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Honor killing: the rational hate crime

North America | Religious Literacy

The story frame here is clearly the minority-majority rights issue, but you can also clearly hear the author's confusion about this strange assimilation-resistant strain of culture.  The story gets some good facts into the record, including data about the number and character of the Iraqi community in the greater Phoenix area. 

The story also makes the obligatory disclaimer, which also happens to be true, that honor killings are not confined to Muslims, but that Hindus and Christians also indulge in the practice. 

While Christians do engage in honor killings (as in this example from 2005), they are more likely to be victimized by honor killings than carry them out.  Most honor killings, the story reports, occur among Muslim families in Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan.

Yet, there is an angle to the domestic side of this story that can strengthen our grip on the role of religion in public life.  That is, we need to do more work in the U.S. on reaching a consensus about what "kind" of act an honor-killing is. 

The occasion of honor killings in the West are still rare compared to all other kinds of murder.  TIME quotes Phyllis Chesler, of the City University of New York, who has recorded 40 honor killings or attempted killings in Europe and North America between 1998 and 2008.  That is a tiny minority of the ~14,000 murders in the U.S.

The spectacular nature of honor killings makes them easy to dismiss yet also affects the public imagination more than their numbers merit.  So, it is worth considering whether honor killings belong in a bucket with any other acts we are more familiar with. 

I suggest that the proper analogue for an honor killing is a hate crime.  I'm by no means the first to suggest this. Other analysts have also compared honor killings to hate crimes against women. And if you accept the concept of a hate killing, as I certainly do, their case is strong.   

I have observed conservatives taking offense at the very idea of 'hate crimes', arguing that murder needs no qualifier.  It is simply "murder".  

But in the interest of enhancing our understanding of the role that religion plays in public life, it is important to continue to qualify honor killings as such and give real heft to our existing category of "hate crime".  Honor killings are an example of an act where the description of a murder's motivation provides consequential information. 

It's not just murder.  It's not just aggravated assault. It's not just passion nor insanity.  Noor al-Maleki was killed because she opted out of a religious system, a choice that triggered a rational (though aggravated) response from her father. 

In fact, honor killings, in their motivation, their rarity, and heinousness, are most similar in our context to religously motivated killings of abortion doctors.  Abortion doctors are murdered by purposeful, religiously motivated actors who are rationally "righting" - based on religious incentives and rewards to be handed out in heaven - an injustice.

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