This week a 16 year old girl in Malmö plunged to her death from a 4th story balcony. Two men, relatives of the girl, who according to witness reports were standing on the balcony with her at the time, had been arrested on suspicion of murder or manslaughter. The family is from Iraq and the police is talking about honor murder. (see here and here)
The case started off a debate in Sweden about 'honor murders'. In an opinion article in Aftenbladet (Swedish), Mohamed Omar, the head editor for Minaret magazine claims there's no difference between honor murders and jealousy murders or 'family dramas'. They're all about man's control over a woman and seeing the woman as one's own property. In 1990-2005, 240 women were murdered for 'jealousy' reasons in Sweden. In the same time period, 11 women were killed in 'honor' murders. There's nothing special about honor murders.
Omar brings quite a few examples from all over the world of women or children who were killed by the father in the family, as well as several 'honor' murders in non-Muslim families - for example Sikhs or Yazidis. He also brings a case of an ethnic Swede family where the father attacked his daughter for going out with an Arab.
Omar claims that honor murder has nothing to do with Islam and that murder is forbidden in Islam. Theoretically, he's right. In practice though, 'honor' is considered an extenuating circumstance for murder cases in Muslim countries. Apparently, jurists in Muslim countries do think that 'honor murder' is different.
Omar's claim is not unusual. There are many people who think all murders of women can be bunched up in one category.
What is special about honor murders? How is honor murder different from a case where a boyfriend kills his girlfriend, or a husband kills his children and commits suicide just to get back at his wife? In both cases, people are killed. So, what is the difference?
Here are a few points to consider:
An honor murder stems from the murderer's sense of responsibility towards his family and society while a family drama comes when the murderer loses his sense of responsibility. An "honor" murderer is in charge of his faculties, while a "family drama" one can usually be considered insane.
A "family drama" is usually unexpected, even when the murderer has a personal record of previous domestic violence, while an "honor murder" usually has a very clear cause and effect. It is therefore much more severe, as the murderer is working by simple logic.
Additionally there is the important part of society's support. The general murderer is not supported by society, while the "honor" murderer is acting because his society is expecting him to do it. They shun the victim and applaud the murderer. An honor murderer might not even want to murder his daughter, sister or niece, but he feels pressured by his society to do so.
An honor murder is the culmination of a lifetime of fear. A girl who grows up in an honor culture knows that even a neighbor thinking he saw her do something, could spell death for her. Her behavior will determine her father's family honor, forever. For every girl killed in an honor murder, there are countless others who suffer silently.
A woman threatened by her boyfriend knows she has her family's support. A girl threatened by her brother for going out with the wrong guy, doesn't.
Honor murder is different. It's different for the victim, it's different for the murderer and his accomplices and it's different for the authorities who want to prevent it beforehand, or investigate it later. It is easy to just throw all types of murders together and claim there's no difference between them, but by doing so, one loses the ability to deal with the problem.
See also: Is it an "honor" murder? A checklist, The disgrace of honor murders, Sharia in the Netherlands?