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News Link • Religion: Believers

Honor killings in Phoenix

• Clarion Project

A Muslim man in Arizona was arrested for four honor killings — his wife, two daughters and the man with whom he believed his wife was having an affair.

According to Phoenix Police Sergeant Tommy Thompson, "[Austin Smith] said that the reason he shot these individuals is because in God's eyes, it was all right for him to deal with someone in this manner who had been involved in adultery, extramarital affairs."

Smith also told police he killed his seven-year-old daughter because she was "weeping for the wicked."

According to court documents, he said spared his three-year old who was found hiding under a bed because she reminded him of himself.

As in many cases of honor crimes, some will protest this was merely a case of domestic violence (not withstanding the horrific nature of the crime). And in truth, what is the difference?

Quite simply, even though we don't know Smith's psychological profile, we can surmise someone capable of killing his children in cold blood – not to mention his wife and her suspected lover – has to be deranged on a certain level.

Yet, when we look at the underlying ideology that drove his behavior, we also have to conclude that believing that such actions are sanctioned by God is quite motivating. While Smith may be a convert to Islam, those steeped from birth in the honor culture indicative of many Muslim countries have taken in this ideology in a rational way – and when circumstances presented themselves, many have seen fit to act on it.

Take the case of Shafilea Ahmed, who was just 17 when her parents forced her siblings to watch as they stuffed a plastic bag into her mouth and suffocated her to death. Ahmed, whose family had moved to the UK, was horrifically abused by those same parents for years over the fact that she was too Westernized. Her murder was not a spur-of-the-moment decision – a crime of passion in a moment of anger — according to family members.

It took nine years before any family member was willing to break the silence and tell the police (who had never conclusively been able to prove the honor killing) what really happened.

"In a new documentary, 'When Missing Turns To Murder,' journalists, investigators and friends of the Ahmed family reveal the harrowing extent of Shafilea's abuse, and the wall of silence the police were met with from her family and the wider community following her death," The Sun reported the same week as the Arizona honor killings occurred.

To understand how honor killing is institutionalized in many Muslim countries, one only needs to look at their penal codes:

-In areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, a man who kills a relative is either pardoned, given a suspended sentence or six months to three years imprisonment which is reduced further once appealed.

-In Syria, an honor killer was exempt from punishment until 2009 when the punishment for honor killing became a minimum of just two years in prison.

-Jordan, which has one of the highest rates of honor killings, and in Iraq, punishments are significantly reduced for honor crimes, as directed by the penal code.

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