A spate of grisly murders across Britain has recently drawn attention to another of Islam’s disturbing traditions. The institution of honor killings has not received the level of exposure accorded to some other distinctively Islamic practices such terrorism and beheadings, but it’s certainly worth learning about as it offers invaluable insights into the mindset of this resurgent religion.
By way of definition, an honor killing – a time-honored Muslim custom – is the murder of a female by members of her own family for sexually-related misconduct. The kind of behavior which qualifies as such ranges from adultery through wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothes to wanting to marry someone outside one’s own tribal group.
The last was the transgression of twenty-five year old Samaira Nazir of London. Spurning the offer of a pre-arranged marriage to a man chosen for her in Pakistan, she instead fell in love with an Afghan refuge, a Muslim also. For years she kept the relationship secret, but in the end she wanted to hide the truth no longer. Upon hearing the news, her father ordered her to break things off. When she refused, it was decided that she should die. Seized upon in her family home, she was violently attacked by her father, brother and cousin. Her screams alerted a neighbor who knocked on the door only to be told that the young woman was ‘having a fit.’ Moments later, Nazir managed to escape and ran out but her executioners caught up with her on the entrance porch and pulled her back by the hair. As the door was being shut, witnesses outside saw her waving her bloodstained arms. When the police finally arrived, they found her body slumped in a pool of blood with a scarf wound tightly around her neck through which three deep cuts had been made. In addition, Nazir’s body bore eighteen stab wounds inflicted with four different knives. The investigation revealed that she was held down by her own mother as her male kin went about their ghastly task. Nazir’s two cousins – girls aged two and four – were forced to watch to teach them what happens to a woman under Muslim law who refuses to abide by her family’s wishes.
The story of Banaz Mahmod, another Muslim woman from London, is if anything even more shocking for the ruthlessness of those with whom she should have found refuge and protection in a time of personal distress. Forced to enter into a prearranged marriage while barely seventeen, she ran away two years later after enduring physical and sexual abuse. Not sparing any sympathy, her family reacted with anger which turned to outright fury when she began dating a Muslim man who lacked proper tribal affiliations. Repeatedly beaten and fearing for her life, Mahmod sought help from the police who, however, refused to take any measures to protect her. Then one day in January of 2006, her family held a council where it was decided that she did not deserve to live. The next day she was violently murdered by her father and cousin who subsequently packed her body into a suitcase and drove 100 miles to bury it near an abandoned house in Birmingham. When her body finally discovered three months later, the string with which she was strangled still hung around her neck.
What makes the practice of honor killings especially odious is the brutal way in which it is often carried out. It would almost seem that the amount of honor that accrues to the self-appointed executioners is positively correlated with the degree of brutality employed in the act. It should also be noted that the types of conduct that in their minds qualify for this extreme measure are considered woman’s prerogative in civilized societies around the world.
The exact incidence of this practice in Muslim communities across Europe is very difficult to determine, because it is frequently either not reported or misreported by those who are normally most eager to see murder cases solved — victims’ own families. Many human rights observers such as Usha Sood, a lawyer specializing in forced marriage cases and lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, contend that honor crimes are becoming increasingly common and are ‘being perpetrated in the hundreds every year’ in Britain alone.
Conscious of this stark reality, British authorities recently reopened 119 suspicious deaths of women where no charges were brought, but which are now suspected to have been honor killings. In one of the most egregious crimes of this kind, a woman from the town Bradford is now believed to have been kidnapped and murdered by members of her family after a love song was played for her on radio.
The whole issue is further exacerbated by Europe’s politically correct climate where any negative reference to the Muslim lifestyle is not only frowned upon, but often viewed as a crime in itself.
Benaz Mahmod — who sought police assistance on at least four separate occasions — is a case in point. Desperate and in fear of her life, she even correctly named those who would murder her in the end. In a truly bizarre turn of events, the authorities considered at one point bringing criminal charges against her for damaging a window while trying to escape from her violent father. Thus Britain’s politically correct establishment sought to turn a victim of an Islamic tradition into a criminal. Now that an investigation is under way, the officer who handled Mahmod’s case testified that she was ordered by superiors to doctor the facts so as to put the whole matter in a better light. If anything, this should make people realize that political correctness is not merely some abstract academic construct, but a real menace that often costs lives. Nowhere is this perhaps more so than when it impinges on our ability to truthfully assess the threats posed by Islam.
In recognition of the endemic nature of this problem, the British government is in the process of setting up specialist units to investigate the practice of honor killings. That such measures are even necessary should make us rethink the compatibility of traditional Islam with the western way of life.
Above all, western policymakers must earnestly ask themselves whether a religion that honors such brutality can successfully fit into modern societies where human rights, the rule and law and tolerance are held supreme. It is becoming increasingly obvious that liberal civilization and traditional Islam are at odds in more ways than one. The tradition of honor killings — which according to a BBC poll is supported by no less than ten% of Britain’s Muslims — offers yet more striking evidence of Islam’s medieval mindset and raises further questions about its adaptability to the modern world.