The cultural defense: what to make of “honor” killings?

So a reader sent along this article about a Pakistani man in Georgia that strangled his daughter because she didn’t want to get married to the man they had arranged for her to marry.

The Clayton County Medical Examiner confirmed that Kanwal died of strangulation. Police recovered an iron by the young woman’s bedroom doorway and a necklace on a family room table that may have been used in the killing, according to a Clayton County police report.
Authorities allege that Rashid killed his daughter because he feared that her resistance to a recently arranged marriage would disgrace the Pakistani-American family.

Sounds so simple right? He killed her because his “culture” made him. Not because he might be mentally ill or pathological. There is no denying that in basically every culture there is pressure put on women to act a certain way and especially with regard to marriage or the ownership of her sexuality. But the way that “honor” killing is discussed in the media you would think it is some normal cultural phenomena, when it is not. It is a sign of illness, culture gone awry and patriarchy at its most exaggerated.
In a ground-breaking essay, that I recommend you read if you are into theory, Leti Volpp talks about the notion of the cultural defense. One of the moments that this plays out is through the justification of violence against women as a cultural norm (usually based on racist ideas of culture).
It appears that there are two ways the mainstream US media talk about “honor” killings. The first is in a way the demonizes the horrid, brown, ugly, probably terrorist perpetrator, that is trying to hurt the innocent child like brown female that must be saved. Or making assumptions about the role of women in a given non-American culture as much more misogynist than our own and thereby engages in these forms of blatant abuse of patriarchal power that are cultural.
Neither scenario gives us much hope for how the case will go or allows for an intersectional analysis of the ways gender, culture and power play out. And when it is revolving around a violent murder of a young woman, it is very difficult to understand the nuance.

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