Thursday, January 17, 2008

Robert Spencer on Recent Honor Killings in Texas

Honor Killing in Texas
by Robert Spencer
Posted: 01/08/2008
From Human Events

Amina Said, 18, and her sister Sarah, 17, smile happily in one widely circulating photo, and Amina is wearing what looks like a sweatshirt bearing the name “AMERICAN.” But their fate may have been the herald of a new, disquieting feature of the American landscape: honor killing. Amina and Sarah were shot dead in Irving, Texas, on New Year’s Day. Police are searching for their father, Yaser Abdel Said, on a warrant for capital murder.

The girls’ great aunt, Gail Gartrell, told reporters, “This was an honor killing.” She explained that Yaser Said had long abused the girls, and after discovering that they had boyfriends, had threatened to kill them -- whereupon their mother fled with them. “She ran with them,” said Gartrell, “because she knew he would carry out the threat.” But Said found them, and apparently did carry it out.

Honor killing, the practice of murdering a female family member who is believed to have sullied the family honor, enjoys widespread acceptance in some areas of the Islamic world. However, Islam Said, the brother of Amina and Sarah, has denied that the murders had anything to do with Islam at all. “It’s not religion,” he insisted. “It’s something else. Religion has nothing to do with it.”

And to be sure, the Qur’an or Islamic tradition does not sanction honor killing. Muslim spokesmen have hastened, after the recent killing in Canada of another teenage Muslim girl, Aqsa Parvez, by her father to tell the public that honor killing has nothing to do with Islam, but is merely a feature of Islamic culture in some areas. Aqsa Parvez was sixteen years old; her father, Muhammad Parvez, has been charged with strangling her to death because she refused to wear the hijab. Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, declared: “The strangulation death of Ms. Parvez was the result of domestic violence, a problem that cuts across Canadian society and is blind to colour or creed.” Sheikh Alaa El-Sayyed, imam of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, Ontario, agreed: “The bottom line is, it’s a domestic violence issue.”

But these dismissals are too easy, principally because they fail to take into account important evidence. In some areas, honor killing is assumed to be an Islamic practice. There is evidence that Islamic culture inculcates attitudes that could lead directly to the murders of these two girls in Texas. In 2003, the Jordanian Parliament voted down on Islamic grounds a provision designed to stiffen penalties for honor killings. In a sadly typical consequence of this early last year, a Jordanian man who murdered his sister because he thought she had a lover was given a three-month sentence, which was suspended for time served, allowing him to walk free. The Yemen Times just last week published an article insisting that violence against women is necessary for the stability of the family and the society, and invoking Islam to support this view.

Since Islam is used as the justification for such barbarities, it becomes incumbent upon Muslim spokesmen to confront this directly, and to work for positive change, rather than simply to consign it all to culture, as if that absolves Islam from all responsibility. For this is the culture that apparently gave Yaser Said and Muhammad Parvez the idea that they had to kill their daughters. It is a culture suffused with its religion, thoroughly dominated by it -- such that a clear distinction between the two is not so easy to find.

The killings of Amina and Sarah Said raises uncomfortable questions for the Islamic community in the United States, questions about the culture and mindset that people like Yaser Said bring to this country. Now that honor killing has come to Texas, Muslim spokesmen in the U.S. have an all the more urgent responsibility to end their denial and confront these cultural attitudes. If they don’t, and instead continue to glibly insist that religion has nothing to do with what happened to these poor girls, the murders of the Said sisters will only be the beginning of a new American phenomenon.

Mr. Spencer is director of Jihad Watch and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)" , "The Truth About Muhammad" and "Religion of Peace?" (all from Regnery -- a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).

20 comments:

Sirfab said...

My gut reaction to this article is that these honor killings have as much to do with religion as the killings of doctors and nurses at abortion clinics. Or the persecution of people of different faiths. Or the bombing of churches. That is, it is about religion (in general, and Islam in this particular case) if that's what you want to make it about. In reality, it is more about ignorance, intolerance, and sickness than anything else.

