Shame those who seek to control under the guise of love
Seventeen-year-old Shafilea Ahmed was killed by her parents. They stuffed a plastic bag into her mouth, and then her father suffocated her. Shafilea's mother encouraged him to "finish it". They wrapped up her dead body in bin bags and the father disposed of them, to be found six months later in a river bed.
This week, these two despicable human beings were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of their own daughter. Her crime? She didn't do what they wanted.
The judge described how they wanted their daughter to live like she was in Pakistan. When she didn't, they resorted to "intimidation, bullying and the use of physical violence" and even took her back to Pakistan to "sort her out". Shafilea was so distraught at the prospect of a forced marriage that she drank bleach.
The subsequent media coverage used the description "honour killing", pointing out that the parents were driven by concern over what their peers would say about Shafilea's behaviour into killing her.
But all of this is just packaging for the real motivation behind their crime: desire for total control.
Shafilea's murder is another horrific death of a woman in a country where two women each week die at the hands of their partners. While Shafilea's killing highlights the role of cultural expectations or honour, all of these killings are about control: the desire for the kind of control that is so consuming that it clouds out love, empathy, even the parental instinct to protect, and ultimately destroys life.
There are few crimes more disgusting than parents killing their own child. But control can be more subtle and just as damaging, destroying the spark of a human being and their God-given right to make their own free choices.
When we worry more about what other people think than the effect on our family members, we're on the wrong side of control. If abuse, whether physical, verbal or emotional, is the method for treating women who hold their own views it is clear that you're being driven by the need to control, rather than true concern. True concern comes in the shape of guidance and respect.
But these arguments about respecting women and eschewing social pressure appeal only to the rationally minded. The desire for control is not rational.
Cultural change is required because the acceptance of control is widespread and embedded across all cultures. It can be in the unspoken but dictatorial expectations that are set. It is in the narrowness of choices permitted.
A question often raised in relation to such murders is: is this a problem with Islam? The answer is simple: no. If anything, the Quran is quite clear that killing is a heinous crime.
But is it a problem that social and religious leaders including Muslim leaders must address? Of course it is. Since such controlling individuals cite "people" as giving or taking away honour, religious argument can be a powerful weapon in turning the shame onto those who do the controlling rather than onto the victim.
Religious moral leadership can also give the courage and the words to those within a community of religion who want to challenge such behaviour.
Those with authority have a duty to use their platform to denounce such horrific events in no uncertain terms. We expect them to work hard with all of us to make sure there are no more Shafileas.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk.
Published: August 11, 2012 04:00 AM