The estimated 27 victims of so-called “honor killings” each year in the U.S. don’t fit neatly into the FBI’s exhaustive Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics.
Hidden among thousands of nondescript murders and cases labeled as domestic violence are a mounting number of killings motivated by a radical and dark interpretation of Islam. Honor killings and violence, which typically see men victimize wives and daughters because of behavior that has somehow insulted their faith, are among the most secretive crimes in society, say experts.
“Cases of honor killings and/or violence in the U.S. are often unreported because of the shame it can cause to the victim and the victim’s family,” Farhana Qazi, a former U.S. government analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism, told FoxNews.com. “Also, because victims are often young women, they may feel that reporting the crime to authorities will draw too much attention to the family committing the crime.”
Even cases that appear to be honor killings, such as the Jan. 1, 2008 murder of two Irving, Texas, sisters that landed their father on the FBI’s most wanted list, cannot always be conclusively linked to a religious motivation. Without hard evidence, critics say, ascribing a religious motivation to crimes committed by Muslims demeans Islam. Yet, federal authorities believe they must be able to identify “honor” as a motive for violence and even murder if they are to address a growing cultural problem.
“Honor Violence Measurement Methods,” a study released earlier this year by research corporation Westat, and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, identified four types of honor violence: forced marriage, honor-based domestic violence, honor killing and female genital mutilation. The report, which estimated that 23-27 honor killings per year occur in the U.S., noted that 91 percent of victims in North America are murdered for being “too Westernized,” and in incidents involving daughters 18 years or younger, a father is almost always involved. And for every honor killing, there are many more instances of physical and emotional abuse, all in the name of fundamentalist Islam, say experts.
“Typically seen in the form of physical or emotional abuse, rape or kidnapping, honor violence also includes harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage. In extreme cases, murder,” said Stephanie Baric, executive director of the AHA Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by women’s rights activist and FGM survivor Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “In sharp contrast with domestic violence, families and communities often condone honor violence, which makes it more difficult to identify and stop.”
While women are generally the victims of honor violence, men also may be targeted if they reject an arranged marriage or are assumed to be homosexual. Victims may also be pressured to commit suicide, and may do so without even realizing they are victims of honor-motivated violence, said Baric.
For police who encounter apparent honor crimes, the investigation is typically treated as a regular crime or murder probe, usually under the umbrella of domestic violence. While both issues are tragic and problematic, experts say there are critical distinctions, and that honor violence requires a different approach.
Detective Chris Boughey, of Peoria, Ariz., calls Oct. 20, 2009, a day that “changed my life forever.” That was the day Iraqi immigrant Faleh Almaleki murdered his daughter, Noor Almaleki, by running her over with his vehicle for becoming “too Westernized.” Boughey was assigned as the lead investigator and has since dedicated his career to educating others and taking on similar cases in numerous other states — from Alaska and New York to California, Washington state and Pennsylvania.
“In the Almaleki case, I learned very quickly that we would receive no assistance from the family,” Boughey said. “In fact, we received out-and-out defiance and resistance. Although we know they are involved, it can be very hard to prove in a court of law.”
Other honor-motivated tragedies in the U.S. have garnered headlines.
– In 2012, police arrested the mother, father and sister of 19-year-old Aiya Altameemi in Phoenix after they allegedly beat, restrained and burned her for reportedly declining an arranged marriage with an older man and talking to another boy.
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