Due in no small part to the attacks in New York on 9/11, the 2004 Madrid Train Bombings and London’s ‘7/7’ subway bombings in 2005, Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims, have come to personify the threat of backwards, violent, foreign “otherness” for much of the western world. Islamic fundamentalism, both state sponsored and otherwise, is a legitimate concern as there’s no question that the treatment of women, non-Muslims and members of rival sects or ethnic groups in countries governed by Shari’ah law is often problematic.
However, there is also a double standard applied to Muslims in much of the Christian/ Jewish/ Hindu world which condemns them culturally and doctrinally for transgressions non-Muslims are assumed to have committed because of a religiously neutral flaw. Anxiety over the phenomenon of “honor killings” is a good example. And there are context-providing precedents for the subtle xenophobia that informs this double standard.
If you paid attention to the American media after 9/11 or the European media after the Spain and UK bombings there’s a good possibility you encountered a pundit suggesting with resentful disappointment or anger that moderate Muslims have been suspiciously slow to condemn the attacks. Of course, that simply wasn’t the case. In fact, you would have been hard-pressed to find a single article or program following the attacks that didn’t include at least one quote from a moderate Muslim or representative of a moderate Islamic organization vehemently condemning the attacks. Almost inevitably, the interviewee would go on to insist that there is nothing in the Qur’an justifying the killing of innocents and that Islam is a religion of peace. Unfortunately, those interviewees probably did so in hopes of checking condemnations of moderate non-response to fundamentalist terror attacks.
Not that moderate Muslims were necessarily obligated to apologize for attacks committed by those with nothing in common but a shared religion. Is a Jordanian or Malaysian moderate Shia culpable for attacks committed by fanatical Saudi Sunnis? If so, does that mean a German Lutheran should apologize to an Iraqi or Yemenis Muslim for Methodist President George W. Bush’s attack of Iraq despite no weapons of mass destruction being found an attack which resulted in hundreds of times more Muslims dying than Christians died in on 9/11? And it has been since pointed out that Islamic terrorists are always identified as such while terrorists who identify as Christian — Timothy McVeigh, abortion-provider bombers, any Neo-Nazi killers or terrorists — are virtually never identified as ‘Christian Terrorists’. Though for many of them their version of Christianity was an admitted motive in terror attacks they are ‘loners’, ‘Neo-Nazis’, ‘disturbed’ or ‘mentally ill’.
There is a comparable disconnect regarding honor killings. Not to say that an abominable culture of honor killing doesn’t exist in some Muslim societies; it does. Women in particular are often brutalized, especially in the more rural areas of conservative Islamic countries. One example is the recent case of the fifteen year old girl whose parents murdered her with acid for looking at a boy on a motorcycle.
Due to their brutality, horrific assaults like this understandably receive worldwide press and prompt a fresh round of cautionary articles and outraged opinion pieces about honor killings. In 2010 an example emerged in Turkey when Ahmet Yildiz, one of the nation’s only openly gay people, was murdered by his father. It was dubbed ‘the first gay honor killing’. However, in 1999 a Queens, New York resident, Steen Fenrich, was allegedly murdered by his stepfather although the stepfather was never prosecuted as he fled from police before committing suicide. Steen’s dismembered body was found with racial slurs scrawled on his skull. The case failed to attack the type of international attention and condemnation similarly motivated attacks that occurred in the Muslim world had.
A 2005 Tampa, Florida ‘gay honor killing’ predated Yildiz’s death by five years when Ronnie Paris Sr. beat his three-year-old son Ronnie Paris Jr. to death believing he was gay. However, like the Yildiz case this incident failed to receive international attention as an honor killing. Nor were the roughly 1500 murders of one spouse by another motivated by generally patriarchal jealousy, infidelities real or imagined, or rivalry which took place in Europe and the United States given much attention by the press. The fact is dozens, if not hundreds, of murders that could be classified as “honor killings” are committed every year on every inhabited continent.
There’s nothing particularly new, unique or ecclesiastically-specific about honor killings. The tradition of honor killings date back as far as human history does- thousands of years before Islam existed Assyrian tribes in the time of Hammurabi were honor killers. Centuries before Christianity, Roman society demanded men kill unfaithful wives or, as pater familias, anyone in their family if they felt it necessary. Honor killing was a fairly common feature of many ancient usually patriarchal societies and has no mandate from the Bible, Qur’an, Torah or virtually any other religious text. The Western emphasis given to honor killing in the Muslim world when contrasted with its non-Muslim counterpart seems to be an unfortunate fulfillment of the occidental perpetuation of the brutal, backwards, fanatical (Arab) Muslim stereotype.
Mario Vitanelli is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in the analysis of influential people and organizations, global business trends and international affairs. When away from his keyboard, he enjoys photography and appreciates the rest of the Vitanelli family’s endless patience with his football preoccupation.