Thursday, 17 December 2009

Murder is murder, whatever the victim's faith.

Today Mehmet Goren was finally found guilty of the murder of Tulay Goren, his 15-year-old daughter (pictured), in 1999. The reportage on the verdict has followed the pattern laid down in this and countless other trials: Tulay Goren became 'Honour Death Girl', because at the time of her disappearance she was in a sexual relationship with an older man who adhered to a different branch of the Muslim faith, and headlines exoticising her father's brutal crime as an 'Honour Killing' are smeared like semiotic whitewash all over the British press.

But Mehmet Goren was not found guilty of 'Honour Killing'. He was found guilty of 'murder'.

The term 'honour killing' is sexist, xenophobic and crashingly unhelpful to everyone working to end domestic violence against women everywhere. The newspapers are fascinated by honour killing in British-Asian cultures, as if excuses for violence against women sanctioned by religious and social mores were something entirely alien, something we've not seen in Britain for centuries, if at all.

Well, tell that to lawyers defending Trevor Ferguson, who last month defended a charge of murder on the grounds of 'provocation and diminished responsibility' - because his victim, Karen McGraw, 50, had ended their sexual relationship. Ferguson's response was to stab Ms McGraw to death - just the latest example of a white British 'honour killing', although the lonely death of Karen McGraw was no more 'honourable' than the death of Tulay Goren. Ferguson was one of hundreds of murderers and rapists in the past century alone who have claimed that a partner's sluttish or sexually provoking behaviour meant that they were justified in resorting to violence.

The defence of provocation to murder, colloquially known as the 'cuckold's defence', has been enshrined in British law for centuries. It was used right up until November this year in order to allow men who kill their partners out of anger following adultery or sexual strife to claim reduced responsibility. The law is now being repealed after a long legal battle, mainly by women's groups, and will be replaced by several amendments to the current sentencing guidelines on murder, allowing some leniency for men and women who kill their partners out of fear of violence or domestic abuse in order to make it easier for judges who have up until now been constrained by this frantic double-standard in handing out sentences.

That's right. Until just a few weeks ago, Britain was a country in which stabbing your girlfriend for having an affair was technically manslaughter, but killing your abuser and persecutor was definitely murder. How can we talk with honesty about the problem of 'honour killing' in Islamic cultures when up and down the country, week after bloody week, men from every background have been murdering women out of pride and jealousy and getting off lightly? How can members of the English Defence League and other anti-Islamic organisations talk about 'protecting women and children' from Islam when an estimated 12% of young girls and 8% of young boys experience sexual abuse as children, 86% of these within their own homes,at the hands of a family member or acquaintance?

The press's little fetish about violence and abuse of women in non-white families, particularly in Islamic families, is not a matter of cultural sensitivity. Bollocks to cultural sensitivity: this is about hypocrisy, and violence, and protecting women's rights. Exoticising murder in Asian families as 'honour killing' is a way of distancing everyone else from the urgent problem of domestic violence against women, children and a small proportion of men. It also serves to portray Asian men as unusually violent, or uniquely misogynist; in fact, Muslim men do not have a monopoly on violence, misogyny and murder.

Social, sexual and religious excuses for violence against women have been deployed for centuries, in every single patriarchal culture. There is nothing 'exotic' or 'honourable' about femicides that occur within Asian families: murdering and abusing women because of their sexual behaviour is not an only entirely normal occurance, it merited special defence in law just a few short weeks ago. If there ever comes a day when only Asian women, boys and girls are being murdered, raped and abused by their families, then come back and talk to me about 'Islamification' and the unique problem of 'Honour Killing'. Until then, for women as well as men, black and asian people as well as white people, murder is murder is murder.

29 comments:

  1. Another excellent article. Thank you. :-)

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  2. "The term 'honour killing' is sexist, xenophobic and crashingly unhelpful to everyone working to end domestic violence against women everywhere."

    Well it's a killing, and it's about honour, so what would you suggest we call it? No-one denies it's murder, but it's obviously not the same as, say, one drug dealer shooting a rival which is also murder but is rather better described as a "gangland killing" or something.

    or take "happy slapping" which is neither happy nor involves slapping (usually), and legally it's "assault" of course, but it's still a useful phrase that everyone understands.

