Though the February 12 beheading of Aasiya Hassan in upstate New York, allegedly at the hands of her husband, helped bring honor killings into the spotlight, it is just one of many to have taken place in the West during the past decade. Phyllis Chesler, in a seminal research paper published by the Middle East Quarterly, attempts to make sense of this trend by identifying characteristics that distinguish honor killings from ordinary domestic violence. In the former:
- A Muslim girl or young woman is the victim, usually killed by her father or brother.
- Immoral behavior dishonoring the family is cited as motivation.
- The murder is carefully planned, with the approval or even participation of the family.
- The murder may be especially brutal.
- The family does not shun the killer, who may paint himself as the "real victim."
Three European honor killings recently in the news fit Chesler's criteria to a tee.
First, on February 13, German-Afghan Ahmad Obeidi was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his 16-year-old sister Morsal. Details of the slaying match the honor crime template: Family objections to her Western ways led to beatings. Then one night a cousin brought her to a train station, where the waiting Ahmad stabbed her with such ferocity that he injured himself. Remarkably, the chaotic sentencing provided yet more signs of an honor killing. Claiming the status of victim, the guilty man "yelled that had the trial taken place in Kabul, Afghanistan, he would have already been released long ago." In addition, the parents criticized the judge, "saying the girl bore some of the guilt for her own murder."
Second, also in Germany, a man of Kurdish descent confessed to killing his 20-year-old sister Gulsum. Once again, a family conspiracy laid the foundation for a gruesome murder: "Prosecutors said Gulsum was lured by a false story to the side road near the small town of Rees on March 2. Her sibling, who was also a triplet to Gulsum, allegedly choked her unconscious with a clothesline. She was then clubbed to death." Her father is likewise in custody. The motive was a typical one: "Police said the family had attempted to force Gulsum into a planned marriage and then discovered she was not a virgin and had undergone one or more abortions."
Third, a Muslim man in St. Petersburg, Russia, has admitted to contracting the April 8 murder of his daughter Rashida, 21, because she wore short skirts. The role of honor is quite clear: "The father's Muslim friends … started reproaching him for being negligent and allowing his daughter to walk around dressed like a fallen woman. They said the insult could only be washed away by blood." Her body was found in a garbage dump and two of the perpetrators have been arrested.
Honor killings are not lawful Islamism, as murder is unlawful. However, they represent a disturbing consequence of Islamist culture creeping into the West. Only by understanding the nature of such crimes can they be combated. The good news is that senior officials are starting to take notice; the bad news is that, for some young women, the recognition will come too late.