Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi: Could this be an honor killing?

I am certainly not in a position to jump to conclusions about the circumstances surrounding the somewhat bizarre death of Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi, but the details which have been released so far do open a speculative possibility I have not seen discussed thus far: an Islamic honor killing.

The scene of the crime appears at first glance to be a murder suicide. This, however is circumstantial and the absolute lack of any prior indicators that Kazemi was planning to off herself and murder her boyfriend have given the police pause in their investigation. Normally in a murder suicide, particularly once occurring in a domestic environment and not involving a hostage situation, it is almost inevitable that neighbors, family members and close friends will eventually come forward saying “we were wondering when that was going to happen…” But this time nobody is saying anything of the sort. All anecdotal evidence is that Kazemi was in consistently good spirits, had not received any shocking news recently and that her live-in boyfriend McNair was getting on well with her.

The suicide argument stems from the lay of the scene, with McNair having been shot three times at a distance and once up close (one shot in the head and two in the chest at range, once in the head at point-blank range) and Kazemi having been shot once in the head from extreme close range. A scenario of a murder suicide can easily be imagined from this. The discovery that the gun they were both killed with brought a tighter argument to the suicide theory and will certainly influence police in that direction

But there are mitigating factors, both circumstantial and social. For one Kazemi had long expressed an interest in purchasing a firearm and had been to firing ranges for target practice in the past. None of this raised suspicion as she had a genuine interest in both marksmanship and in self-defense, having had discussed applying for a firearm carrying permit according to her aunt (who was raised as her sister). The purchase of a firearm is therefore does not have to be interpreted as an out-of-character act, but could rather have been a very inconveniently timed purchase. Her frequent comments to ger aunt about feeling vulnerable and personally insecure could also be an indication that she felt under threat from a known source, one which the police investigation simply has not yet revealed. Another primary mitigating factor is the apparent total lack of motive. A happy woman living with a happy man is entirely against the profile of a female murder-suicide suspect. An additional — and thus far entirely undiscussed — socially mitigating factor is one that is possibly too controversial to breach in the traditional media: that of an Islamic honor killing.

Kazemi was Iranian, as was the rest of her family. Honor killings are an Islamic phenomenon in which usually male members of the family of a girl who is engaging in sexual conduct outside the confines of an Islamic-sanctioned marriage must kill her and the man or men with whom she has been acquainted to cleanse the name and preserve the honor of the family. There are varying interpretations of how violent to be, who to target and what specific acts define the term “sexual conduct” across the Muslim spectrum. For example it is not unusual for an unmarried woman who is observed exiting the car of a man not closely related to her (brother or father, specifically) to be the subject of an honor killing by the father or brothers in a very strict society such as Saudi Arabia. On the other end of the spectrum there are some “liberated” Muslim women openly living in Baghdad alone maintaining long-term relationships with foreigners with the open blessings of the family. On the weird end of all this there is a custom in the predominantly Muslim areas of the Sulu Archepelago of the Philippines where a man who desires a specific girl for marriage will arrange a kidnapping and rape of the girl to reduce her dowry price (which in that culture is a price paid to the father for the hand of the girl) by means of stripping her of her virginity, thus making her “less valuable” — for some reason this custom does not generally result in a clan war, just a frustrated father-in-law.

With all the above in mind it is certainly unreasonable to assume that an honor killing is to be primarily suspected in this case, but it is also possibly unreasinable to simply rule this case a murder-suicide in light of the circumstantial and socially mitigating evidence. Kazemi’s aunt was very close to her and has not only made statements to the effect that Kazemi had a private and normal interest in firearm ownership but that she also felt threatened. She has also made statements to the effect that she believes that not only was Kazemi’s death a set-up by a third party but that the death of another female relative was also carried out by a party with malicious intent.

This information and the additional curveball of the Islamic social component definitely opens the door to the possibility of an elaborate honor killing in this case. Unfortunately honor killings of this sort have become an oddly prolific problem in the Muslim neighborhoods of England, France, the Netherlands, etc. despite the otherwise rather clean domestic safety record for the other demographic groups in those countries. This has never been a major problem in the US, at least not a very well reported one if a problem actually does exist to the ignorance of the public. For this reason it is also interesting to speculate on why US muslims tend to be less vocal and violent than their peer social groups in Europe who are quite prone to social violence and creating civil unrest. Are things just that much better for US muslims than those of Europe? Is this sort of question pointed in the wrong direction and missing the essence of whatever problem does exist? I’ve no idea, but the very real possibility of an honor killing in this very public case brings an interesting opportunity to examine these issues from new angles.

4 thoughts on “Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi: Could this be an honor killing?

    1. zxq9 Post author

      Steve McNair is, and there are reasons to suspect that his belief system could have reinforced a decision making process he would have otherwise been more reluctant to pursue.

      Honor killing under Islam is not exclusive to brothers and fathers. Spouses, cousins, and community members are mandated as well. Killing is prescribed so much under Islam that its hard to find an instance where a Muslim in close proximity to almost any moral infraction isn’t supposed to take personal action. Consider the community mandate to kill fellow Muslims who are inconsistent about praying or have stopped praying entirely.

      Reply
  1. tbone

    The other angle of an “honor killing” would be that she herself decided to salvage some of her own honor. I don’t think messing around with a middle eastern woman is a good idea because of their beliefs about certain things.

    For she had already told her friends and family that he (Steve McNair) was going to divorce his wife and marry her. In reality he was going to just use her at the condo and then zip up and leave. Do you understand how humiliated she may have been to tell her friends and family that he “changed his mind.”

    Now do you see what happened?

    Reply
    1. zxq9 Post author

      I had not considered this angle, but it could certainly be a possibility.

      However…

      Having worked and lived in the Muslim parts of SE Asia, Pakistan, Iraq and West Africa… I have never once seen a girl kill herself for this reason across several dozen instances of honor killing I have been around. So I feel it is an extremely remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.

      An additional factor is the possibility that she herself was not islamic at all, as another commentor has said. I’m not sure about her side either way, but the social situation was certainly complex enough that sex + islam could have led to violence (as per adherence to one version of the rules or another).

      Reply

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