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  3. Hah! Thanks for this article. I was *just* about to write something scathing myself about this after hearing the term something like 10 times in the same news piece. I think I'll just link to this, now!

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  4. Neuroskeptic: 'Honour killing' is still used without any irony. If the headline read "Father murdered daughter for disobeying him" the effect would be strongly different from that of "Father commits 'honour killing'".

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  5. Correction: End of penultimate paragraph, you say "portrays ASIAN men... in fact, MUSLIM men..." with reference to the same group of people. You obviously didn't mean this.

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  6. You really need to read Jacqueline Rose's piece on 'honour killing' in the LRB last month; it's long, but worth it:

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n21/jacqueline-rose/a-piece-of-white-silk

    Rose writes: 'It is crucial that we do not fall into the trap of seeing honour killing .. as the expression of an alien culture, religion or tradition that has no resonance in the West.' But that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to reject the whole concept of honour killing. To quote Rose again: 'To write about honour killing is in the first instance simply to demand that these crimes be talked about and seen.'

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  7. Obviously if we are going to apply the rule of diminished responsibility we should do so on the grounds of how we suppose extreme emotion effected the accused`s behaviour, rather than our political proclivities.

    This is a bit of a contradiciton in your argument. On the one hand you`re saying that we shouldn`t draw a distinction between the violent practices of the native English and those of more recent arrivals. The majority of English people find the idea of killing your children because they are having sex harder to understand than the idea of killing a cheating spouse. The law and language shouldn`t reflect this since we should aim for neutrality and accept differing cultural practices (or in this case, reject them with the same level of enthusiasm).

    On the other hand, people killing their partners in revenge for violence is far more aceptable to society than people killing their partners as revenge for cheating. Because of our (actually your) cultural preferences.

    Hmmmm... so really, aren`t you exactly the same as the people moaning on about honour killings? You can`t really criticise them on any grounds other than "I don`t like you" (which again just adds grist to their mill.)

    Poor show Ms. Red.
    Poor show.

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  8. CJ I don`t think the term "honour killing" is being used to excuse the behaviour. It`s being used to say "Look at these strange people with their funny sense of honour."

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  9. The newspapers are fascinated by honour killing in British-Asian cultures, as if excuses for violence against women sanctioned by religious and social mores were something entirely alien, something we've not seen in Britain for centuries, if at all.

    Two points. No difference to the victim, but honour killing is motivated by a perceived stain on the honour or status of the family. "Standard" DV murders are motivated by the jealousy or rage of an individual as an individual.

    Honour killing in times past was not unknown here. The Scots ballad 'Mill O'Tifty's Annie' tells the story of a miller's daughter who loves 'beneath her', and tells the local lord, who's also interested in her, to get lost - in front of her family. Note that the balladeer does not approve.

    But there aren't many such songs in the UK. Far more common are standard 'murdering the unfaithful wife' ballads like Matty Groves.


    "At this her faither struck her sore
    And likewise did her mother
    Her sisters all they did her scorn
    But woe be tae her brother

    For her brother struck her wondrous sore
    With cruel strokes and many
    He broke her back against the high hall door
    All for loving Andrew Lammie

    "Oh faither, mother, sisters all
    Why sae cruel tae your Annie ?
    My heart was broken first by love
    Now my brother's broke my body"

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  10. Laurie:

    I think you have misunderstood the purpose of the term 'honour' killing. The term is used to denote a murder which is done is order to restore the person's/familiy's standing within a 'community'. This sort of thing doesn't really happen in the 'white community'. It is of course still murder, but the nature of it is different, and it can only be tackled by understanding that difference (hence the specialist women's charities that exist mainly to deal with such cases).

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  11. 'people killing their partners in revenge for violence is far more aceptable to society than people killing their partners as revenge for cheating. Because of our (actually your) cultural preferences.'

