A Question of Honour

Honour%20KillingsYesterday, Dr. Dawg commented with a link to an article about a country that outlawed honour killings.  The story, from almost 20 years ago, wasn’t about a Muslim country, but the very Catholic Brazil.  From March 29, 1991:

Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled that a man can no longer kill his wife and win acquittal on the ground of “legitimate defense of honor.”

The ruling ends a 10-year legal battle. “It’s a historic decision,” said Jacqueline Pitanguy, a Brazilian women’s rights leader.

Although never part of the legal code of Brazil, the “defense of honor” strategy has been used by lawyers to win acquittals in thousands of cases of men on trial for murdering their wives. According to a study in Sao Paulo State for the period 1980-81, 722 men claimed defense of their honor as justification for killing women accused of adultery.

As in most countries where this hideous practice exists, those dwelling in isolated areas were most vulnerable:

In Brazil’s large coastal cities, juries have increasingly rejected the “defense of honor” as old-fashioned, but the strategy has continued to sway juries in Brazil’s interior.

“In the interior of the country, it is easier and cheaper for a man to hire a gunslinger to kill his wife than to get a divorce and to separate the property,” said Rose Marie Muraro, a feminist writer who lobbied against the honor defense.

The article makes a point that’s been lost in the paranoid post-9/11 world: honour killing is a phenomenon that seems to cross many cultural and religious lines, the common thread being subjugation of women.  The first such killing I ever heard of in Canada involved Punjabi Sikhs,  yet Canadians don’t consider honour killing a “Sikh Problem” any more than Brazil considered it a “Catholic Problem”.

Interestingly, I remember a flurry of anti-Sikh/Hindu sentiment out here following the Air India bombing and some politically-motivated murders.  The media had just dipped its toes into the “honour killing” issue in that community when 9/11 rocked our world.  So, when Dr.Dawg asks in his comment, “How did the phrase “honour killing” become Muslimized?”, I can only speculate that it’s because that’s where the media spotlight has been focused for the last 8 years.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: Robert got there first, with another example of the cultural diversity of honour killing.

9 Responses to “A Question of Honour”


  1. 1 Dr. Prole Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 11:39 am

    It’s the same with female genital mutilation. It’s not a specifically Muslim religious practice, it’s a barbaric misogynist cultural practice. Lots of people too stoopid to get the difference.

  2. 2 Robert McClelland Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I pointed this case out my blog a week ago.
    ITALY was shocked at the weekend by a revival of the Mafia tradition of “honour killing” after a member of a Calabrian Mafia clan shot his sister for having a child by her lover.
    Giovanni Morabito, 24, nicknamed “Ringo”, gave himself up to police in Reggio Calabria after confessing that he had shot his sister, Bruna, 32, four times in the face at Messina in Sicily and left her for dead.
    He told police with what officers described as “terrifying calm” that he had tried to kill her because she had had a son, Francesco, two weeks ago by “a man who was not her husband”.

    This happened just a couple of years ago.

  3. 3 JJ Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Robert – Thanks, I just linked to your post if you don’t mind. Well done.

  4. 4 JJ Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Dr.Prole – There’s that common thread again…

    The implication that it’s all (or even “mostly”) Muslims doing this type of murder is dishonest, and the insinuation that “political correctness” perpetuates it is a massive straw man. Rational people don’t want to jump on bandwagons condemning any particular culture for a practice that, by all indications, crosses cultural boundaries.

  5. 5 900ft Jesus Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 2:53 am

    I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought lately, do a fiar bit of reading on animal behaviour in primates, including homo sapiens and I am inclined to think honour killings have much deeper roots than cultural ones. In North America, we hear of murders committed because a man is pissed off when his wife or children no longer obey him. The women or children begin to show some personal strength, some independence, and the man gets scared and pissed off, seeing his dominant status is about to collapse. He tries beating the family member(s) into submission, tries limiting their resources, and if those methods fail, he commits murder.

    Old genes at work, in my opinion, driving the dominant male to control his little tribe. For most of us, we aren’t vicitms of our own outdated genetic drives because we stop and think before acting, and we don’t act blindly but question why we have certain impulses. It’s this ability to overrride instinct and genetic drives through learning that has helped us become so damn adaptable to rapidly changing conditions or small tribal mentality would have killed us off long ago.

    Look at any honour killing – it’s someone, nearly always a man (the dominat male of the family) often supported by the lesser males being ticked off at what he considers his women becoming too independent. Can’t have that, the dude’s genes whisper to him. The women may go and become impregnated with some other male’s sperm!

    We are fucked as a species if we do not learn to accept our genetic drives, understand them, and learn to set aside mindlessly following the urges they give us. We are such a very young species in an ever changing world whose rate of change is increasing so quickly we can’t hope to change genetically quickly enough to adapt. Can’t be effective if you don’t know your tools (no pun intended), what they do, and how to adapt them.

    Glad you wrote about this, jj.

  6. 6 deBeauxOs Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Say, 900ft Jesus, what’s with the ‘this blog address has been cancelled’ message that I get when I click on your name?

  7. 7 900ft Jesus Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 8:40 am

    see deBeaux, even trying to answer you briefly, I can’t find the words. I may start up again, but between other responsibilities – but that may simply be an excuse)and feeling like I do nothing but state the obvious as our species largely goes full throttle, setting a course to oblivion, I most likely need to think how and if I should blog.

    So, how are you? :)

  8. 8 deBeauxOs Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I’m in a good space, with regards to blogging. Creative, productive, engaged. Who could ask for anything more?

    It’s good to read you, 900ft Jesus!

  9. 9 JJ Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    900 ft – Well said. I can’t add much to that except to say that the honour killing phenomenon appears to be a primitive custom that predates religion and nations, and only still exists where the cultural divide is between those with access to modern innovation and those without. When it does occur in modern society it’s pretty thoroughly condemned by all cultures and religions. At least as far as I can see… if someone has evidence of the Sikh, Hindu or Muslim communities at large defending this practice, I have yet to see it.


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