‘Honour’ killings – time to step out of ignorance’s shadow

7 Aug

According to the Crown prosecution Service it is believed that over 10,000 forced marriages take place every year. Whether they are about retaining honour, culture, or adhering to what are believed to be the ‘rules’ governing their religious practices is highly debateable, however, this is not for myself or others to insist or assume.

As the daughter of two religious parents, one an African Muslim and the other a European Orthodox Christian, my upbringing often involved a lot of negotiations between religious and cultural practices. It was always argued by my father, a Muslim, that I would be expected to marry another Muslim through an arranged – not forced, marriage. At 24 years old I am not yet married and I plan, when I do to marry out of love and not through a need to satisfy the religious or cultural opinions of my parents. While I respect both their beliefs, they are not ones that I practice myself and I hope that I will make both of them proud irrespective of the person I chose to marry, if I do of course. Naturally this is a bridge I will cross when I reach it but the consequences of a marrying a non-Muslim in the future should I not find love with a Muslim naturally, does make me anxious.

I write this four days after the conviction of Shafelia Ahmed’s parents who were each sentenced to 25 years in prison for her brutal and callous murder through a renowned but highly illegal tradition which has been termed ‘honour’ killing. What honour there is in such an act remains to be proven but I am firmly of a belief that natural parenting techniques grown out of love and a want for your children to be both disciplined but happy would result in more honour than the murder of your teenage daughter who was merely exercising her right to experience the Western culture of where she lived.

It has taken eight years to convict Ifitkhar and Farzana Ahmed for their daughter’s murder. Even after police placed covert listening devices in their home, numerous ‘staged’ press conferences and mass searches for a killer were undertaken. Even while Shafelia was alive the signs were there that she was experiencing both emotional and physical abuse.  She absconded from home numerous times and confessed to friends and even school teachers about her abusive life at home. The problem was that too much mediation was attempted between cultures and no real questions were asked out of a fear of appearing ignorant. Shafelia often gave half-hearted statements on her returns home from running away that she was happy to remain at home and these were taken as gospel and nothing further was pursued by police. Her murder soon followed. Beaten and suffocated by a plastic bag being stuffed down her throat by her own parents in front of her siblings – this was a threat to them to steer away from Western culture.

The government has kept heavily away from any legislation or strict comments on such ‘honour’ killings, which are present more prominently in Islamic, Sikh and Hindu cultures and mostly the Asian communities, through a fear of being accused of a attack on multiculturalism and of appearing racist. However, it is ultimately the government’s responsibility to implement a cultural change which negotiates, not mediates between cultures.

Even as Shafelia’s case has been prominent in the national media there have been no huge attempts to educate and implement an understanding on the cultural practices of marriage. Both sides of the argument need to accept that they are a part of a multicultural society and that negotiation and education needs to be incorporated.

Most will be asking why a Pakistani family would choose to bring up their children in a Western country when they were so set against the values and cultural practices of that country. However asking this question doesn’t eradicate the problem but moves it elsewhere.

Efforts should be made to both understand and educate by those involved inclusive of the police, teachers and the general public in the sense of becoming knowledgeable about the practices of all races, religions and beliefs. Both settlers in England and those English born need to embrace multiculturalism without having it impede their own beliefs as an initial step.

When I was younger I was granted with opportunities to learn two new languages and be educated on both the cultures I was born into. Initially I was never interested but throughout my teens even as I negotiated between wanting to wear make-up and not being allowed to, being friends with both boys and girls or just girls and wearing loose fitting clothes or tight jeans I realised that I was ultimately lucky enough to have been given a choice.

It is important that we don’t lose sight of Shafelia’s death as just one case of many and that it is not just Muslims that exercise this age old tradition. It is important we open our eyes and engage with the wealth of cultures we are surrounded with in order to develop a truly culturally rich society which avoids such fatalities because it understands them enough to know how to prevent them.

Author:Nadya SJ

Source(s):The Times

Photographs:Google images, ITV

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