Guest Blogger: Merry Jones
Thrillers and mysteries are supposed to entertain. I write with that in mind. But sometimes, in the course of writing those entertaining books, I come across information that affects me. For example, while doing research for BEHIND THE WALLS, I learned about the following:
Case 1: In 2008, a woman in Saudi Arabia was killed by her father for chatting to a man on Facebook. The killing aroused public outrage, but not for its brutality; rather, for Facebook’s role in causing family strife.
Case 2: In 2002, a Kurdish man in London stabbed his daughter to death because, after hearing that a love song had been dedicated to her, he suspected she had a boyfriend.
Case 3: In 2010, a Sikh man murdered his daughter for being too “westernized” in her attitudes and style.
I’ve mentioned only three, but the list of killings of girls and women by their family members goes on and on. It spans decades, centuries, even millennia. It crosses cultures, religions, countries and continents. But, despite their differences in time, place and ethnicities, the cases are basically alike: They are all honor killings.
Honor killings. No doubt you’ve heard of them. I had, but never paid much attention until writing a book where a victim’s family is suspected of killing her.
In my research, I learned about “honor killings,” a specific set of homicides in which a member of a family or social group is murdered by others in the family or group in order to avenge perceived dishonor or shame brought upon them by the victim. Mostly, these crimes occur among Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian cultures. Each year they claim over 20,000 lives.
Over 20,000 fathers killing daughters, brothers killing sisters.
So, what sort of dishonor is so unbearable that it leads a father, brother, mother or uncle to kill a daughter, sister or niece?
Well, there are many. The victim can be guilty of:
Dressing in a manner disapproved of by the family.
Associating with men independently.
Opposing an arranged marriage.
Desiring to marry by choice.
Wanting to end a marriage—even an abusive one.
Adopting behaviors of another culture.
Engaging in sexual behavior outside marriage—even being raped.
Engaging in homosexuality.
And so on.
Historians suggest that these killings originated in patrilineal cultures, which sought to control parentage. Only by controlling the sexual/reproductive behavior of women could men ensure that their children were actually theirs. Killing a wayward wife set a harsh example for other women, controlled the bloodline and prevented outsiders from polluting the tribe.
The attitudes behind today’s honor killings are ancient. These crimes were committed way back in Hammurabi’s time, 1200 BCE. Aztecs and Incas performed them. Ancient Romans killed rape victims as acts of mercy. Some Chinese husbands cut off the hair of adulterous wives and had them stomped to death by trained murderous elephants. Some Native American tribes punished adulterous women by cutting off their limbs and mutilating their bodies. Persians left such women to die in a well. And all of these murders, throughout time, have been conducted without stigma or apology. They have been regarded as justifiable, even rewarded–as their name suggests–with honor.
Today, with multicultural populations worldwide, honor killings have been reported in the US, Canada, Germany, Russia, the UK, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Latin America, Pakistan, India, the Congo, etc.
More than 20,000 victims each year. Many of the deaths unreported, invisible, unpunished. Un-mourned by their own families.
The injustice and betrayal are staggering. BEHIND THE WALLS certainly doesn’t come up with a way to end a tradition that precedes the Bible. But maybe, by presenting the topic within an entertaining plot, the book will raise awareness about these killings. And if awareness is raised, change might follow. Someday.
At least, we can hope.
Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers, SUMMER SESSION and BEHIND THE WALLS, as well as the Zoe Hayes mysteries, THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, and THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS. She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: WOMEN WHO RELINQUISHED BABIES FOR ADOPTION TELL THEIR STORIES.) She is a member of The Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and Philadelphia Liars Club. Visit her at MerryJones.com