Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Honor Killings: When Mothers Turn Against Their Own Daughters

On the first day of 2008 in the city of Irving (just west of Dallas), two teenage sisters, Amina and Sara Said, were murdered by their own father, an Egyptian Muslim immigrant. When I first heard that the girls' father was being sought in connection with their murders and I heard his name (it's Arabic), my first thought was that it was probably an honor killing. And my next thought was, "How could that happen here in Texas?!" Now, not all honor killings are committed by Arab men, and not all cases of children being killed by their fathers are honor killings. But honor killings happen frequently in the Middle East and have started to occur more frequently in western countries among immigrants from the Middle East and other Islamic countries.

Phyllis Chesler, of Pajamas Media, has a series analyzing the phenomenon of honor killing, especially as it applies to the Said case. The first installments of the series are here, and here. Today, she addresses the role of mothers that are complicit in the honor killings of their daughter (as in the Said case) in her article, "Murderous Mothers: The Hidden Female Face of Honor Killing."

Most of us probably can't fathom a parent being either directly or indirectly involved in murdering our own children. It runs counter to natural parental love for one thing. In her article, Chesler discusses the cultural and psychological factors that may have contributed to Patricia Said's involvement in her daughters' murders. Here's an excerpt (read the whole thing):

In the Arab and Muslim world—and in “Tissie’s ” world in Dallas , daughters are nothing but “trouble.” Their chastity has to be guarded, their modesty ensured. Otherwise, they will bring shame to their entire family. Among other things, this means that no one will marry the family’s sons or the other daughters. Disobedient daughters are dangerous and expendable.

But “Tissie” lives in Dallas, Texas. Why does she behave as if she lived in the Middle East?
Some of “Tissie’s” female relatives believe that she converted to Islam. However, they are not entirely sure since she has behaved in secretive ways. They have seen (or were told about) photos of “Tissie” and Yasser in Arab dress, posing with guns and knives in exaggerated “jihadic” poses. But they are unclear about whether Yasser and his family are religious or not. Or political. Or criminal. Violent—yes. Murderously “crazy” on the subject of women—yes. Gun-loving—yes.
But some non-Arabs and non-Muslims in America also engage in these behaviors—but not necessarily in all of these behaviors simultaneously: Some own guns and participate in a macho gun culture. Some batter and stalk their wives and physically and sexually abuse their daughters. Non-Arab and non-Muslim mothers also stand by their batterers (who may have girlfriends, and who, like Yasser, may leave for extended periods of time); and, they have been known to scapegoat their daughters for having “provoked” paternal lust.

But, such parents do not usually kill their daughters. And, if they do, they are seen as monsters, not heroes. Their families often give them up. They do not shelter them. Their families testify against them. (Recently in Israel, which in many ways is a western democracy, the women of an Arab Muslim family all testified against their men after the ninth female relative had been honor murdered). Our western culture has at least criminalized wife- and daughter-battering, incest, stalking, and femicide. While we may not always be successful in preventing or prosecuting such behaviors, we know that they constitute crimes.


So what can be done to prevent such monstrous crimes? According to the friends of the Said sisters, they had been sending out calls for help, but they were only recognized after their murders. Like other cases of severe child abuse, the best way to help these children is to establish relationships of trust, to listen to them, and report if abuse is suspected. Patricia Said tried to leave her husband and take her daughters with her. Unfortunately, like many abused women, she went back to him. Ultimately, there is little we can do in cases like this except to try to be good neighbors (maybe being a little nosey wouldn't hurt!) and reach out to troubled families.

1 comment:

For All Women Foundation said...

This is one of the many misconceptions about dishonor killings. Women are often complicit in them (and I am not referring here to the victims).

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