Muslims commit 91 percent of honor killings worldwide. A manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, says that “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.” However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” (‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, someone who kills his child incurs no legal penalty under Islamic law. In this case, of course, the victim was the murderer’s wife, a victim to the culture of violence and intimidation that such laws help create.
The Palestinian Authority gives pardons or suspended sentences for honor murders. Iraqi women have asked for tougher sentences for Islamic honor murderers, who get off lightly now. Syria in 2009 scrapped a law limiting the length of sentences for honor killings, but “the new law says a man can still benefit from extenuating circumstances in crimes of passion or honour ‘provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing.’” And in 2003 the Jordanian Parliament voted down on Islamic grounds a provision designed to stiffen penalties for honor killings. Al-Jazeera reported that “Islamists and conservatives said the laws violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values.”
Until the encouragement Islamic law gives to honor killing is acknowledged and confronted, more women will suffer.
…a real-life 19-year-old Pakistani woman named Saba Qaiser. Her odyssey began when she fell in love against her family’s wishes and ran off to marry her boyfriend. Hours after the marriage, her father and uncle sweet-talked her into their car and took her to a spot along a riverbank to murder her for her defiance — an “honor killing.”
First they beat Saba, then her uncle held her as her own father pointed a pistol at her head and pulled the trigger. Blood spewed, Saba collapsed and her father and uncle packed her body into a large sack and threw it into the river to sink. They then drove away, thinking they had restored the family’s good name.
Incredibly, Saba was unconscious but alive. She had jerked her head as the gun went off, and the bullet tore through the left side of her face but didn’t kill her. The river water revived her, and she clawed her way out of the sack and crawled onto land. She staggered toward a gasoline station, and someone called for help.
About every 90 minutes, an honor killing unfolds somewhere in the world, usually in a Muslim country. Pakistan alone has more than 1,000 a year, and the killers often go unpunished.
Watching the documentary about Saba, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” I kept thinking that just as in the 19th century the central moral challenge for the world was slavery, and in the 20th century it was totalitarianism, in this century the foremost moral issue is the abuse and oppression that is the lot of so many women and girls around the world.
Wrong answer, Kristof. What got Saba shot was not “totalitarianism,” but the Islamic culture of shame and honor, and the stipulation in Islamic law that there is no penalty for a parent who kills a child. But of course you cannot and will not write about that in the New York Times.
…The police arrested Saba’s father, Maqsood, and the uncle, Muhammad, and their defense was that they did the right thing.
“She took away our honor,” Maqsood said from his jail cell. “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That’s what she has done. … So I said, ‘No, I will kill you myself.’”
Maqsood said that after shooting Saba he went home and told his wife, “I have gone and killed your daughter.” He added: “My wife cried. What else could she do? I am her husband. She is just my wife.”
Perpetrators of honor killings often are not prosecuted because Pakistani law allows families of victims to forgive a killing. So a man kills his daughter, the rest of the family forgives him, and he’s off the hook.
Tremendous pressure was applied to Saba by community elders to pardon her father and uncle. In the end, her husband’s older brother — the head of her new family — told her to forgive and move on. “There is no other way,” he said. “We have to live in the same neighborhood.”
Saba complied, and her father and uncle were released from prison. “After this incident, everyone says I am more respected,” her father boasted. “I can proudly say that for generations to come none of my descendants will ever think of doing what Saba did.” The families still live near each other, although the father insists he will not try again to kill Saba….
Ironically, Kristof ends this piece by saying that the U.S. military in Afghanistan should have confronted honor killing. But he was no doubt one of the foremost proponents of the idea that the U.S. should do absolutely nothing to impose its culture on the people there, but should instead encourage it, as it did with the Sharia constitution we put in place.