    No, Mark, if you'll actually read the articles Iink to, it's not about killing in 'revenge' for violence. It's about killing a violent partner when one is genuinely in fear of one's life, the lives of one's children, etc. The change in the law specifically rejects killing with purely 'revenge' in mind and defends people who kill out of fear, including fear of being killed themselves.

    Or is it difficult for you to understand/accept that some people, most of them women, live in mortal fear of their partner or another family member?

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  12. Rumbold,

    Of course I understand that 'honour killing' does not occur in a vacuum; of course there are cultural issues involved. But I don't understand why it 'can only be tackled by understanding the difference'. I understand why women need safe spaces that cater to their individual needs, but in terms of convicting, sentencing and talking about violent men who abuse and even kill the women in their families, creating a whole different set of terms for 'honour killing' does a disservice to everyone involved - stereotyping Asian men, making crimes against Asian women seem somehow different or removed from crimes against non-Asian women, encouraging cultural segregation, and finally diminishing the problem of domestic violence against women as a whole.

    Maybe I didn't properly articulate that what I'm talking about here is the language. Of course honour killing needs to be addressed, and urgently - but not using language that defines it as an alien thing that separates Asians from non-asians, non-Asian from Asian victims of domestic abuse and violence. Why is it not enough to say that Mehmet Goren murdered his daughter because he didn't like who she was sleeping with? Why does it have to be defined as separate from all the other - ALL the other - men up and down the country who abuse and batter their fifteen-year-old daughters? I'm sure you're not trying to imply that only Asians abuse, degrade and kill their children.

    I think that a strategy to deal with all cases of violence against women should be serious enough and penetrating enough to pay serious attention to everyone's needs, whilst giving individual women the support they need. Victims of abuse where 'community honour' comes in to play may well need a different approach in counselling - but their abusers do not need to be treated any differently.

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  13. Great article.

    Neuroskeptic: Do you disagree that the term 'honour killing' is sexist and xenophobic?

    There are certainly other examples of this kind of lazy shorthand that the media use: you give two. I think that they are almost always problematic, serving to deflect attention from the real issue and imply that these are crimes being committed by people who aren't like us against people who aren't like us. Hence we don't really need to worry about them.

    You say '[happy slapping us] a useful phrase that everyone understands'. Do you mean by useful anything more than 'easy to use' (which does not really count in favour of using it)? And yes, perhaps everyone understands it, but what, really, do they understand by it?

    'Honour killing' is one of the most unpleasant of this bunch, as it functions not only to deflect attention from the real, really fucking important issue, which is violence against and abuse of women; and to simultaneously make it sound as if the problem is somehow peculiar to Muslim (not 'native English' in Mark's charming terminology) communities, which I'm sorry but it ain't.

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  14. Yes, don't hate Asians, just hate men instead. Aren't they all utter bastards.

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  15. Wouldn't ignoring the 'honour' aspect put girls like Tulay even more at risk?

    It's difficult enough getting the police to take domestic violence seriously without politically correctly denying that cultural differences play a part in these crimes.

    Especially considering the police say their ignorance about honour killings delayed Mehment Goren's conviction for 10 years. It's just luck he didn't kill his other daughter or his wife in that period.

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  16. Penny - in the linked article, Harman states that a man`s anger at his wife leaving him doesn`t "justify" murder. Obviously not - but the point here surely isn`t whether the action is justified but whether the defendant was in their right mind when they committed the crime.
    I think by her choice of language there is an implication that she considers women who kill abusive husbands to be justified in their actions, and that this is the reason she wishes to change the law.
    Should we just reject law and order now and turn over to mob rule, feminist revenge killings and "the court of public opinion" entirely?

    Anyway, I`d have assumed that women defending themselves against an immediate threat would be alright anyway (as long as using reasonable force). So I guess we`re talking here about taking out some guy while he`s sleeping because you`re afraid he`ll kill you when he wakes up. Fair enough, we can take into account her mental state when sentencing her, but if she had the opportunity to leave, call the police or take any other number of actions this is pretty much exactly the same thing as a man killing his wife because she`s cheating.
    An absolutely unnacceptable crime commited by someone who was provoked and acting under the influence of extreme emotion.