I know some will contend that Islam is a violent religion by nature and Christianity is not. I will try to stay out of that diatribe because I am not knowledgeable enough to refute it, nor do I care to. All I know is that despite the violent examples and/or teachings, of which both the Qu'ran and the Bible are full, most Muslims and Christians are able to live peacefully and tolerantly (with each other, among themselves).

In conclusion, if a person's mind is flawed enough, either due to ignorance or pathology , genetic or environmental factors, or any other reason, he or she can always find a way to rationalize any religion, philosophical system, or secular worldview in justification of his or her crimes. The problem with this kind of violence when it stems from religious teachings is that it cloaks itself in righteousness and is impermeable to rational condemnation.

Tim said...

Fab,

Your unargued gut reaction isn't really of interest to readers of Doug's blog. I see you have one of your own; you might post them there. Better yet, you might try doing a little homework before posting anything else on this subject, anywhere.

No doubt Said was a pathological case. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to point out dozens of Muslim fathers who are similarly pathological and have killed their daughters (or brothers who have killed their sisters) for religious reasons in the past couple of years. No, of course not every Muslim father kills his daughters. There are even Muslim scholars who expressly speak out against honor killings. It says something significant that they even have to. (When is the last time that your local Mennonite pastor felt he had to have a heart-to-heart talk with his congregation about fathers who kill their teenage daughters?) The frequency in Muslim communities is truly frightening, orders of magnitude higher than in any mainstream Christian denomination.

Ignorance, intolerance, and sickness? Sure. But not independent of a frightening and salient meme found within contemporary Islam -- and practically nowhere else in the civilized world.

Jonathan Troust said...

Tim:

I find your post disturbing and ironic. On the one hand you level critiques to which you are suspect, while on the other hand your post seems to confirm his suspicion that people--not religions per se--commit these atrocities.

I read your CV and don't see that you have any serious academic background on Christianity (unless you count evangelical conversionism) or Islam. I suggest that you appropriate your own advice and take a freshman class on religion. You'd fit in well, though wide-sweeping, unnuanced claims wouldn't bode well for your class grade.

Yes. I have read the Koran. That is, I read Arabic. Reading a book once is a pretty low expectation befor making harsh claims. I guess Vanderbilt didn't teach you that.

Yes. I am an atheist, and not a Christian. So I join you in your arrogance. Like you, I don't see anything wrong with it. We are both justified by Jesus, ugh. our pride.

Sarah Scott said...

Jonathan,

The point that Tim was making which I believe you may have missed is that while this was no doubt pathological, it is very likely rooted in the teachings of Qu'ranic Islam.

It is irrelevant if you've taken a freshman religion class or if you have an advanced degree in Religion; a good argument is a good argument, and a bad argument is a bad argument. I recommend you give up the knee-jerk objection of "he didn't get a degree in it therefore he can't formulate an educated position". You will find yourself severely handicapped by that way of thinking.

Sirfab said...

Tim, thanks for your clever links sentence, and for humbling me into realizing that my unargued posts are not of interest to the readers of Doug's blog. That critique prompted me to try and argue this post.

For the sake of clarity: those who justify killing in the name or religious beliefs (whether Islamic, Christian, or any other kind) can be classified as ignorant, insane, ill, or very devout (or any combination of these). But only the insanely devout or those who favor a literal interpretation of every verse of sacred texts can think that by committing crimes they are honoring the will and the teachings of a supreme being. In this Christians, Muslims, and various other faithful, are united.

The history of this and other countries is full of hate groups that found cover for their crimes behind a religious justification In this "honor killers", abortion clinic bombers, Christian Identity, the KKK, and others tread on equal and imaginary ground. Not to mention the sectarian conflicts that have raged and still rage in the world (in Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, India, the holy lands, etc.) in the name of various religions. So to single out the perpetrators of honor killings, as deplorable and disgusting as they are, tells only a partial side of the story.

