There is no such thing as an “honour killing”

By Dan Delmar on March 12, 2012


It has become part of the Canadian lexicon thanks to the furor surrounding the Shafia quadruple murder trial. This concept of an “honour killing” has been widely condemned and strikes most people as shocking and revolting. But the condemnations are in vain and may even be counter-productive. In reality, these types of murders are no more or no less heinous than any other; let us dismantle the Muslim straw man and stop pretending that honour killings really exist.

The notion first gained steam in the public discourse when, at the start of the trial in Kingston, Ontario, the Crown argued that Mohammad and Hamed Shafia and Tooba Yahya plotted to murder Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti Shafia, along with second wife Rona Amir Mohammad, because the four women had brought dishonour onto the family. 

Evidently, the head of the household believed that drowning them all would restore honour to the Shafia name. By all accounts, Mohammad failed on that score. 

After the trio were found guilty of first degree murder, Justice Robert Maranger reminded the Court of the following crucial points:

The murders were “cold-blooded, heinous and honourless,” he said, adding that the women were murdered because they “offended your completely twisted concept of honour…that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.”

With an air-tight case thanks to diligent police work, one can’t help but wonder how the tone of media coverage would have differed had the Crown not bothered weaving the concept of honour killings into its argument. But they did and a more titillating narrative was sold – and bought by the jury and the media consumer. 

Before long, pundits were sounding the alarm about a supposed rise in Muslim extremism in Canada and calling for reactionary legislation to respond to what, by all accounts, was an isolated incident (tragic and horrifying, yes, but isolated nonetheless). By simply acknowledging the murders as honour killings, the Crown and journalists did a disservice to those who believe in a fair and impartial justice system; not to mention the majority of sane Muslim-Canadians across the country.

It may seem like an absurd question at first glance, but…had Mohammad Shafia decided to murder half of his family because a talking purple unicorn told him to do so, would we then have labelled the crime a “purple unicorn killing,” and treated the case as somehow more disturbing or more relevant because of the unicorn factor? Or would we have processed the events like any other story of a killing on the evening news: With fleeting, superficial grief and proportionally fleeting resentment toward the misogynistic sociopath who committed the crime? 


The aggravating factor that made the case more sensational was the element of foreign intrigue; the Shafias are Muslims newly emigrated from Afghanistan. They come from a place that isn’t exactly a leader in women’s rights – or justice (by our standards) in general. Although honour killings are also seen in South-Asian cultures and not accepted by mainstream Islam (the practice was, in fact, outlawed by the Prophet Mohammed), many still viewed this as a Muslim issue.

In arguing against the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public, I found myself reiterating that a practice seen amongst only the most delusional religious fundamentalists and rejected by the vast majority of Muslims around the World should not be accepted by Canadians as a legitimate facet of Islam. The same should apply to honour killings. Yes, Mohammad Shafia happened to be Muslim – but he also happened to be a bloody lunatic. At a certain point, one must avoid blaming an entire religion or ancient scripture for the actions of a free-thinking individual, and instead focus the blame on that flawed individual who either perverts his own cultural parameters or laughably tries to apply stone-age practices to modern living. 

Muslims themselves are doing a disservice to their culture in addressing the honour issue. Calgary imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of the authoritative-sounding Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, recently issued a fatwa (decree) along with 34 other North American imams condemning honour killings and domestic violence. Publicly stating that violence against women is, in fact, forbidden in 2012 essentially demonstrates to Canadians that a significant part of the community is still living as if it were 2,000 years in the past. Issuing a religious decree to combat crimes committed in the name of religion is simply attempting to combat lunacy with more lunacy.  

Islam is as much to blame for the Shafia murders as Christianity was to blame for Guy Turcotte killing his two young children in 2009. There is no rationalizing an act so irrational – the religious element should be irrelevant. Whether the motive was to bring honour back to the family name or to seek revenge on a former lover, these men were angry misogynists who viewed women as their property. In practical terms, that was their motive; anything else is just a fairytale concocted in their twisted minds.

There is no such thing as an “honour killing” because the concept exists only within a few insular, antiquated subcultures that accept the killing of women based on their wardrobe. Those subcultures are so backward and primitive that their beliefs ought not to even be dignified by Canadians because they’re so absurd and wrong. Doing so, as the Crown and some journalists did in the Shafia case, only legitimizes practices that are found in populations suffering from mass delusion. It opens the door for defence lawyers and practitioners of cultural relativism to advocate for more lenient sentences for murderers like the Shafias because it’s not their fault…it’s all they know. 

Interestingly enough, the Shafia defence team denied (and continues to deny) that this was an honour crime – or any crime, for that matter, as they maintain their innocence and plan an appeal. The denial could be construed as a positive sign because perhaps their legal team established that the ‘culture clash’ defence just wouldn’t work in a Canadian court. 

Under exceptional circumstances like these, it is perfectly acceptable to reason that one culture is better than another. And Canadian culture is superior to whatever culture the Shafias consider themselves to be a part of. So superior, in fact, that when cases like these come up, it’s probably best to just offer up a simpler, less dramatic narrative and call it like it is: Murder. Ignore the purple unicorn in the room. 



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