Tuesday, January 10, 2006
KILLING WOMEN IS MURDER
Pakistan’s Daily Times reports Nazir Ahmed appears calm and unrepentant as he recounts how he slit the throats of his three young daughters and their 25-year old stepsister to salvage his family’s “honor” - a crime that shocked Pakistan. The 40-year old laborer, speaking to The Associated Press in police detention as he was being shifted to jail, confessed to just one regret - that he didn’t murder the stepsister’s alleged lover too.
Male relatives murder hundreds of girls and women each year in the country, rights groups said on today.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that more than half of such cases do not make it to court. Most are settled with cash settlements paid by relatives to the victims’ families, although under a law passed last year, the minimum penalty is 10 years, the maximum death by hanging.
Ahmed’s wife Rehmat Bibi witnessed his killing spree as she cradled their three month-old baby son on a Friday night in December at their home in the cotton-growing village of Gago Mandi in Punjab. It is the latest of more than 260 such honor killings documented by the rights commission, mostly from media reports, during the first 11 months of 2005.
Bibi recounted that she was woken by a shriek as Ahmed put his hand to the mouth of his stepdaughter Muqadas and struck her in the throat with a machete. Bibi looked helplessly from the corner of the room as he then killed the three girls - Bano, eight Sumaira, seven, and Humaira, four, pausing between the slayings to brandish the bloodstained knife at his wife, warning her not to intervene or raise alarm. “I was shivering with fear. I did not know how to save my daughters,” Bibi, sobbing, told AP by phone from the village. “I begged my husband to spare my daughters but he said, ‘If you make a noise, I will kill you.”’ “The whole night the bodies of my daughters lay in front of me. I did not have the sense to know what has happened.”
The next morning, Ahmed was arrested. Speaking exclusively to AP in the back of police pickup truck, as he was shifted to a prison in Multan, Ahmed showed no contrition. Appearing disheveled but composed; he said he killed Muqadas because she had committed adultery, and his daughters because he didn’t want them to do the same when they grew up. He said he bought a butcher’s knife and a machete after midday prayers on Friday and hid them in the house where he carried out the killings.
“I thought the younger girls would do what their eldest sister had done, so they should be eliminated,” he said, his hands cuffed, his face unshaven. “We are poor people and we have nothing else to protect but our honor.” Despite Ahmed’s contention that Muqadas had committed adultery, the rights commission reported that according to local people, Muqadas had fled her husband because he had abused her and forced her to work in a brick-making factory. Muqadas was Bibi’s daughter by her first marriage to Ahmed’s brother, who died 14 years ago. Ahmed married his brother’s widow.
“Women are treated as property and those committing crimes against them do not get punished,” said the rights commission’s director, Kamla Hyat. “The steps taken by our government have made no real difference.” Activists accuse President Pervez Musharraf, a self-styled moderate Muslim, of reluctance to reform outdated Islamized laws that make it difficult to secure convictions in rape, acid attacks and other cases of violence against women. They say police are often reluctant to prosecute, regarding such crimes as family disputes.
Statistics on honor killings are confused and imprecise, but figures from the rights commission’s web site and its officials show a marked reduction in cases this year: 267 in the first 11 months of 2005, compared with 579 during all of 2004. The Ministry of Women’s Development said it had no reliable figures. Ijaz Elahi, the ministry’s joint secretary, said the violence was decreasing and that increasing numbers of victims were reporting incidents to police or the media. Laws, including one passed last year to beef up penalties for honor killings, had been toughened, she said.
Police in Multan said they would complete their investigation into Ahmed’s case in the next two weeks and that he faces the death sentence if he is convicted for the killings and terrorizing his neighborhood. Ahmed, who did not resist arrest, was unrepentant. “I told the police that I am a honorable father and I slaughtered my dishonored daughter and the three other girls,” he said. “I wish that I get a chance to eliminate the boy she ran away with and set his home on fire.”
