Less than honourable by Barbara Nadel

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My new Çetin İkmen book A NOBLE KILLING is published this week. This is always a cause for celebration and I often make light of ‘bringing more murder and mayhem into the world.’ That said, quite a few of my books have had and continue to have some very dark and serious themes. A NOBLE KILLING is no exception.

I have written about honour killing in this blog before and so I won’t cover old ground. What I would like to do however, is talk a little bit about the real life cases that inspired the book. Those who have lost their lives for no reason at all deserve at least that much.

Like a lot of people, I’d heard about honour killing for quite some years before I really sat up and attended to the subject properly. Although there are those who would like to think that honour killing is something that happens elsewhere amongst people culturally and ethnically different from ‘us’, that is far from true. Honour killing, the annihilation by her family of a girl or a woman who is perceived to have transgressed sexual norms, is something that in one form or another happens everywhere. The murder of an innocent wife by a paranoid and controlling husband can be seen as an honour killing. The man may feel insulted, even psychologically gelded by rumours and suspicions about his wife. Other male friends may even encourage him to ‘take her in hand.’ Whatever the details might be, he sees himself in a position of weakness, he may even feel mocked. And so the only way to redress this and, in a sense to ‘repossess’ his property, his wife, is to kill her. Until some men stop seeing women as their property this will sadly, persist.

The actual case that really struck home however, happened in an eastern Turkish village in 2009. A teenage girl had, allegedly, on the sly, been seeing a boy who was not a relative. What started as a mere rumour came to be regarded as fact and the girls’ family were shunned by their peers because of the immoral ‘taint’. Afraid that if they didn’t address the problem, shunning could turn to hostility, the male members of the family met in order to decide what to do.

Particularly in small rural communities, pressure on families to ‘take their girls in hand’ can be intense. If a girl perceived to be ‘bad’ is allowed to ‘get away with it’ her family may not just be shunned, they may be attacked, goods and services may be denied to them, jobs can be lost too and betrothals abandoned. Although none of this in any way excuses murder, it does help to explain just why pressure to commit a crime of honour can be so overwhelming. And then of course there is the ‘macho’ side of things too. A man who cannot ‘control’ his women is a wimp and a nobody!

This particular eastern Turkish family came to a decision. Unlike some families who encourage recalcitrant girls to take their own lives (sometimes they are locked away for days with a gun or a bottle of weed killer) they decided to kill her themselves. Quite why they decided to despatch her in the way that they did is unknown, but they buried her alive. We know this because the police pathologist who examined her body found soil in her lungs and there were signs of an intense and desperate struggle.

People were appalled. Even folk I know who have knowledge and experience of this sort of thing were rendered speechless. How could anyone do anything so foul to any living creature? And the fact that it was their own child just made the case all the more incomprehensible. Then a young man was stabbed by his own father in central İstanbul. The young man was gay and his family really didn’t approve in any shape or form. There is a warrant out for the father’s arrest. Turkey does take honour killing seriously. But he is still at large, no doubt being assisted by those who approve of what he did.

Some people will lend honour killing some credence on the grounds that it can be underwritten by religious imperatives. As far as I am aware, there is no official religion that overtly states in the 21st century that honour killing is okay. Divines of all stripes say that it is wrong. Crimes of honour exist in the arena of sexual politics and amongst groups of people where punitive social control is viewed as the only answer to what is frequently perceived as being a very hostile outside world. Again, none of this excuses honour killing. It may however, help to illuminate the phenomenon.

So what is to be done? I have no actual answers myself. What I can do as a writer, however, is illuminate the subject, albeit in a fictional guise. Let’s put a group of characters in that position and see what they do.

Writing A NOBLE KILLING was fascinating and harrowing. I studied a lot of case histories and I had a lot of advice about how ‘my’ girl would die under the circumstances I had devised for her. It’s gruesome and unpleasant and my only fear is that I haven’t made my descriptions horrible enough. What I can and what I hope to do is to just simply add to the literature that highlights this problem and fill yet more people with disgust for it. And so if you read A NOBLE KILLING and find that you are disgusted and made to feel sick by it, then maybe I can say that I’ve done a good job.

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