Communal Complicity in 'Honorable Murder'

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 18:14 p.m. EDT, 23 December 2009

African Man Beating and Throwing Woman to ground.Even in the most enlightened societies victims of rape are further victimized by their families and the system. This happens in Western and Eastern cultures, and also in Christian and Islamic countries.

This post does not seek to indict one faith or group of people over another, for the real culprits are the men of any nationality, culture, and faith who feel that women are chattel, and deserve to be treated with disrespect, physical and sexual violence, and even death.  This behavior continues unabated because the perpetrators know that there will be no repercussions for their acts of violence.

In the case of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Darfur, Sudan, rape is used as a brutal weapon of war and is committed on such a grand scale that it is incomprehensible to most people. As a victim of rape, the GRAPHIC PHOTO attached to this link, though illustrative, conveys the horror of this crime.

Whether it is a single victim or a multitude, rape is reprehensible and its perpetrators though human, have lost all sense of humanity and what I would call a soul.  In fact, rape is an honor and rite of passage for boy soldiers in these two conflicts, who are often given the choice between death or committing this heinous act.

Then, there are the women who are raped, often by relatives, and then are killed because they have "lost their honor."  In these cases, the men who rape these women and girls are either sexual deviants, such as paedophiles and molesters, or as in the case of war and domestic violence, they rape a woman as means of dishonoring her, thereby gaining the tacit support of the community to then murder her.

The illogical supposition that a woman willingly lost her honor through the act of forcible rape astounds me! And, even though I lived within a society where a woman's honor was less about self-determination, than a male's view of how she should be governed, I could never wrap my brain around this cultural norm, nor my father's absolute adoption of its practices.

I was only 8-years-old, but I recall vividly the first time my father tried to kill my mother. We were living in Ile Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.

My father was teaching at the university and my mother was a homemaker totally dependent upon him. As usual, my father was sullen and angry, which often resulted in verbal abuse, but my mother had become adept at defusing his ire before it reached critical mass.

This time however, my father was angry with my mother because he felt that she disrespected him by defying his rule against buying and consuming meat. My mother often bought meat to feed us during lunch when he was out of the house because she felt that our strict vegan diet was not providing her children with enough nourishment.

It was this simple act of motherhood that made my father feel that he had to restore his honor and supremacy, and thus he began to berate my mother who directed us to take refuge as the altercation erupted into physical violence. After a protracted beating the house became eerily silent.

1 Next Page » 2 3

Published: 23 December 2009 (Page 2 of 3)

I emerged from the hiding place where we had taken refuge, and carefully navigated down the hall of the apartment searching for my parents in every room. Finally, I arrived at the front door where I debated if I should go seek help from a neighbor or continue to look for my parents.  I opted for the latter and turned to enter the kitchen.

My eyes rose to the ceiling in disbelief, as my mind tried to process the image of my mother towering above my father.  She stood on a roughly hewed wooden stool, one eye swollen shut, while the open one registered defeat and resignation.  Above her head dangled the empty noose that was used to hang a plantain stalk.

My mother, as do most Nigerian women, often bought a whole stalk of green plantains and hung them from the rafters to ripen.  The stalk had been flung to the floor, and as my eyes traveled down the length of my father's arm, past my mother's face, I tried to understand why she was not moving.

It was then that I noticed how my father clasped my mother's hands tightly behind her, while he used the other to try and place the noose around her neck.  The shock of the encounter stretched time and immobilized me.  I remained motionless  for seconds that seemed much longer, until I realized I had mere moments left before he kicked the stool from under her.

I averted my gaze and began to search the kitchen for any weapon that I could use against him.  My eyes alighted upon a glass canning jar on a nearby shelf and I grabbed it and with all my might I slammed it against the edge of the sink.  I continue to grip the neck of the jar as I advanced toward my father with the jagged edges jutting toward his stomach.  His disbelief that I had the audacity to defy him and to interfere with his prerogative as a Muslim man and titular head of our family gained my mother precious seconds.

My impulsive act caused him to redirect his attention from my mother to me.  When my mother saw that he intended to harm me, she regained her desire to live and to fight and jumped on him pounding his back with her fists as she screamed for him to leave me alone.  The nightmare had been interrupted and simultaneously there was a knock at the door.

My father opened the door as my mother retreated to the bathroom.  An Anglican priest dressed in a long black cassock with a white collar around his neck stood at the door. He politely inquired if everything was okay.  I remember hysterically telling him that my father had tried to kill my mother.  My father looked at him conspiratorially and said that it was just a "little" argument.

The priest nodded and continued to speak to my father as they both ignored my entreaties for the priest to come into the house and see my mother's condition as proof that my father was lying. It was at this point that the priest said the words that have remained with me until this day.

"It's okay.  You will understand when you grow up.  This is how it is between a man and woman."

From that day until my mother escaped with us six years later, it would never be better. Our lives as women and girls was prescribed for abuse and subjugation not only at the hands of my father, but also the society that condoned and supported this type of behavior. My mother was lucky, but so many women are not. They loose their lives in senseless violence, that goes quietly unreported or quickly dismissed so that it may slip once again beneath our collective guilty consciousness.

1 2 Next Page » 3

Published: 23 December 2009 (Page 3 of 3)

Honor killings, domestic violence and rape does not only occur in Muslim countries, and have less to do with religious fundamentalism, and more to do with members of a family or social group's belief that they have the right to kill a victim whom they perceive has brought dishonor upon the family or community.

"The perceived dishonor is normally the result of one of the following behaviors, or the suspicion of such behaviors: dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community, wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage or desiring to marry by own choice, especially if to a member of a social group deemed inappropriate, engaging in heterosexual acts outside marriage and engaging in homosexual acts.

The United Nations estimate for the number of honor killings in the world is 5000 per year. Many women's groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect that more than 20,000 women are honor killed in the world each year." (Source: Wikipedia)

There are many infamous cases of honor killings which have occurred in the States, but none more heartbreaking the murder of sisters Amina and Sarah Said. Though my story was heartbreaking to read, it is another thing entirely to hear the screams of a child begging for her father to stop killing her.



It is painful and shocking. Another organization, Memini, has created a website which puts names and faces to all of the victims of honor killings. This site honors them in death as they should have been in life, especially, since many of the perpetrators in their demise remain free.

Awareness leads to interest, which leads to desire, that leads to action.

Return to Page 1 »

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias