In “My family, my killers” in the Sydney Morning Herald (thanks to JE), James Button provides a generally good overview of the phenomenon of honor killings, although he adds generous coats of PC whitewash:
[…] The issue is acutely sensitive among British Muslims, already feeling embattled since the September 11, 2001, and July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks. Reported levels of domestic violence in British Asian communities are lower than the national average, according to The Guardian. But for a small minority of families, the British judge Marilyn Mornington has said: “Honour rests with the chastity and obedience of women in the community. If that is transgressed then the woman must be punished, ultimately unto death.”
Britain is not alone: 47 Muslim women were killed in Germany between 2000 and 2006. The UN estimates that 5000 women and girls are victims of honour killings each year. But the British example illustrates how a culturally relativist form of multiculturalism can clash with women’s rights and how honour crimes, far from disappearing as migrants settle over generations into new countries, may even be on the rise.
In 2006 one in 10 of 500 young British Asians told the BBC that honour killings could be justified. Nazir Afzal of the Crown Prosecution Service and a leading prosecutor of honour crimes says that when he began work on such cases, “I thought it was an imported practice that would die out when the elder generation [of a migrant community] died. But many of the young people tell me shocking things.”
For example, a young Sikh man told Afzal: “A man is a piece of gold and a woman is a piece of silk. If you drop a piece of gold into the mud you can polish it clean. If you drop a piece of silk into mud it is stained forever.” […]
A Kurdish asylum seeker from north-west Iran, Nammi came to Britain 10 years ago. At a school for her young daughter in north London, she met Sobhia Nader, a Kurdish interpreter who Nammi remembers as bright and kind and eager to help. But Nader failed to turn up for their third appointment. Nammi heard she had gone back to her home in Iraq.
What Nammi found later, she says, was that Nader’s husband had taken her back to Iraq because he suspected his wife of flirting at work. In Kurdistan Nader was shot on two separate occasions, the second time fatally. The two men who stopped her car before killing her did not harm her husband, and Nammi believes they were his relatives. No one has been prosecuted in Britain or Iraq.
At that time attitudes to forced marriages and honour killings were more negligent than they are today. Only one in five homicide cases led to a conviction for murder; the rest for manslaughter. But in 2000, a spate of high-profile forced marriage cases led the Blair government minister Mike O’Brien to say “multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness“. Then came the murder of Heshu Yones.
She was a 16-year old Kurdish girl in London, whose father hated her Western dress and Lebanese Christian boyfriend. For 15 minutes, Abdullah Yones chased his daughter from room to room with a kitchen knife, stabbing her repeatedly and finally slitting her throat over the bath.
But a dhimmi judge chose multiculturalism:
The judge sentenced Yones to a minimum 14 years but appeared to mitigate the crime’s savagery by calling it “a tragic story arising out of irreconcilable cultural differences between traditional Kurdish values and the values of Western society”. It was arguable, he added, that “Heshu’s conduct provoked her father”.
Sitting in court, Nammi felt angry. “So-called cultural sensitivity is a way of letting women down,” she says. “Why should any woman not have the same rights as a British woman? Murder is murder.”
Yep. One would think everyone knew that. Apparently, not any more.
Afzal also cites the judge’s comments and the fact that Yones was jailed for only 14 years, as evidence that reforms were needed. Now, judges are imposing terms of 25 to 27 years, he says. “In the past six years there has been a sea change in the way all of us – judges, prosecutors and investigators – approach the crime.”
Nammi agrees the law has improved, but says police must change more. Banaz Mahmoud approached them several times and even provided an accurate list of who would murder her. Police offered her access to a refuge but made the mistake, Nammi says, of visiting her in her home, where she could not speak.
Nammi says the women she represents “are very brave. They make a huge decision to stand against their community. They know they have brought shame on their family, but they still stand up for their rights. They have fallen in love”.
A Muslim by birth but an atheist since she was young, Nammi says the rise of extremist and fundamentalist Islam has been dire for women. She points to the revival of stoning of alleged female adulterers in Iran. Another malign effect of the Iraq war, she says, is that violence against women has increased there.
Both in Muslim countries and diasporas, as communities feel under pressure and want to protect their identities in the face of modernisation, traditional views of women are revived.
But Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, says the issue is “not about Islam but about a tribal, rural mindset that says women belong to men and men must at all costs be obeyed”.
Yes, that has nothing to do with Islam. Everyone knows that. What’s that? “Good women are obedient” and those that aren’t should be beaten, according to Qur’an 4:34? What are you, some kind of Islamophobe?
Afzal, a practising Muslim from a Pakistani family, agrees, saying nothing in the Koran supports honour crimes: “It’s the exact opposite”. But he says some families will use Islam to justify their authority, telling a daughter that having a boyfriend is un-Islamic.
Well, if he is a non-Muslim, then it is certainly un-Islamic, according to all traditional Islamic jurisprudence. And while nothing in the Qur’an supports honor crimes, Jordan’s Parliament a few years ago rejected an attempt to stiffen penalties for honor murders — on Islamic grounds. So evidently there are quite a few Muslims who believe the practice is thoroughly Islamic.
Britain’s response to honour crimes may be evidence of a maturing multiculturalism, in which no cultural practice is tolerated or swept aside simply because it comes from a disadvantaged ethnic group. Afzal says more people are reporting crimes, extraditions of suspected perpetrators who flee the country are being pursued, some community leaders have become “champions” of change.
Yet the killings go on. Just last month a coroner ruled that 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed of Cheshire had been murdered after she had defied her parents. They wanted her to marry a man in Pakistan; she wanted to study law. Just three days ago, Nammi received a text message that said: “I am an Iranian woman who needs confidential information. Please help me.”
Afzal says communities must respond to such calls. “I have heard people say to me, ‘Don’t talk about this stuff because we are under attack. Don’t wash our dirty linen in public.’ But I have talked to loads of Muslim women and I can tell you that the greatest fear they have is not Islamophobia or being attacked by racists or being arrested on suspicion of terrorism. It is from within their own family.”