Dishonor in Peshawar

It's hard to keep up with all the horrifying news out of Pakistan these days, but this just caught my eye. Two "men" in Peshawar gunned down their own sister for the "dishonor" brought on the family by her singing on TV.

Singer Ayman Udas ‘shot by her brothers for TV sin’ – Times Online

A RISING musical star was allegedly shot dead by her own brothers in the conservative city of Peshawar in Pakistan last week after she had appeared on television.

The murder of Ayman Udas, who was in her early thirties and newly married, has shocked the city’s artistic community because it symbolises a backlash against women and cultural freedom in an area that is increasingly dominated by Islamic funda-mentalists.

As a singer and song writer in her native Pashto, the language of the tribal areas and the NorthWest Frontier province, Udas frequently performed on PTV, the state-run channel.

She won considerable acclaim for her songs but had become a musician in the face of bitter opposition from her family, who believed it was sinful for a woman to perform on television.

Ashamed of her growing popularity her two brothers are reported to have entered her flat last week while her husband was out and fired three bullets into her chest. Neither has been caught.

Here we have an example of why I find it hard to take seriously Muslim reformers who declare the solution to all problems to be a "return to tradition" without ever conceding just how dysfunctional and/or ethically myopic some influential conceptions of said tradition are.  If you never get around to speaking out against the various bastardized "Islamic" traditions that are in circulation today, vague slogans about the need for tradition above all else are more likely to worsen the community's problems by seeming to sanction the status quo.

Also, there's a tendency in some conservative Muslim circles to instinctively dismiss calls for the affirmation of individual "rights" (especially those of Muslim women) as symptoms of overweening individualism and Western brainwashing as opposed to legitimate attempts to promote Islamic values of justice.

Tell that to Mrs. Udas.

I know that I (and you, mostly likely) live in a completely different world, but I have to ask, where is the honor in this? However conservative a community's mores may be, such inhumanity and cowardice should stain a family's reputation infinitely more than the supposed immodesty.

Meanwhile, everyone up in NWFP is happily watching everything under the sun via satellite and DVD (including, as Pakistani anthropologist Akbar S. Ahmed lamented, pornography). I remember how one of my first sights in when alighting from a bus in Rawalpindi years ago was a massive, hand-painted billboard of Wesley Snipes as "Blade" and how shocked I was by the crudeness of some of the local movie posters (I hear Pushto movies are even more violent, crude and debasing to women than Punjabi ones, a notion that causes my head to spin; to wit, this film poster, with it's rather strategic camera angles).

Every store shelf is overflowing with Hollywood films that include all manner of female characters and not too long ago Pakistani news regularly featured clips of their female prime minister, but one is to assume that this family's peers are so hopelessly sheltered, innocent of the complexities of modern civilization, and unaccustomed to the sight of a woman in public as to be incapable of understanding that a woman appearing on TV is not necessarily signaling her promiscuity to the world??

Notice how she was already married and how the murderers had to wait until the person with the most traditional "honor" at stake in her choice, her husband, was away to commit this grisly crime.  This isn't about traditional virtues of modesty or propriety, but rather the ultimately far more sacred prerogatives of male power and domination in a schizophrenic post-tribal culture.  She was killed because she exercised her God-given right to make a few critical life decisions for herself.

These obscene parodies of traditional values that sacrifice all on the altar of fragile male egos get me inexpressibly angry. If there were real honor in this ugly story, these two cowards would be swinging from a tree.

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