dadyal, Dadyal Online
Published On: Sat, Aug 4th, 2012

Dishonourable Killing

Dishonourable Killing

There is nothing honourable about so-called ‘honour killings’, but certain media and various commentators have become emotionally unhinged in the last few days when discussing the tragic case of Shafilea Ahmed and the prosecution of her parents who were both found guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced to 25 years each without payroll.

Shafilea’s case represents a horrible situation in which her school, her social workers, the police, her doctor and her hospital all failed her, not least the monstrous parents who behaved as if they had some cultural licence to maintain their izzat (‘respect’) for what were thought to be Shafilea’s transgressions. There is nothing in Islam that condones such acts as of violence towards anyone, not least one’s own children. What I am reading from various comments and thoughts on what happened to Shafilea is that it is a function of Islam as practiced in Pakistan. That is, what these parents did is somehow legitimised through Islamic doctrine or even law; that Islam gave them some right to defend it by murdering their own child.

Rather, what has happened here is that two rather uneducated parents, arguably both with psychological and emotional problems of their own, tragically killed their own flesh and blood because they felt Shafilea had somehow dishonoured them among their own community in the UK or in Pakistan. The problem starts in Asia, but it also found in Southern-Eastern Europe, and until recently. It reflects how women are controlled, particularly their relations with non-familiar men, Muslim or otherwise, which is based on some deep-seated notion that women are the front-line of their group identity. If women transgress these closely-defined sub-tribal identity markers, they are seen has having disturbed the matrix of social, political and economic order. There are also issues of sexuality here, but more importantly, there are issues of bloodline, heritage, the tribe or the nation, combined with a huge dose of hyper-masculinity. By Shafilea somehow showing more interest in westernised ways than these parents deemed acceptable, she had moved beyond the tribal identity and therefore, for these parents, put it at risk. While in many cases in the diasporic context, families and communities often do work it, but in this case, these parents were far too damaged themselves to see the greater picture.

My colleague Maz Idriss and I edited a book on this very topic, which was published by Routledge in paperback in August 2011, entitled Honour, Violence, Women and Islam. While less is found on the anthropological and socio-historical context of the issue, the book contains case studies from all over the world and the importance of the socio-legal domain in protecting individuals from harm and delivering appropriate solutions before any of the worst possible outcomes are realised.
Professor Tahir Abbas

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