Professor Steven Weinberg put it quite well: Good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. But for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

And, might I add, some bad people do the bad things under the cloak of religion.

In closing, Tim, I hope you don't mind it if I continue posting my thoughts here, and on my blog, too. Feel free to ignore them or to respond to them, sanctimoniously or respectfully, as you please. Either way I promise you I'll manage.

Jonathan Troust said...

Sarah:

Why defend this assertion: "it is very likely rooted in the teachings of Qu'ranic Islam" when one hasn't even read the Koran. Tim is smart enough to give up on making claims out of sheer ignorance. If he's a "Christian," he'll renounce his crusader spirit.

Having an advanced degree is irrelevant. What is relevant is a cursory knowledge of the object of criticism. A basic understanding of how religions work also helps. I'm setting the bar as low as possible; unfortunately that disqualifies some people from the dialogue.

Sarah Scott said...

Jonathan,

I never said that I haven't read the Quran. Anyone can read the translation or learn to read it in Arabic-- a background in religion is not a prerequisite. Its teachings are usually not difficult to decipher.

Hovey said...

Have we digressed from the subject a little bit? I'm interested to know whether or not Islamic culture/religion is conducive to honor killings. Having only read parts of the Koran, I must trust those who are more learned than I on the whole scope of it. But, I get the sense that it could well contribute to such killings as being normative. Could the Bible? It certainly has been construed as such a book, and has been used to justify all sorts of atrocities. But, I believe that by its own standard the Bible calls such people to justice. I'm now honestly asking, does the Koran call all humans to justice before Allah for such crimes? Or does it allow room for such things to be rationalized in hopes to honor and please Allah?

I think that the previous responses do nail down one unarguable fact: the human nature is flawed and naturally turns toward evil. Whether that be a physiological (genetic or otherwise) flaw, a psychological flaw, an emotional flaw or a spiritual flaw, humans have an inevitable propensity to commit evils, large or small. Yet, we also have a propensity to realize and live out righteousness. Further still, we can muddle the two, as may be the case of honor killing. If it is a religious act at its core, then this is indeed what has happened. A man, desiring to honor the supreme being of the universe has in fact come to the errrant conclusion that the ending of the lives of his daughters was the way to accomplish such a feat. True, I think the religious system he adhered to played a part, but we must also realize that his actions were his own. If Islam condemns such actions he will be condemned and not justified in his actions, by both his religion and the country he lives in. If Islam condones (or can be construed to condone) such actions, then the system itself must come under scrutiny for something moral law written on the hearts of humans condemns, as does the country itself.

It seems to me, while the discussion is interesting, in this particular instance that we need the testimony of the man himself in order to decide. At the same time, some of the things mentioned in the original post about laws and honor killings seem to point toward Islam condoning such actions more than condemning them.

For All Women Foundation said...

To one with a highly experienced eye, it is obvious the murders of the beautiful Said sisters of suburban Dallas were dishonor killings.

These crimes are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes. They pre-date Islam by centuries and, in fact, are un-Islamic.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Tim said...

Jonathan,

I never said that these killings were sanctioned by the Koran; I said that the problem of honor killings is widespread within contemporary Islam and virtually nowhere else. Feel free to prove me wrong, if you have any evidence on the point.

SirFab wants to delink this from Islam altogether with a broad moral equivalency thesis. I don't see how he is going to do that except by showing that it shows up outside of Islam in something like the same frequency.

Neither you nor SirFab has engaged with any of the evidence that honor killings are widespread in Islamic societies but are not widespread in Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist societies.

As for your attempt to cast aspersions on my background in religion, I, too, have read the Koran, albeit not in Arabic. If you feel that Sura 9 is mistranslated in existing English versions, feel free to advertise the merits of a kinder, gentler translation.

I provided a dozen links to the facts, from sources like the New York Times and the United Nations. Surely you aren't contending that these are all "evangelical" sources and therefore tainted and not to be trusted. I'm having a hard time seeing how you propose to deal with the public facts regarding honor killings.

