Honor Crimes In The Middle East Cultural Studies Essay

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With this region being busy and overwhelmed with political quandaries and instability, policy makers and people of the middle have neglected and have forgotten completely about a major social problem in Middle Eastern societies, which is Honor Crime. Often social issues such as Honor Crimes are considered a taboo and it is a topic that is forbidden to be discussed in our conservative societies. However, this is a very serious phenomenon and needs to be addressed openly and freely in the name of humanity and basic Human Rights.

This policy brief intends to examine the meaning of "Honor Crimes", the background, the legal perspective and why it should be stopped. It concludes with the recommendations for policy makers to make necessary actions and engage all the stakeholders involved in the process.


Hundreds of women from the Arab world are killed by their relatives and families every year under the slogan of family "honor" (Chahine, 2004). With the majority of these killings unaccounted for, and therefore not punished, it is extremely hard to find any precise figures, data, statistics or even estimates about this occurrence, which is to a great degree acceptable in the eyes of some societies (Chahine, 2004). These crimes are common in most countries of the Middle East, particularly in Muslim countries and are treated with leniency and often killers get very reduced sentences for such crimes, if punished at all. inhuman and should be illegal, and

This is a very serious social problem, the practice is very inhuman and should be illegal, and nothing fundamental, if any, is being done about it. Very little literature, if any, was recently published or written on this major social issue. The majority of the written literature was on Honor Crimes in Jordan. This issue was a hot topic between the years 2000 and 2005 and had been addressed, either through writings, media or even social moves, but not lately, nobody talks about it and how serious this social issue is. It has been forgotten despite the increase of such killings every year. Therefore, something needs to be done to stop this phenomenon, the laws of the Arab countries should be changed and Honor Crimes should be penalized by law as first degree murder.

What are "Honor Crimes"?

Honor Crime is the practice of the killing of a woman by one of her male relatives, usually her father or brother, for committing or being suspected of committing illicit sexual acts (Nanes, 2003). Honor Killings are committed for a broad range of misbehavior; premarital sex, unlawful pregnancies, marital infidelity, but honor crimes are also committed for the slightest issues such as flirting, going out on a date, falling in love, rape (believing that the girl/woman allowed herself to be raped), and even merely receiving a phone call from a man (Chahine, 2004). The males in the family typically select a juvenile member of the family to do the job since he will get a reduced punishment (Becker, 2004). According to medics of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, honor killings are usually founded on rumors and that examinations often reveal that the victims were virgins. In addition, others who undergo virginity examinations and are found to be virgins may still be murdered. In many cases, simply testing women to check their virginity is considered a license to slay (Halaby, 2000). The majority of murdered women in honor killings are virgins.

Lina, a twenty four year old Jordanian girl, became pregnant after being raped by a neighbor. When the pregnancy became apparent to her family, they decided to kill her. Her brother drove her to a nearby football field, parked the car and asked her to get out. He then repeatedly struck her on the head with a rock, drew a knife, slashed her throat and stomach, left her by the side of the road, and went to turn himself in. His family treated him like a hero and later posted bail for him, bringing him a white horse to ride home. He was sentenced to three months in prison, even though he had been out on bail the entire time (Becker, 2004).

The Legal Perspective

Clemency toward family-honor murderers is the law and is also codified in the penal laws/codes of most the of Arab countries: Under article 562 of the Lebanese penal code, "a man who surprises his wife, daughter or sister practicing adultery or illicit intercourse and killed or harmed one of the two partners without premeditation shall receive a commuted sentence" and under the article 340 of the Jordanian law "any man who kills or attacks his wife or any of his female relatives in the act of committing adultery or in an "unlawful bed" benefits from a reduction in penalty" (Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). In Syria, in 2009, the President of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, has made a significant change in the decree relating to honor killings. He has made it harder for men to kill their female relatives for the sake of honor. Initially the maximum sentence was a year, but now the killers must face at least 2 years in prison (The Economist, 2009). These penal codes legalize such behavior and crimes. Most murderers get as little as six months in prison and often; the men don't get penalized at all for their actions (Becker, 2004). Basically, all that the men have to do at their trial is say that the murder was committed for honor because the woman did something shameful to the family. The men don't even have to confirm that the women really did what they are indicted of, simple accusation is enough. As you can see, crimes of honor are treated with leniency and are often unpunished. These crimes are perceived as excusable and understandable (Chahine, 2004).

The Middle East

Over two thirds of all murders in the Gaza strip and West Bank were honor killings reported in one year. In Jordan there is an average of 25 such murders a year. And 36 honor crimes were reported in 2 years in Lebanon, mainly in small cities and villages. In Egypt there were 52 reported honor crimes in one year and in Yemen as many as 400 honor killings took place in one year. UNFPA estimated that, across the world, as many as 5,000 women are victims yearly of such killings (The Economist, 2009).