    Seems to me like another case of "shut up you stupid English men, you`re all bad, we`re all good - and that`s not even a matter of opinion it`s an absolute fact"

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  17. Don't be so reductive, Mark, it only shows you up.

    The point is that anger is an emotion that people are supposed to be able to control. People can and should control their response to being sexually humiliated. Fear, on the other hand, is something that's imposed on people from outside; and actually, not all people who are abused by partners feel that they have opportunities to leave. 'Noone will believe you' and 'you have nowhere else to go' are the first tools that abusers use to control their victims. People who kill their abusers out of fear and desperation should face criminal charges, of course, but there's no way that's the same level of culpability as someone who murders his cheating partner in a blind rage.

    I believe that people should be able to control themselves when they're angry, or drunk, or otherwise 'seeing red'. You may think I'm just talking about men, and it's true tat more men have trouble controlling their angry and violent impulses, in part because many aspects of our culture encourage male violence. But I've personally been on the recieving end of a good deal of violence from women who, like men, believed that they had no responsibility to control their anger or their drunkenness. NOONE should expect to be able to use 'out of control with drink/anger' as an excuse for violence or abuse.

    'Anyway, I`d have assumed that women defending themselves against an immediate threat would be alright anyway (as long as using reasonable force).'

    You might well have assumed that. Unfortunately, that's very far from the case. It seems obvious to both you and me that the law should work like this - but actually, it didn't until very recently. That's what this change to the murder law is about.

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  18. "Do you disagree that the term 'honour killing' is sexist and xenophobic?"

    I'm less interested in that than in whether "honour killings", whatever you want to call them, happen. If you have a better term please use it, but I've yet to see one.

    "There are certainly other examples of this kind of lazy shorthand that the media use: you give two. I think that they are almost always problematic, serving to deflect attention from the real issue and imply that these are crimes being committed by people who aren't like us against people who aren't like us. Hence we don't really need to worry about them."

    Calling one gang member shooting another a "gangland killing" may not be entirely accurate, but for 2 words it's not bad. It's a killing, and its about gangs. I don't think terms like this deflect attention from the "real issue". What's the real issue behind gangland killings? Gangs? Well, that's right there in those two words. Poverty? Ultimately pretty much all crime is about poverty so should we rename crime "poverty-related antisocial behaviour"? Maybe we should. But until we do, I think "gangland killing" is as good a term as any & "honor killing" likewise.

    "Do you mean by useful anything more than 'easy to use' (which does not really count in favour of using it)?"

    Well it's a phrase that refers to a thing. It does its job in other words.

    "And yes, perhaps everyone understands it, but what, really, do they understand by it?"

    You'd have to ask them, but I'd bet most people's understanding of "happy slapping" is better than before they heard of happy slapping.

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  19. Sorry Miss.

    It seems obvious to me, that on a fundamental level we are not governed by reason - we can only control our anger because some other emotion comes to the fore and proves to be more powerful. Maybe this emotion is love, pride, some vague social sense, fear - whatever - but what it most certainly is not is some central kernel of reason which we can rely upon as a matter of course to tell us what to do.

    By suggesting that anger is something which we should all be able to control, (in the most extreme circumstances) you are demonstrating that you are either a person who has never experienced rage or that you do not consider infidelity to be a particuarly extreme provocation.
    I`m going for number 2 here and it says more about your personal cultural preferences than anything else. My love, pride and sense of what is social right can be destroyed by infidelity, and your refusal to acknowledge the depth of emotion is an atempt to engineer a society in which fidelity is an irrelevence.

    Which brings me back to my original contradiction point.


    Seriously though, fear and anger are much of a muchness - you can`t really claim that we should be able to control one but not the other.

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  20. Laurie:

    Sorry, I didn't explain myself clearly. 'Honour' killings/'honour'-based violence is caused by the need to re-assert one's position in the community. No other domestic violence scenario has this element. Even men (or women) who kill their cheating partners aren't doing this, because no one will then turn round and say that the stain on their honour has been cleansed.