Sirfab said...

Tim:

Honor killings are not an exclusive prerogative of Islam. They have occurred, for centuries, in Christian European countries, particularly in the Mediterranean area, albeit for reasons that may be harder to link to religion (now). Thankfully, they are in decline, but they still exist. For example, up until recently, Italy has had more lenient penalties on the books for men guilty of murdering an adulterous wife.

Also, Christianity has been twisted by those who are so inclined, to justify morally opprobrious practices, like slavery, the persecution of blacks, gays, immigrants, etc. I guess your reply might be that it is hard if not impossible to find anything in the New Testament that supports such practices. Perhaps it is so, but then it would be nice if Christians rose in unison to condemn crimes committed in the name of Christianity as they do when crimes are committed with link to Islam. But I do not notice such a rush to condemn, quite the contrary.

I believe these and many more examples prove that religion is just a pretext for people of feeble intelligence to justify their crimes.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

SirFab,

On the one hand, you seem to be admitting that honor killings are pretty nearly the exclusive property of Islamic societies. This is simply what I have insisted on.

On the other, you try two tactics to make it seem that this is not a concession. First, you note that at some time (which you do not specify) they "have occurred" in Christian European countries, particularly in the Mediterranean area, and as evidence for this you cite the fact that Italy has had (but no longer does have) lenient laws regarding the murder of an adulterous wife by her husband. This is not, however, what is at issue in honor killings of the sort under discussion here, so it does not prove your point. If you'll look back at the original story, you'll see that it is not about a cuckolded husband who catches his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto and murders one or both of them.

Second, you point out that Christianity has been twisted by those who would justify morally opprobrious acts such as enslavement and persecution. I admit it at once, and I would indeed argue that there is no justification for such acts from the New Testament. But you overreach yourself when you say that Christians have not condemned such actions and such distortion of Scripture; they have, publically, frequently, insistently. Nor is this any new thing. You might consider seeing the film "Amazing Grace," if only to brush up on your Wilberforce.

Of course, we may disagree as to what counts as persecution. If you think that a disinclination to endorse gay marriage counts as persecution, that would raise an entirely separate set of issues. It is difficult, however, to put that on a par with pumping a full magazine from a handgun into the bodies of your two teenage daughters. And that was the topic of the original post.

Your final paragraph would be a non sequitur even if your preceding two points were legitimate. I think you need to talk more with rational Christians who know why they believe what they believe.

Sirfab said...

Tim:

You counter my observation that "Italy has had (but no longer does have) lenient laws regarding the murder of an adulterous wife by her husband" by saying that "this is not, however, what is at issue in honor killings of the sort under discussion here, so it does not prove your point."

That you don’t think my example proves the point I tried to make is not surprising, since you add the somewhat funny but arbitrary characterization we are not talking here "about a cuckolded husband who catches his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto and murders one or both of them." You seem to imply that anyone who ever murdered an adulterous wife in Italy did so not in ignorance of the Biblical justifications/instructions for killing the adulteress (Leviticus, Deuteronomy), and did it simply because Italian men are "hot blooded". Perhaps, for good measure, as you made up your scenario you imagined the perpetrator to be a "coppola"-wearing, "lupara"-carrying Sicilian (coppola is a Sicilian hat, and lupara is the local shotgun of record).

You certainly know that Italy's population is over 90% Catholic. It is true that this number is largely exaggerated when it comes to the number of practicing Catholics, but the cultural and societal effects of centuries of Catholicism on issues like adultery, homosexuality, abortion, and contraception cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

Fortunately, in the past forty years, Italy has embraced less drastic means of solving marital trouble, and has now a divorce rate which approaches that of the United States.

