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Problems That Are Older Than Islam
by James Dunnigan
September 8, 2014

Pakistan has seen the growing use of acid to attack (to blind and disfigure) women who have somehow offended the honor of men she is related to. Not just brothers, but also cousins and uncles. Acid attacks are also used by Islamic terrorists trying to discourage young women and girls from getting an education or having any fun. But the majority of these acid attacks have nothing to do with religion and are all about ancient (before Buddhism, Christianity and Islam) tribal customs.  Americans, and Westerners in general, are only gradually becoming aware of these very different cultural norms.

As more Westerners went into Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 they witnessed things that were quite disturbing. A major horror was the prevalence of “honor killings” in the region. This is an ancient custom whereby a woman perceived as acting in a way that reflects badly on the family may be killed by a male relative to maintain the family “honor”. Thus women suspected of adultery or refusing to marry the man her parents have selected for her (or marrying someone they did not select) or getting raped are automatically at risk of being murdered to redeem family honor. In Afghanistan it was discovered that at least two or three women were killed each week for “honor”. There were believed to be more, whose fate was kept quiet (which is another part of the honor angle). There were also even more rapes. Some of these overlapped with honor killing incidents. Rape victims who were not murdered to preserve honor are often prosecuted for unseemly behavior. It’s believed there were more cases of rape because this sort of thing is usually kept quiet (if only because more than a third of the time male relatives are the rapists).

Actually, women are being singled out here because Afghan society has long been known to be particularly brutal, with men behaving badly with each other and children often savagely abused as well. This is quite common in tribal cultures, where murder (and other crime) rates are much higher than in more advanced cultures.

It’s not just Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Iraq police arrested the woman in 2009 who was responsible for recruiting most of the female suicide bombers used in the previous year. The woman freely confessed that she convinced widows, rape victims and orphans that their only choice (to maintain their honor) was to kill themselves in a suicide attack. Some of the rape victims were raped by terrorists in order to make it easier to recruit them. Acid attacks also occur in Arab countries, and among Hindus in India as well.

The U.S. has had exposure to “honor killings” in the past. For over a centuries police have occasionally had to deal with recent immigrants from southern Europe (who began arriving in large numbers during the late 19th century) killing daughters for being “too American” and bringing dishonor on the family. These killing were as common in Europe several centuries ago as they are in the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia today. But gradually these brutal customs fade away. In some parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia that process is far from complete.

 

 


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