The Family Name: Honor Killings in Germany
Lalwani, Sheila B., Kennedy School Review
A small memorial now stands in Berlin, Germany, for Hatun Surucu, a twenty-three-year-old Turkish German, whose brothers sprayed her body with bullets in 2005 for leaving her forced marriage, embracing a Western lifestyle, and raising her son alone.
Few in the Turkish community mourn her.
"She only had herself to blame," one male student said to a reporter from the German magazine, Der Spiegel, while another insisted, "The whore lived like a German." That sentiment was not uncommon in parts of the city densely populated by immigrants, mainly from Turkey and the Middle East. In some Berlin schools, for example, girls who do not wear the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, risk harassment by their male peers. In the streets of the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, one of the most densely populated Turkish districts in Europe, women walk together in groups. No women can be found on the streets alone at night.
Some worry that the parallel society between immigrants and mainstream Germans is widening.
"They need our acceptance. They need our love," said Jutta Steinkamp, a principal at the Heinrich Heine School, where 90 percent of the students are from immigrant backgrounds. "Otherwise, we will lose them. If we don't accept them for who they are--their hijabs, Muslim--they feel that they don't belong to us. That is a very, very big danger."
A new wall is rising in Germany. The bombings of September 11 (some of the perpetrators are suspected of living in Germany) and the terrorist attacks in Europe awakened Germany to its often segregated immigrant population. Approximately 3.3 million Muslims live in Germany with roughly 2.5 million of them of Turkish origin. Many lead secular lifestyles, but some make strong, even extreme, efforts to preserve conservative values.
As Germany struggles to integrate an increasingly ultraconservative immigrant community, few issues present themselves with as many complexities as forced marriages and honor killings. Once veiled from public view, Germany is starting to recognize that honor killings and forced marriages are distinct crimes among the immigrant population.
Immigrants began migrating to Germany in large numbers during the 1960s when the country suffered from a labor shortage. The program brought thousands of Turkish workers to Germany to work in low-level labor jobs, but the policy provided no real means of integrating Muslim Turks into mainstream German society.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks and the discovery that several of the plotters and conspirators led hidden lives in Hamburg, politicians and German citizens paid greater attention to the Muslim community in Germany. Islamic groups and mosques began increasing efforts to interface with mainstream German society, with some also becoming more skeptical of outsiders.
Forced marriages have been part of the fabric of immigrant life in Germany for many years; it is only recently that the German government has started to pay attention. Many families force their daughters into weddings when they are prepubescent and unite the couple civilly years later. Steinkamp said it is not uncommon for girls to "disappear," when, in fact, families may have sent their daughters to Turkey to get married. Once the girl is married, she often quits school and stays at home.
Some forced marriages have led to honor killings, a time-honored custom in Turkey, the Middle East, and South Asia. An honor killing is the murder of a female by family members for misconduct that can range from adultery to wearing "inappropriate" clothes to wanting to marry someone of her choosing.
Exact figures on the number of women who fall victim to honor killings are hard to pin down, but according to the German Federal Crime Office, more than fifty-five women in the last six years have been victims of honor killings.
Berlin went through a particularly difficult period when four women were killed for "insulting the family honor" in a time span of five months. One woman was strangled; another drowned in a bath, and another woman was stabbed on the street in front of her daughter. A Turkish women's organization, Papatya, has documented forty instances of honor killings in Germany since 1996, but experts say the number is likely far higher.
Perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, mainly because the Turkish community has been sluggish in its response to such data and even to the question of honor killings in its community. It has frustrated German authorities that Islamic groups and Muslims have been among the last to come forward with details or information on the crime. When a Turkish man stabbed his wife and their seven-year-old daughter because the wife was having an affair, many in the community defended him. In another instance, a father strangled his daughter and threw her body into a lake because she had a boyfriend. The case only came to light when the woman's body was discovered.
In some cases, the youngest son is selected to do the killing because minors receive lighter sentences. In some circles, the boys who carry out the crimes are revered as "honor heroes."
The judicial process for honor killings is slow and frustrates the German judicial system. Laws only cover civil marriages--not religious ones.
However, some arrests are made in honor killings. For example, in the case of Hatun Surucu, mentioned at the start of this article, her brothers were arrested less than a week after the attack and were charged with the murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently joined a growing movement to criminalize forced marriages and end honor killings in Germany, which is growing less tolerant of practices among Muslim immigrants that clash with the nation's liberal social values.
In October 2004, after much lobbying, Turkish women's groups scored a coup when the government passed a law making it illegal for parents to force their children to marry. Turkey, a secular Muslim state, has long had such a law.
In the winter of 2005, the Turkish Association in Berlin and Brandenburg held a roundtable discussion about the plight of Muslim women. At the talks, the group issued a ten-point plan calling for a "zero tolerance" stance on violence against women and encouraged other Turkish and Islamic organizations to "actively recognize" and address the problem.
Social service organizations insist that the number of honor killings is on the rise, but reliable numbers are difficult to pin down since families often cover up the crime. The issue has only surfaced through mainstream German society or through the media.
There is a growing awareness of domestic violence among the immigrant community. According to the most recent study from the Ministry for Family Affairs, 49 percent of Turkish women said they had experienced physical or sexual violence in their marriage. Many women said they met their husbands on their wedding night.
Some have blamed Islamic religious leaders for failing to address the problem. Muslim leaders in Berlin have said there is no basis for honor killings in the Koran, but those leaders have also been criticized for not making a clear condemnation of the killings.
Ekin Deligoz, a member of the Green Party, said Germans and Turks need to be more vigilant with women's issues. "Domestic violence ... This is the beginning of the honor killing," Deligoz said. "If we do something for women's rights, we do something for women. We have to give women more security."
Honor killings have been around for centuries. The crimes speak to the complex nature of family structures and ideas of honor and culture. Some efforts have been made at prosecuting such crimes, but the awareness surrounding the issue remains low.
SHEILA B. LALWANI is a first-year master in public policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and spent a month in Germany researching Human Rights, Women and Education through the American Council on Germany's John J. McCloy Journalism Fellowship program.…
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Publication information: Article title: The Family Name: Honor Killings in Germany. Contributors: Lalwani, Sheila B. - Author. Magazine title: Kennedy School Review. Volume: 8. Publication date: Annual 2008. Page number: 109+. © 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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