So let me ask you: under which interpretation of sacred books do you consider "pumping a full magazine from a handgun into the bodies of your two teenage daughters", with moral justification drawn from the Qu'ran, more egregious the killing of adulteresses, with moral justification drawn from the Bible? If your reply is that honor killings are the rule in Islam and that no one seeks biblical justification any more for killing an unfaithful wife, I would say to you: "not so fast", and "Christianity had a 600 year jump start on Islam, so give the poor fellows time to catch up with our more enlightened ways".

(By the way, I am sure that with a little time and curiosity, neither of which do I possess at this moment, I could find you several examples of fathers who have lashed their daughters with a belt, killed them, or at the very least banished them from their sight, for wearing something too revealing in Christian lands.)

Finally, on this blog I have seen much moral condemnation for Islam and suggestions that Islam is "the greatest threat we face". So I humbly ask: How do you Christians propose to tackle this threat? With Christian charity, or with a policy of armed retaliation and conquest, such as the one practiced by the current administration and supported by many Evangelicals, with the subsequent evangelization of Muslim lands? All that Christians seem to ask, here and elsewhere, is moral condemnation of bad Islamic ways. Conspicuously absent (but please prove me wrong) are the prayers to God that Muslims should come to see the light and abandon the barbaric practice of honor killings, just as Christians were able to see the light and renounce slavery, or grant equal rights to blacks. No one seems it necessary to pray for the Muslim father who committed this atrocious acts. Are Muslims not your brothers and sisters under God?

Jonathan Troust said...

Tim:

Please answer these questions.

If I can cite examples within Christianity or the Bible akin to your conception of honor-killing you would jettison your argument?
Or is that you want to see an equal number of examples?

The AAR community has been publishing several books on this respect, and I encourage you to stay abreast with current research rather than pop, ad-hoc "scholarship."

Lastly, do you realize that your posts sound like "unargued gut reaction[s]?"

Tim said...

SirFab,

You have a curious ability to read things into my comments that I have not said. For example, responding to my point that honor killings were the original topic on this thread you write:

You seem to imply that anyone who ever murdered an adulterous wife in Italy did so not in ignorance of the Biblical justifications/instructions for killing the adulteress (Leviticus, Deuteronomy), and did it simply because Italian men are "hot blooded".

Look up above. I neither said nor implied anything about whether Italian men are hot-blooded. I neither said nor implied anything about whether any murderers of any sort are aware of or ignorant of any particular religious injunctions. These suggestions are entirely of your making.

You ask some leading questions about the moral justifiability of murder. Actually, I don't think it's justified in any circumstances. But that isn't the topic -- the topic is honor killings.

Anticipating (correctly) that I will say that "honor killings are the rule in Islam and that no one seeks biblical justification any more for killing an unfaithful wife," you respond:

"not so fast", and "Christianity had a 600 year jump start on Islam, so give the poor fellows time to catch up with our more enlightened ways".

Here, once again, you seem to admit that Christianity as it is now held and practised by the overwhelming majority of its adherents provides no justification for killing an unfaithful wife.

We are not talking about adultery in Baghdad or Damascus or Genoa in the middle ages; we are talking about honor killings in Texas in 2008. That is what this post was about -- remember?

You write, as an aside:

(By the way, I am sure that with a little time and curiosity, neither of which do I possess at this moment, I could find you several examples of fathers who have lashed their daughters with a belt, killed them, or at the very least banished them from their sight, for wearing something too revealing in Christian lands.)

And if you do, I will condemn it in the strongest possible terms. But we are not talking about a few isolated incidents here: we are talking about a practice that is shockingly widespread in Islamic societies. I am by no means saying that all Muslims approve. My point is simply that when the incidence is high, when it is almost exclusively confined to Islamic societies, and when it is frequently bound up with the belief that such actions are religiously sanctioned, then those societies have a huge problem -- and everyone does right to be concerned about them.

Do we really disagree about this?

