Today’s UK Guardian has a truly tragic story by Rachel Williams. The numbers now available reveal a horrendous rise of 47% in ‘honor’ crimes within the UK. Incidentally, that name ‘honor’ is not at all appropriate, what honor is there in any of this; dispensing violence and intimidation using your own hands upon your own family is the true shame in all this.
Rachel identifies two causes, one being the more obvious – folks are now more willing to come forward, but that is not the complete story here, because what is also happening is that the young are pushing back against the demands of their parents …
The 39 police forces that gave Ikwro figures recorded 2,823 incidents in 2010. Ikwro estimates that another 500 crimes in which police were involved were committed in the 13 force areas that did not provide data.
But this is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, campaigners say, as so many incidents go unreported because of victims’ fears of recriminations.
Jasvinder Sanghera of victim support group Karma Nirvana said the real figure could be four times as high.
Ikwro’s campaigns officer, Fionnuala Ni Mhurchu, said the increase was probably due partly to better police awareness and to more victims coming forward after coverage of high-profile prosecutions, but that violence itself was also increasing as young people increasingly refused to bow to their families’ demands.
It is hard to grasp the impact of this using numbers, so let’s be more specific and give you a couple of real stories. The girl pictured here on the left is Banaz Mahmod. In 2006 she repeatedly told police that her family were trying to kill her, but they did not then understand and take appropriate action. She was tortured for two hours, then raped and strangled. Her murder was planned and ordered by her father, Mahmod Mahmod, 50, and her uncle, Ari Mahmod because they did not approve of her boyfriend. During his trial Mohamad Hama, 30, laughed and joked as he described how they subjected Banaz Mahmod to a series of degrading acts of sexual violence during a 2½-hour ordeal in her home. Ms Mahmod, 20, disappeared in January 2007. Her body was found three months later, in a suitcase buried in a pit in Birmingham. This case led the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to publish a new strategy in 2008, which highlighted the need to gauge the scale of the problem. All frontline staff received awareness training and every force now has a champion on honour-based abuse.
Has it made a different? Apparently yes.
Maya (not her real name) is still alive because folks were aware and acted. Here are her own words …
When I was 16 my mum came into my room one day and said I had to get married to my cousin in Pakistan. I was horrified: I wanted to go to college and get a job, and I didn’t even know him, how could I marry him? But when I said no, my mum slapped me across the face.
After that I wasn’t allowed out. My family treated me with disgust, as if I had shamed them. My father, mother, even my young brother, beat me on a daily basis. My body was covered in bruises.
I wasn’t given any food for days on end, and I tried to take an overdose on several occasions. I just used to sit on my bed from morning to night. Prison would have been a better place.
After around a month, they let me go out to the doctor. Terrified, I sat in the toilet and called a solicitors’ firm. I’ve not seen my family since that day. A wonderful solicitor got me a place at a refuge and a forced marriage protection order.
But I’m still constantly paranoid: I’m always looking over my shoulder. I’ve lost everything. And I’m scared of what will happen if they find me.
These are not single isolated cases, here is a link to six more published today.
You might be wondering what the heck is going on here that drives families to tear themselves apart like this.
Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University, says that honor killing is:
A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society. .. What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honour killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What’s behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.
An Amnesty International statement adds:
The regime of honor is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honor by attacking the woman.
The lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani says, “The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions.” (ref)
Nighat Taufeeq of the women’s resource center Shirkatgah (Lahore, Pakistan) says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.” (ref)
A July 2008 Turkish study by a team from Dicle University on honor killings in the Southeastern Anatolia Region, the predominantly Kurdish area of Turkey, has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to honor killing. It also comments that the practise is not related to a feudal societal structure, “there are also perpetrators who are well-educated university graduates. (ref)
OK, the most obvious elephant in the room here is that this tends to be all happening within an Islamic context. I note with interest that none of the news articles mention this at all, and instead carefully avoid the topic. Should we then leap in where they fear to tread? Well, it is tempting to blame Islamic belief without really thinking about it, but it is not that simple (it never is). There is nothing in the belief system itself that appears to directly justify or even encourage honour crimes and so it is not Islam as a religion that takes any stick for this in the press, yet it is Islamic culture that drives all this, why? Well basically because of the prominent and long-standing view that women are considered property. Now that then brings us right back to an irrational belief system that nurtures and cherishes such thinking and deems it to be beyond criticism.