Sunday, January 27, 2008

Honor killing: One would hope for moral clarity from the Muslim community

But it never seems to be forthcoming. An excellent summation of the phenomenon of honor killings: "Honor killings: When the ancient and the modern collide," by Cinnamon Stillwell in, of all places, the San Francisco Gate: Throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, young Muslim women are being targeted for violence. Lest it be thought hate crimes are to blame, it is, in fact, their own relatives who are the perpetrators. So-called honor killings, whereby a Muslim male family member, typically the father, murders his daughter in order to defend the family's honor, is a growing problem.

While statistics are notoriously hard to come by due to the private nature of such crimes and the fact that very few are reported, the United Nations Population Fund approximates that as many as 5,000 women are murdered in this manner each year worldwide. Undoubtedly that's a low estimate, as reports from Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories, among other locales, are filtering in at an alarming rate. Add to the list Germany, Sweden, other parts of Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, and it's clear that young Muslim women in the West are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

While fathers are commonly responsible for honor killings, they often act in concert with their daughters' brothers, uncles, and even female relatives. For infringements upon a Muslim daughter's "honor" constitute the greatest humiliation possible to the religious and tribal tradition from which many such immigrant families emerged. Acts that demand "punishment" include refusing to wear a hijab (or headscarf), having non-Muslim boyfriends or male friends of any origin, being sexually active, rejecting arranged marriages, aggressively seeking employment and education, and, more than anything else, attempting to assimilate into Western culture.

Trying to balance a tightrope between the demands of competing and in some cases incompatible cultures, young Muslim women in the West are caught between two worlds. And all too often they pay the ultimate price. Indeed, two such cases have rocked the United States and Canada in recent months, bringing the specter of honor killings much closer to home.

On New Year's Day, residents of Lewisville, Texas were shocked to hear about the brutal murder of teenage sisters Sarah and Amina Said. The two were found shot to death in a taxi after having made a last phone call to a police dispatcher asking for help. The police immediately issued an arrest warrant for the girls' father, Egyptian-born cab driver Yaser Abdel Said, who remains at large to this day.

A Muslim married to a Christian woman, the elder Said had a history of physical and sexual abuse toward his daughters. This past Christmas, his wife, Patricia, finally fled the state with the girls and set up residence in Tulsa, Okla., under an assumed name. Said's violent and domineering behavior was apparently motivated by his concern that, as the Dallas Morning News describes it, "Western culture was corrupting the chastity of his daughters." Honor students and athletes at Lewisville High School, Sarah and Amina were the quintessential American teenagers. Amina had been awarded a $20,000 college scholarship and Sarah planned to study medicine. Photos of the two young women demonstrate a vibrancy and attractiveness that undoubtedly induced fear in their controlling father. The emergence of non-Muslim boyfriends was the final straw.

Although the girls' mother denied that Said was motivated by religion or culture and their brother, Islam, claimed it was not an honor killing, all evidence points to the contrary. While, reportedly, the family was not terribly observant, Said, as described by the Dallas Morning News, "often espoused his version of traditional Middle Eastern values," including marrying his then 15-year-old wife when he was 30, threatening to take one of his daughters "back to Egypt and have her killed," where, as he put it, "it's OK to do that ... if you dishonor your family," trying to break up one of his daughters and her non-Muslim boyfriend, and threatening to kill both his daughters on multiple occasions over disputes surrounding their social lives. Summing it all up, the sisters' great-aunt Gail Gartrell stated unequivocally, "This was an honor killing."

The slayings of Sarah and Amina Said came on the heels of another apparent honor killing, that of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez in Mississauga, Ontario, last December. Aqsa was a vivacious and popular young woman whose attempts at a normal, Western teenage social life angered her Pakistani father, Muhammad Parvez. Aqsa, who was opposed to wearing a hijab and sometimes changed her outfit once she got to school, often clashed with her father and had left the family home a week before the attack out of fear. But she eventually returned, only to be met with strangulation at the hands of her own father. She died later in the hospital and the elder Parvez, who initially called the police, was charged with her murder. Aqsa's 26-year-old brother, Waqas, was charged with obstructing police.

Like the Said sisters, Aqsa had long suffered abuse at the hands of her father, reports of which were never adequately pursued by Canadian authorities. But Aqsa's friends saw trouble brewing and, according to the National Post, noted that "she had been threatened by her strictly religious family before." According to one of them, Ebonie Mitchell, Aqsa held conflicting opinions with her family on wearing a hijab. As she put it, Aqsa "just wanted to dress like we do. Last year, she wore like the Islamic stuff and everything, the hijab, and this year she's all western. She just wanted to look like everyone else." As another friend, Krista Garbhet, noted, "She just wanted to be herself; honestly, she just wanted to show her beauty." However, as Aqsa was to discover, the latter desire can have dangerous consequences for young Muslim women in the West.

In the wake of Parvez's murder, one would hope for moral clarity from the Canadian Muslim community. But with a few exceptions, the usual suspects issued the usual apologetics....


4 comments:

ERS said...

Between the dishonor killings of Pakistani-Canadian Aqsa Parvez and the Egyptian-American Said sisters was a third North American dishonor killing. This one occurred in suburban Chicago, when a father who thought his daughter married beneath her caste set fire to her apartment building, killing her, his son in law, their child, and their fetus.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

GS Don Morris, Ph.D. said...

Would love to post your work-alll the best-doc

Karen said...

Thank you for keeping these horrific crimes in the public eye. We are our sisters' keepers.
The dishonor falls in hiding behind claims of cultural or moral relativism to excuse these heinous murders.

Interestingly, Judaism and Islam both teach that if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the entire world.

Karen Tintori
Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family
www.karentintori.com

GS Don Morris, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for continuing to awaken our general population-all the best-doc