The Family Name: Honor Killings in Germany

By Lalwani, Sheila B. | Kennedy School Review, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

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. …

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