Familicide presented as honour killing

Last (i.e. Thursday) night, and the night before, BBC1 showed a two-part series called Honour Kills, about honour-related murders in the British Asian community (mostly Pakistani, with one Kurdish case). Abu Eesa has already reacted to the programmes, but I feel there was one obvious flaw in the programmes that Abu Eesa did not seem to pick up. About three quarters of it, including the entire first episode, were given over to two highly atypical cases which involved the murder of not just the “offender” but also her (and the killer’s) children.

These were familicides, a problem which appears to cut across racial and cultural backgrounds. They normally involve a man killing his wife and children and then himself. They may be motivated by the wife’s affair or leaving him or threatening to leave, but may be related to other matters such as work stress. According to this article in the Guardian from 2004, such incidents happen every six to eight weeks in the UK alone, and the perpetrators are nearly always men. Esther Addley, the author of that article, claims that most such killers have a history of domestic violence; Kevin Toolis, who wrote this article about another real such case in Wales, paints an entirely different picture, of a devoted father, if not such a devoted husband, under stress and facing financial ruin.

The typical honour killing, however, involves a woman who has transgressed the moral code of her community, and is killed to preserve some sense of honour for her family. The “transgression” can be anything from being seen talking to a strange man to actually sleeping with him; sometimes the killing is prompted by mere rumour, rather than a real transgression. This is not to justify this (do I really need to explain that?) but it is not the same as killing innocent children for their mothers’ real or alleged actions.

Admittedly, the programme also showed an incident where a house was set on fire, killing a young girl, in an apparent attempt to murder (or just intimidate) a man seen talking to the sister of one of the murderers. However, only brief coverage was given to classic honour killings, at the beginning of the second programme. The rest was given over to the highly emotive familicides, namely the mass murders of their families by Rahan Arshad and Mohammed Riaz. Honour killing may be most common among Muslims; familicide seems to cut across all cultural boundaries, and the programme made no distinction.

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