Last Friday, a U.K. judge sentenced Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed to spend a minimum of 25 years in prison for the murder of their 17-year-old daughter, Shafilea Ahmed. According to testimony from Ahmed’s younger sister, Alesha, the parents suffocated their daughter nine years ago because of her Western ways—Shafilea wore makeup and jeans, and wanted to become a lawyer—and her resistance to being forced into marriage.
The Daily Telegraph’s Cristina Odone is outraged and saddened, and notes that Ahmed’s case is one of many.
It is a terrible tragedy—even more so because although the Home Office statistics claim that there are 12 honour killings a year in Britain, the truth is far more alarming. As Ann Cryer, the former Keighley MP who campaigned tirelessly against honour killings and arranged marriages pointed out to me when I was researching faith schools, teachers in predominantly Muslim areas complain regularly of “disappearances.”
The “disappearances” Odone refers to have increased in recent years. According to the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), there were nearly 3,000 honor-related attacks in Britain in 2011. And abroad, the numbers are even more disturbing. As The Daily Mail notes, last year there were 2,341 “honor” murders in Pakistan, in addition to 8,000 abductions and 3,461 rapes and gang rapes.
Here’s Ms. Odone again:
“Once a Muslim girl hits puberty, the most conservative parents will pluck her out of school where she risks contamination from western peers, and if she is lucky they continue her lessons at home. If she is unlucky, they send her back to Pakistan, in an arranged marriage usually to a much older man. I see this as a very strong argument in favour of more Muslim faith schools: only when they feel their daughters are in a safe Muslim school will parents allow them to continue their education past puberty.”
While Odone’s argument makes short-term sense, further cultural segregation is dubious as a long-term answer. Parents who bring their children to Western countries have every right to want their children to preserve and appreciate their cultural history. But to expect and even intimidate them into rejecting the social norms of their adopted homes is unrealistic at best and lethally cruel at worst.
Cultural sensitivity is no excuse to ignore violence toward women. So-called “honor” killings have no place in modern society, and should be called what they are, which is murder.
Before Shafilea was murdered, she tried to free herself from her cultural prison multiple times, running away from home, reporting her abuse to authorities, and most desperately, drinking bleach in an attempt to kill herself. These obvious cries for help were ignored—by her family, her community, her culture.
As Chester Crown Court Judge Roderick Evans said to Shafilea’s parents while sentencing them, “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than your love of your child.”
No matter where you’re from, there’s no honor in that.
Is honor killing defensible on grounds of religious freedom? Let us know in the COMMENTS.
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Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung