that serious research requires meticulous attention to variation in structural detail, to accounting for outliers, i.e., the appearance of the phenomenon outside the region in which it is now concentrated, and consideration of what we might call, using the terms from biology, the homology/analogy problem, i.e., whether similarities are due to genetic or historical connections or to adaptations to similar circumstances.
In what you have said so far I see no attempt to acknowledge, let alone, address these issues. On the contrary, I see stereotyping that ignores variation within as well as across the region in question. I see an absolute refusal to consider outliers, e.g., the North American Indian examples cited in the Wikipedia piece. I see no willingness at all to consider the possibility that similar traditions might arise from similar social structures or similar material circumstances. So I don't see you getting anywhere beyond the still half-baked ideas with which you start.
Your work on music looks intriguing. I haven't yet examined it closely, but the way you describe it encourages me to believe that you have addressed at least some of the issues mentioned above, that what you have done is serious stuff. What you say here looks to me like offhand remarks from someone with a bee in his bonnet. Are you ready to get serious here?