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Honor killing: the rational hate crime

North America | Religious Literacy

RELIGION STORIES ARE are just so relentlessly transnational. 

Just about every religion story, from Pentecostal growth to radical political theologies to secularization, has an "inside" and an "outside", a domestic side and an international side.

Failure to properly contextualize a religion story in light of its transnationalism is an all-too-common problem. And in the immigrant-laden societies of the industrialized world, this inside-outside line is blurred almost beyond recognition, a fact not always picked up in news stories. 

Coverage that properly accounts for the force of the religiously based ideas and value systems immigrants (who are generally far more religious than their secular host societies) import, is rare.  More often, the coverage is insufficiently skeptical and myopic in its focus on the domestic majority-minority rights tussle.   

The touchy issue of honor killings is a perfect example of this inside-outside issue. In the U.S., the very use of the term "honor killing" is controversial, and mainstream press sources are reluctant to use the term, since it has an inherently prejudicial quality. Part of the problem is that the U.S. - like most Western societies - lacks any domestic "context" for such a thing. 

The act is so alien that it defies our categories and ends up lumped in with irrational or sociopathic behaviors like serial killings.  The rational, religious basis of honor killings is what trips us up.   

I do support a cautious attitude toward the use of the term "honor killing" in news coverage, but it has to be included in any truthful and frank coverage of killings that religiously "cleanse" a person, family or culture. 

On Friday, TIME magazine posted a well done and notably skeptical story on Faleh al-Maleki, whom an Arizona court convicted of aggravated assault for murdering his daughter Noor al-Maleki with his automobile. 

In keeping with TIME's increasingly editorial posture, the story barely conceals its contempt for Faleh al-Maleki, but the story does succeed in educating the reader on the inside-outside story of honor killings:

The jury found Faleh guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder, finding that he didn't plan the act in advance. They also found the existence of aggravating factors, which means he could face up to nearly 46 years in prison. The evidence presented at trial made clear, however, that Faleh was influenced by a warped sense that Noor had impugned his family's honor.

Most honor crimes take place in villages in the developing world, however, not in the parking lot of a nondescript American welfare office. The U.S. is supposed to be the melting pot, where immigrants assimilate into the larger culture, discarding much of their native selves. But some communities — like Faleh's — have stubbornly resisted that transformation.

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