There is no honour in killing

Honour comes through working hard, playing by the rules and supporting your family. There is no honour in killing

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Murdered: Rona Shafia (left) and her three daughters including Sahar Shafia (right)
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Ghaffar Hussain
On 1 February 2012 11:25

The thorny issue of ‘honour killings’ has reared its ugly head once again after a jury in Kingston, Ontario found Mohammad Shafia, a Canadian-Afghan, along with his wife and son, guilty of murdering his three daughters and ex-wife. All four victims were found drowned inside a submerged Nissan Sentra that had been pushed into a canal.

The daughters, aged 13, 17 and 19, were viewed by their deranged father as having become ‘too liberal’ and not respectful enough of him and his values. In his twisted worldview, his young girls dressing in western clothes and having boy friends was enough to warrant their execution in cold blood.

Honour killing cases have come to light in the UK, the US and Canada all too frequently in recent years. Depressing as all such cases are, this case has a heightened sense of tragedy, and greater cause for concern, due to the fact that these poor young girls had already reached out to the police, social services and teachers for help. Nothing was done.

This revelation has led to much soul-searching amongst Canadians who are generally regarded as some of the most liberal, tolerant and pro-immigration people in the world. They are also often accused of being cultural relativists and therefore guilty of allowing a climate within which crimes such as honour killings can thrive.

Questions, such as ‘if these were three white girls would they still be alive?’, have already been asked and policy debates centring earlier intervention are taking place as I write this piece. The dilemma for Canadians is how to maintain an open society where individuals are free to preserve their culture yet challenge ideas that go against the spirit of liberalism and democracy.

Condemnations of Mohammad Shafia and his brutal actions have been forthcoming from all sections of Canadian society. Muslim leaders in particular have been very quick off the mark and issued very strong worded statements about honour killings focusing on their incompatibility with Islamic values. Whilst this is heartening, I would prefer it if such individuals were less concerned about protecting the image of Islam and more concerned with challenging the patriarchal values that lead to such crimes.

Honour killings occur when ultra socially conservative minded, ego-centric, but not necessarily religious, men view their daughters and wives as emblematic of their image in the community through their public conduct. As such, behaviour which they feel could bring shame on them and their family name needs to be prevented, at all costs. When such behaviour does occur, it has too often proved the case that the only perceived way in which ‘honour’ can be restored is by killing the offending female.

It is a very difficult mindset to understand and one that we like to think doesn’t exist in the western world. Unfortunately, not only does it exist but, in my view, not enough is being done to challenge it.

Just as with terrorism, condemnation of the act alone is never enough. The act is often the final destination of a journey that was undertaken because a set of misguided and ill-conceived values encouraged an individual to interpret reality in a certain way. As such, prevention can only begin if one is prepared to challenge and undermine those values which facilitate acts of barbarity.

Individuals such as Mohammad Shafia need to realise that you can’t take advantage of an economically and politically liberal environment whilst resisting the socially liberal aspects of it. When you chose to settle your family in an open and pluralistic society, you need to be prepared to respect individuality and free choices.

Honour comes through working hard, playing by the rules and supporting your family.

There is no honour in killing. 

Ghaffar Hussain is a leading independent counter-extremism expert

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