We live in an era of petitions. This is perhaps because old-school democracy is now so strictly controlled (i.e. over) that petitions give us a chance to feel as if we still have a voice. But I digress.
I have been sent a new petition and I understand entirely why people would expect me to support it – I do not.
This particular change.org. petition calls upon the BBC to stop “using the euphemistic ‘honour killings’ to describe murder”. To my mind, it’s about the only thing the BBC does right, particularly regarding anything related to the Religion of Peace. I would think that there are rather greater problems with the BBC than its accurate use of the term “honour killing”. That it consistently refers to pro-democracy activists as “far-right” is one I’d prefer to see challenged.
The petition states the following;
To use the term ‘honour killing’ when describing the murder of a family member – overwhelmingly females – due to the perpretrators’ believe that they have brought ‘shame’ on a family normalises murder for cultural reasons and sets it apart from other killings when there should be no distinction.
Murder is murder, whether it be for cultural excuses or others. The term ‘honour killing’ is a euphemism for a brutal murder based on cultural beliefs which have no place in Britain or anywhere else in the world.
On the contrary, the use of the term “honour killing” does not normalize murder, it describes the disgusting “culture” which causes such murders to occur. Unusually, it actually places responsibility for the murders on the culture itself. This petition, if taken seriously, would in fact deny the reasons that these young girls (overwhelmingly) are killed and would absolve the religion and culture of the scrutiny it so desperately deserves. Motive matters if we are to understand and prevent these killings. Why then remove from sight the very reasons? Why remove from sight the plight of people forced to live within this honour culture? It needs to be visible, shouted from the rooftops.
If we prevent the term “honour killing” then we look away from the brutal system of oppression that millions of women are forced to live under. This matters when the women are alive as much as it does when they are murdered. The honour system is designed to prevent women having any say over their own lives whatsoever. It is directly responsible for forced marriages, for the imprisonment of women in their homes, and for the attitude among brothers, fathers, and sons that women deserve to be harmed if they dare to strive for independence. We cannot pretend this isn’t real by wiping away reference to it.
The honour system dominates lives across the Middle East, as well as some parts of Africa and Asia. It doesn’t only kill women; it can also apply to anyone who isn’t quite religious enough. People can be honour-murdered for being victims of rape, “inappropriate” dress, homosexuality, or in one Saudi case, a Facebook post.
There is no way of knowing how many honour killings take place because in the societies in which they do, authorities don’t usually care a great deal. Furthermore, the murders can often take the form of forced suicides or “accidents”. In Europe, a person can simply disappear (“gone back home”) and rarely is it questioned because we’re too frightened of causing offence.
Thanks to mass migration, honour killings are now a part of British and European society. Estimates are around a dozen murders a year in the UK, and this doesn’t include non-fatal violence. It is also likely to be a drastic underestimate given the realities I outline above. These murders are notoriously difficult to prosecute because they are planned and carried out within closed family and community units. The entire family will often plan the murder and then cover for each other. “Communities” won’t testify against their own either, largely because they believe the killings to be just.
How can we hope to defeat this system if we won’t even address it? Removing reference to honour enables us to return to our safe space and treat this just like any other crime. “Murder is awful, let’s oppose murder” is not good enough. This is not “just” murder, it is a cultural way of life, and if we are to do anything about it, that way of life must be exposed for what it is; violent and oppressive. For once, in naming the problem, the BBC has got something right. I can’t and won’t object to that.