    I shouldn't have said "only". It was the wrong word. But what campaigners/workers on the ground have been saying for years is that (a) this sort of thing can't be excused by cultural differences (which you agree with), and (b) you need specialists trained in this field. 'Honour' killings tend to involve more than one killer, and are carefully planned.

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  21. calling it something other than murder is just one more way in which brutality against women is diminished, minimised and made "other".

    thanks for this.

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  22. Well, it's not necessarily an Asian or Middle Eastern thing. Murders of women motivated by family/clan honour still happen regularly in some European societies, in southern Italy or Albania for example. The cultural aspect is something you have to be aware of and it's something to be taken up within communities, but I'm wary of outsiders using it to essentialise minorities.

    I'd also be wary of tying it into essentialist arguments about Islam. Irish society has horrific levels of rape and sexual abuse, but I don't think that has a great deal to do with Catholicism as such. Not to dismiss the anger of Catholics who would expect their spiritual leaders to live to a higher standard, but it's not as if the non-Catholic Irish have such a great record. It goes much broader in our society than what's been detailed in the Murphy report.

    I very much agree with you, though, on your main point. The criminal justice system has a woeful record in dealing with domestic violence - it's shocking that the cuckold's defence is only now being dealt with - and needs to be taken much more seriously. That isn't helped by media commentary on things like the Tulay case giving the impression that there's an aggravated offence of "murder while Muslim". That just obscures the real levels of violence against women in broader society by shuffling off responsibility onto the Other.

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  23. All I want to say is, Penny you rock. You said exactly what I feel whenever I see another headline about 'honour' killings. Ignore the haters, your writing has gotten steadily better since you began - and it was always excellent to begin with.

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  24. "You might well have assumed that. Unfortunately, that's very far from the case. It seems obvious to both you and me that the law should work like this - but actually, it didn't until very recently. That's what this change to the murder law is about."

    I think Mark was talking about self-defence, which is a defence which has been around for many centuries. The problem is that you need fear of *imminent* violence, not just violence at some point in the future. Hence the need for the reforms.

    "The point is that anger is an emotion that people are supposed to be able to control. People can and should control their response to being sexually humiliated. Fear, on the other hand, is something that's imposed on people from outside;"

    I'm not convinced this is the best way to distinguish the two. It's not that fear is necessarily more difficult to control; it's that killing out of fear of violence prevents a wrongful act, whereas killing out of anger does not (it usually just 'punishes' for a previous act).

    As for the main issue here, I definitely sympathise with the feeling that the Honour Killing label can act to ignore violence against women more generally. However, as a general rule it *is* better to separate out different categories of crime when dealing with them - failing to take seriously the different issues involved doesn't help women. So it's better to consider them as a special category, while at the same time making it clear that it is far from the only type of violence against women going on.

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  25. Pejar - killing out of fear prevents a wrongful act, whereas killing out of anger does not?

    Not exactly a watertight distinction between the two, is it?* Anway, if this is how we`re going to try cases, it`d be better to determine the punishment on the moral quality of the victim rather than the emotional state of the perp. Obviously this would require us to abandon the rule of law and accept mob justice - but c`est la vie eh?
    And if we want to establish a femminist superstate, we should just abandon all pretense of reason and fairness and just honestly admit that we want to make it easier for women to kill horrible husbands - and that we are more concerned about this crime and these women than we are about other victims who don`t happen to be women.


    *How about those guys who beat the criminal who had threatened their family into a bloody brain damaged pulp? He was acting out of anger and yet he has almost certainly prevented that man from commiting any further crime. For that matter, would you support the lynching of pedophiles? Quadrospazes on lifeglugs?
    How about if the mob claimed to be really, really scared?

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  26. To be fair, the BBC news did call it a "so-called honor killing". I think that is a step in the right direction. But no, as you say, despicable.

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  27. Wish there was a way of life without all these things. Seriously... Just wanna live a life without getting distracted. anyway... I am reviewer of LG GR500 Mobile phone

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  28. No one should die being murdered. It's not how it should be. well,, we all know it,, but it just happens more and more. I am blogger on onkyo tx-nr809

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  29. Well murder is murder no matter how they try to paint it or call it not to be what it is. i have a video here www.youtube.com

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