You close with the question of how Christians should respond to what they perceive as the Islamic threat. Your collection of rhetorical questions is odd, since you insinuate that the only sincere form of Christianity is a sort of Precious Moments Theism. The only way to address them all would be to pull them apart and analyze them, showing the loaded questions and false assumptions. And no doubt different Christians would respond in different ways. For myself, I will simply say that from the outset I did not see sufficient moral justification for going to war in Iraq, that I do not have a global political solution, that I regularly pray for both Christians and non-Christians in Muslim lands and elsewhere, and that Sheikh Bahaa El-Akkad is one of my heroes.

Sirfab said...

Tim:

Perhaps I read into your post things I should not have, but your depiction of "a cuckolded husband who catches his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto and murders one or both of them" seemed like a slick trick to lighten the issue of adultery as opposed to the crime described in Spencer's article. Besides, it is a fairly typical assumption of foreigners that stereotypical Italians resort to murder to address slights of honor like "being cuckholded." Since I brought up the original example of murders of adulteresses in Italy, it seemed like a logical assumption to make that your own example was conceived as a rebuttal to my own. But I'll take your word for it.

So here's where the discussion stands:

We agree that honor killings of any type are bad.

We disagree that religion-justified idiocy and crimes are an overwhelming prerogative of Islam. They are, in fact, practiced by adherenets of many different religions and take on different forms in different times.

As to the view that Christians have a charitable view of Muslims brothers and sisters, I would contend that most do not. Even if on the face of things most Christians profess that their condemnation of Islam is a condemnation of radical Islam only, it seems that the prevalent depiction of Muslims in the media is that of dangerous, ticking individuals, ready to blow themselves up and to crush the infidels.

And the fact that the media spends so much time focusing on the dangerous aspects or manifestations of Islam and rarely portrays any positive examples of followers of that religion does nothing to change that prevalent view or to lower existing tensions.

That, amongst other things, is why we are still in a war that, as you say, there was no sufficient moral justification for (we agree on that, too).

A nice MLK day to all.

Tim said...

SirFab,

I'm glad we agree that honor killings are bad.

My point about your example was simply that it wasn't an example of honor killings. You are the one who brought up Italy. My own response was more general. Since it doesn't seem to have been clear to you, let me try again: To explain the actions of cuckolded husbands who murder their unfaithful wives we do not, I maintain, need to invoke religion, even if the individuals happen to be nominally religious. Your example is therefore off topic and does not advance your argument. That was my point.

I am certainly not maintaining that Islam has a monopoly on religion-justified idiocy. Christianity has plenty of that as well. It's one of the things Doug gets ... well ... curmudgeonly about on this blog. Once again, the point of the post was honor killings.

I find it frustrating -- and this explains the asperity of some of my comments -- that you keep trying to pull away from that topic, to use the thread instead as a platform for a broad-brush condemnation of religion. There is no excuse for this. The topic is not jejune or remote. The problem of honor killings is urgent; they are happening now, here in the US, and there is every reason to believe that Islam, where they are centered, is not going to make them go away. When Doug raises our awareness of this horror with a timely and informative post, I would like to stick to the topic.

Sirfab said...

You are welcome to your opinion that the type of honor killings I offered as an example (murder of adulterous women is off-topic). I disagree. Let's leave it at that.

I think Dr. Groothuis's original post (and it is one in a series of negative posts about Islam), however well-intentioned, paints a picture of Islam that fosters division and singles out one religion's faults, where it seems to me that there is a lot of blame to go around.

Tim said...

SirFab,

My contention is not that you have offered an example of an honor killing that is off topic, but that you have offered an example of something that is not an honor killing, and that is why your example is not germane. The wrath of a husband who believes that his wife has been unfaithful is a transcultural, transreligious phenomenon -- see Ovid's Metamorphoses, or the Aztec Codex Mendoza, or Othello. Though some societies may do more than others to facilitate a murderous rage, it is not a phenomenon that calls for either a religious or a cultural explanation.

On the other hand, honor killings are regularly carried out by brothers or cousins as well as by fathers. Here we need a societal or religious explanation.

That is why it seems to me that your example is simply an instance of something different.