Women’s groups around the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike have railed for years against honor killings. They wonder where the men are.
Abed Anabtawi, spokesman for the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Palestine, insists men have not abandoned the arena. He says, in 1997, for example, the committee issued a denunciation of family honor killings, and it plans to discuss the issue again soon, at the request of the women's organizations. Such killings were also discussed a few weeks ago at a conference about violence in Arab society, he noted.
"These murders are misnamed," he declared. "This is not where real honor lies, either for the family or for the Arab public as a whole."
Women's organizations also accuse the police and prosecution of not doing enough to fight the phenomenon: Often, only the murderers are charged, but not other family members who abetted the killing. And women who complain to the police about threats are still usually sent back to their families - even though some complainants were ultimately murdered.
Shahed Amanullah, editor-in-chief of alt.Muslim, writes, “Violence against women is by no means limited to the Muslim world, but as Muslims we are called upon to be better. All the Islamic condemnations of violence against women mean nothing if they lay in dusty, unopened books and are not used against the tribal, patriarchal madness that has continued to infect the Muslim world from the beginning. And even then, condemnations are not enough. The men who commit these crimes and who are escaping with slaps on the wrist must be brought to justice.”
She writes further on, “We have a long way to go to rid ourselves of this plague. Legal systems in the Muslim world, which often mete out light sentences for "honor" killings, need to be strengthened to provide appropriate punishments. Participants in these crimes should not be allowed to hide behind qisas, which allows the relatives of a woman (who often are sympathetic to the murderer) to forgive him or offer blood money to avoid punishment. And Muslim states should offer proper protection to women who are escaping domestic violence or threat of death. And most importantly, we must not allow these people to hide behind Islamic justifications for "honor" killing. Even if "honor" killers don't fear God, we must at least make them fear us.”
Following the murder in Pakistan the Muslim Women’s League and the Muslim Public Affairs Council issued the following statement:
“The Muslim Women's League and the Muslim Public Affairs Council strongly condemn any and all honor killings as a complete violation of the teachings of Islam. On December 23rd, Nazir Ahmed murdered his 25 year old stepdaughter and three daughters (all under the age of 9) in a village in Pakistan. This case is an aberration, reflecting the actions of a deranged, mentally unstable individual.
“Religious illiteracy is a pervasive problem in the Muslim world that allows for such crimes to be erroneously justified by Islam. The Muslim Women's League and MPAC call upon the religious leaders of Pakistan, and other Muslim countries, to begin a campaign of religious education of their people, emphasizing the principles of equality, justice and accountability as expressed in the Qur'an.
"A woman's moral conduct is not 'owned' by anyone else but herself. Her honor belongs to her, and not to her family," argues Dr. Maher Hathout in his new book "In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam". "It is for God to judge her, and to determine the punishment for any moral indiscretions on her part, not for her family of the society to do so."
“The general devaluation of female children, along with the culturally acceptable notion that women bear the burden of honor for their entire family, creates an environment where such a heinous act could occur. According to Islamic law, or Shari'a, children are not considered accountable for their deeds in a legal or moral sense until after they complete puberty. All children, both male and female, are guaranteed basic rights in Islam including the right of safety and security.
“Furthermore, individual members of society are not allowed to take the law into their own hands and render punishment, regardless of whether a crime has been committed or not. Therefore, the murder of these young girls in Pakistan can be viewed only as a horrible homicide for which their father should be punished under the full extent of the law.
The Muslim Women’s League suggests for a more detailed discussion of the issue of honor killings within Islamic law go to http://www.mwlusa.org/publications/positionpapers/hk.html
The Muslim Women's League is a non-profit Muslim American organization working to implement the values of Islam and thereby reclaim the status of women as free, equal and vital contributors to society. Sources: Muslim Women’s League, Alt. Muslim, Daily Times (Pakistan), Pakistan Tribune, Ha’aretz (Israel), Feminist Majority Foundation