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Posted in: Honor Killings, Islam

Published on Aug 17, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Is Wanting to Marry the One You Love a Crime?

Is Stoning the Proper Punishment?


Even the New York Times got it right and put the news on their front page. The Afghan Taliban is back in business, and they just ordered two hundred men to stone two human beings to death for the crime of loving each other and wanting to marry. The all-male mob happily obliged them and included the couple's closest relatives and neighbors.

Amazingly, the Newspaper of Record does not use the word "Muslim." They refer to "religious authorities," "a religious court," and to "religious scholars," but they name no religion. Is it Buddhism, perhaps, which once flourished widely in Afghanistan? Or, is the unnamed religion paganism, perchance? Alexander the Great for example was a proud pagan, and he cut through Afghanistan on his way to India, leaving shamanistic and pagan practices in his wake. The Sassanids, who once also ruled in Afghanistan, were Zoroastrians.

Afghanistan, once the crossroads of the world, was not a Muslim country until Arab Muslims colonized the entire Middle East and Central Asia by the sword from the seventh century on; the bloody, proselytizing task was completed by the tenth century. Islam is now the religion which rules Afghanistan, the very religion which the New York Times does not name.

This omission is ridiculous since everyone knows that the Taliban are Muslims and indeed, they (and their counterparts in Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, north Africa, Malaysia, and the Arab Middle East, all increasingly claim that stonings, beheadings, amputations, floggings, acid attacks, and nose and ear cutting are allowed or even commanded when Muslims, especially Muslim girls and women, (sometimes men, especially if they are "out" western-style homosexuals), defy some cultural, tribal, or religious norm—that Muslim "honor" demands such punishments.

Some say that such practices are not—or even if they are, should not be—Islamic practices and that one must use Islamic sources in order to reform and modernize a desert-based seventh-century religion. They may have a point—but western governments are not helping such a Reformation project when they support and hire smooth and deceptive Islamists who are not pro-western but who are, rather, in sympathy with the Taliban in some ways. Why not turn to the real moderate Muslims who are anti-Islamicists and allow them to "speak for" the Muslim Street? This is what the contributors to Zeyno Baran's excellent collection, The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular, implore. This is precisely why you should read Zuhdi Jasser's piece on the Cordoba Mosque at Ground Zero.

Some say that we cannot get eliminate the concept of honor but that we must, instead, replace one concept of honor with another. Kwame Anthony Appiah suggests just this in his new book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. He believes that the practices of dueling, the Atlantic slave trade, and Chinese foot-binding changed when people's attitudes towards them changed. "Honor must be turned against honor killing." Thus, people—outsiders and dissidents—must educate people about the dishonorable nature of honor killings.

Hindus also commit honor murders for similar marriage-related reasons, but they confine this backward practice mainly to India. Muslims do it in Muslim countries and in the West, where honor killings are primarily a Muslim-on-Muslim crime. By the way, it is also a crime that the New York Times refuses to write about. They cover Hindu honor murders in India but do not cover honor murders commmitted by Muslims in North America.

The stonings in Afghanistan earlier today are an example of a cultural honor killing. I am not sure what we can do about this in Afghanistan when we already have boots on the ground. I am certain that we, in the West, will have to be very determined in ensuring that such honor killings do not happen on our soil. However, they already do.

My suggestion? It is not enough to try and sentence entire families or clans for having collaborated in an honor killing. Certain European countries are already doing that, and they are deporting the criminals after their sentences have been served. We may have to go further. If Appiah is right, then potential honor killing families must know that their entire extended family, including those relatives who have played absolutely no role in the murder, will also be deported.

As much as I shrink from collective punishment, only something this might constitute an even greater dishonor. Imagine being responsible for the deportation of 30-100 relatives, only 20 of whom actually collaborated in the honor killing of a girl because she was becoming "too western." Imagine the shame and dishonor that would accrue to the family responsible for such a massive deportation.

Think about it.


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