The Distinction

As previously stated, Honor Crimes are typically widespread in Muslim countries (Feldner, 2000). There are two types of honor in a traditional Arab society. A distinction is necessary for them, Sharaf & Ird. Sharaf, "relates to the honor of a social unit, such as the Arab tribe or family, as well as individuals, and it can fluctuate up or down", it basically mean "dignity" for the west. "ird relates only to the honor of women and its value can only decrease. It translates roughly as the Western concept of "chastity" or "purity"" (Feldner, 2000). The main reason why a man murders a women, is due to the social and psychological pressure he feels, usually encouraged by members of the family to commit such an act. An Egyptian who choked his pregnant bachelor daughter, to decease and then chopped her body in eight pieces and threw them in the toilet: ""Shame kept following me wherever I went [before the murder]. The village's people had no mercy on me. They were making jokes and mocking me. I couldn't bear it and decided to put an end to this shame"" (Feldner, 2000). The practice of killing by itself has its anticipated social effect, allowing the family to recover its initial social position (Feldner, 2000). A report in 2000, issued by the United Nations came close to founding honor crimes as "violation of basic human rights" (Feldner, 2000). A crime of honor is a trend that has become a social disease in many Muslim countries.

Why it Should be Stopped?

It should be stopped because of the fact that murder is murder. Regardless of what the cause is, nobody has the right to take anybody else's life. Even though murder may be denounced in all cultures of the world, and murder is usually seen as a crime, but when murder is committed in the name of honor, it is no longer regarded as murder (Becker, 2004). However, it is not a murder of any kind it is a crime of cruelty and torture. Often, the most slow, painful and torturous deaths sentences are given to these women. From gunshots, stabbings, and blood poisoning which are very common, burning women by acid until they die, pouring gasoline on them and then are lit on fire, and many other methods of killings. In one case in Egypt, the father of the victim killed his daughter by beheading her, and then paraded with her head through the streets in festivity.

Another important aspect also, is that men and women should be punished equally in cases of murder, which is not really the case. If a man kills his wife because of an adulterous situation, he will be freed after about a few months, while the wife, if she kills her husband because of an adulterous situation, she faces a full murder charge, a first degree murder (Goodenough, 1999). So a man who kills his wife in the name of honor has honor but a woman who kills her husband for the same thing is not honor? Why don't women have honor? They do have honor but women are considered to be a man's property.

Women as Man's Property

There is a misunderstanding of the meaning of honor. The gracious values of superiority and self-respect are ignored. Instead, the focus is on the female's body and her virginity. According to a definition by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, the woman is an object owned by the man who assumes responsibility for her behavior and her life (Honor Killing: Killing of Women on the Basis of Family Honor, 2002). A Palestinian tribal leader explains: "A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure" (Feldner, 2000). Also, women are seen as weak individuals who require safeguarding but also are viewed as "evil Jezebels" from whom culture needs to protect itself against. (Case Study: "Honour" Killings and Blood Feuds). I'm sure a lot of people question "What do you expect from a man who walks into his house and finds his wife in bed with another man" "to give her a rose?" obviously not, but kill her instead right? (Feldner, 2000).

There have been many counter arguments related to this social disease, saying that any family's honor is in the women of the family and if a woman misbehaves she needs to be dealt with, even if it means to kill her. This is just how it is and nothing should be done about it to alter any law or penal codes.

Recommendations: What Needs to be Done

First and most importantly, the penal codes of these Arab countries should be changed and there should be a harsher penalty, a first degree murder sentence for those who commit such crimes. There needs to be no tolerance at all to crimes of honor. That alone is not enough though; countries must also appraise their criminal codes for "discrimination" against women - where the killing of a wife is dealt with more mildly than the killing of a husband (Chahine, 2004 and Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). Police should be trained to stop and scrutinize "honor" killings more humanely and efficiently (Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The State should offer sanctuary for women who are terrorized by "honor" killing by making sufficient and accessible refuge (Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). There should be awareness programs with regard to honor killings, through organizing seminars, radio programs, talk shows, and other media. And there should be worldwide force and pressure from human rights groups, women's groups and associations, and other governments to put severe punishments on honor crimes (Halaby, 2000).


Honor Crimes is a very serious social issue. Honor Crimes are common in most countries of the Middle East, particularly the Muslim countries. Arab countries treat such crimes with great leniency. Most of murderers are let free after committing an honor crime. However, crime is a crime, regardless what it is. Women are treated with cruelty and torture and as a property that the man owns.

The penal codes of the countries should be changed and honor crimes should be penalized by first degree murder. It is not excusable.