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Putting the Honor Back in “Honor”
June 27th, 2011

The logic goes like this: Women go carousing around committing adultery or having sex out of wedlock.  This brings shame on their families.  So they are murdered by their families in order to restore honor to the group.

That, friends, is the premise of a so-called “honor killing.”

“Honor killings” are most often carried out in the Middle East.  Although (per Wikipedia) they’ve been reported throughout the world including locations in Southeast Asia, and within immigrant communities in France, Germany, and the UK.  Apparently they were first conceived and encourage in ancient Rome because male family members of adulterous women would be persecuted based on the women’s behavior.  Today the United Nations Population Fund estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered this way each year, although many women’s rights groups in the Middle East and Southeast Asia estimate that it could be as many as 20,000.

It’s the kind of thing that makes your stomach sink.  You feel like you’ve died just a little inside by merely knowing that such a practice exists, even if it is being carried out continents away by no one you actually know.  It’s horrendous and there is no excuse for it under any circumstance.  And, while it seems like it should be impossible, there are situations when this cruel practice is even worse.

Rape victims are also subject to ”honor killings.”

Yes, women who’ve been subjugated, molested, violated, and abused, are then murdered by the very people who are supposed to love them most due to the “shame” they have brought upon their families.  Truly, it boggles the mind.  But I’m not just trying to bum you out on a Monday, so stick with me.

Equally mind boggling was this article from Salon, which an old high school classmate of mine posted on Facebook.  Apparently, in a small but growing trend, in Syria men are marrying rape victims (whom they don’t necessarily even know) to spare them from “honor killings.”  This all started when four teenage sisters from a Syrian-Turkish border town were raped.  As they healed in the hospital news of their tragic story spread and a small group of men from a neighboring town vowed to marry them.

One of these men said, “I know that these girls suffered. They were taken against their will. I don’t care what they look like, the point is to stand by them, and I do with all of my heart.”

So often all we hear about gender relations in the Middle East is negative.  Men dress in comfortable Western attire, while women must don headscarves and burkas.  Men can drive cars, run for political office, and socialize with whomever they choose at any time, while women’s freedoms are often severely limited.  Rarely do we hear about men stepping up for women who’ve been victimized by the system.  Given all this, I can think of nothing more honorable for these Syrian men to have done.

The Salon article asserts that if this trend continues it may nullify the stigma attached to rape over time, perhaps eventually sparing future victims from further abuse beyond whatever they’ve already survived.  What an incredible transformation that would be!

3 Responses to “Putting the Honor Back in “Honor””

  1. anne Says:

    I remember watching a truly traumatic video about honor killings back in college, but it’s one of those things I don’t think about anymore…sort of blocked it out i guess. But I appreciate the reminder. I love the story about what these men are doing. I wonder how they are treated, and what they risk in terms of their own reputation?! Very brave.

  2. Gale Says:

    Anne – You make a good point about what risks the men themselves are taking. I thought about that too. I suspect (but don’t really know for sure) that they are risking persecution and judgment, making their decision all the more noble. There are some really good souls in this world.

  3. Cathy Says:

    Wow – I really had no idea this was going on – the murders or the marriages. It makes me feel that even though there are customs I do not agree or believe in, they are still very much a part of today’s world. This gesture of men makes me think that there is light and hope for these worlds to move toward a more equalitarian society. (And I had to look that word up because the browser didn’t recognize it!)