The Economist has made the excellent decision to post a letter documenting the truth about honour killings:
* SIR – The title to your article on honour killings in Syria asks: “The law changes. Will attitudes?” (July 18th). The answer is that it is easier to change laws than people’s hearts. The primary reason honour killings still continue in the Muslim world is not that lawmakers have been unwilling to pass legislation imposing punishments for such acts, but because imams, muftis and ayatollahs not only have never condemned the practice but have actually sanctioned it.
For instance, the “Umdat al-Salik”, a manual on sharia law, states that “retaliation is obligatory” against anyone who kills, except when “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers)” kill “their offspring, or their offspring’s offspring”. Therefore, someone who kills his or her child for the sake of “honour” incurs no penalty under Islamic law.
A similar situation arises with female circumcision. It is still widespread in Egypt despite an outright ban because Muslim clerics condone the practice as in accordance with mainstream Islamic tradition.
So it is not enough simply for human-rights advocates to call for a “more fundamental change in the attitudes of those who write the law and implement it”. There must also be an open discussion about the Islamic roots of practices like honour killings and a call for authorities on sharia to renounce the sanctioning of honour killings and to teach why such killings are wrong in the context of a reformed interpretation of Islamic texts. Otherwise attitudes simply will not change, and honour killings will continue in the Muslim world and among Muslim communities in the West.