BBC silence on honor killings and Islam

YouTube Preview ImageThe BBC reports three Pakistani women were murdered by a member of their family for insulting the family honor by “smiling and laughing in the rain outside their family home” . The Corporation does a strong job in detailing the who, what, where and when of this “honor killing”, but continues its policy of hiding the why. The mention of Islam is absent from this story.

The story opens with the what, who and where:

Three women in north Pakistan have been shot dead by a male relative who seemed to have believed that they had brought shame on their family, police say. A mother and her two daughters – one aged just 17 – were allegedly killed by her stepson. He had apparently seen a family video in which the daughters were shown laughing in front of their family home.

We then are offered this tortured sentence explaining why:

The woman’s stepson appears to have considered the footage an assault on the family’s honour. So-called honour killings are common in northern Pakistan where women are seldom seen by men other than their relatives.

The story offers background information, noting this was not a freak occurrence.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that five young women and two men were reported killed in the same region last year after footage emerged of them singing and dancing together at a wedding. The killings were said to have been ordered by a tribal Jirga, or local council. But locals denied anyone had been killed when Pakistan’s Supreme Court send a fact-finding mission to the area. Leading human rights campaigners however expressed fear that all those in the wedding video were dead.

The article closes with this grim note:

Campaigners say more than 900 women were killed in Pakistan last year in the name of family honour. In spite of reform in the law they say conviction rates are not encouraging and in most cases the killers escape justice.

The self-censorship from the BBC on this issue would be comic if it were not so horrible. True, the BBC did not interview the killer and hear from his own lips the reasons why his relatives’ conduct impugned his family’s honor. Yet we have a statement from an advocacy group detailing the frequency of these crimes and the lack of punishment for the perpetrators. Might they have had an idea?

When the link between Islam and honor killings is raised, it more often than not takes the form of special pleading.  While it is important to hear why some Muslim scholars believe honor killings are not condoned in Islam, one is left wondering why we do not hear from those who support this barbaric practice, or who can explain why it is such a widespread belief. Do a little digging and you will find these voices. Do a little more digging and you will see that the legal codes of a number of Muslim-majority states do not in practice punish honor killings, or punish their perpetrators far less severely than they do others convicted of murder.

An example of the special pleading on honor killings and Islam came from CNN following the 2011 Shafia case in Ontario. “Islam doesn’t justify ‘honor murders,’ experts insist” stated:

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly endorsed the Canadian judge’s verdict, insisting that “honor murders” had no place and no support in Islam. “There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family,” said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England. represent?

Is this view universal within Islam? Why then do some Islamic jurists find justification in Islam for honor killings? Why did religious leaders object to laws strengthening penalties against honor killing in Pakistan if this was so?

In a 4 Dec 2008 interview with Al-Hayat TVWafa Sultan argued that honor crimes arose from within Islam.

The subjugation of women reduces them to a level lower than beasts – not to mention the laws of inheritance, testimony in court, the beating of a wife who refuses to go to bed with her husband, and ‘honor’ crimes. “Muhammad said in a hadith: ‘Three things spoil one’s prayer: a woman, a black dog, and a donkey.’ Do they ever give this any thought? Do they realize that Allah chose the female body for his greatest invention – creation itself? Wouldn’t it be moral to bestow upon the female body a certain holiness, instead of viewing it as impure?”

Should we take Dr. Sultan seriously? She is a Syrian-born physician and human rights activist who now lives in Southern California. In 2006 she was profiled by Time as one of the “100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world.”

In the Shafia case we have testimony from one of the killers explaining why he did it. The Star reported that a wiretap caught the killer telling his wife (and co-conspirator):

To his wife, Shafia allegedly assured that the right actions had been taken: “I say to myself, you did well. Were they to come back to life, I would do it again. No Tooba, they messed up. There was no other way. They were treacherous. They betrayed us immensely. There can be no betrayal worse than this. They committed treason on themselves. They betrayed humankind. They betrayed Islam. They betrayed our religion. They betrayed everything.”

Pride, culture and religion are cited as reasons for the honor killing. If the reporting does not lay out why these killers interpreted their faith as allowing them to kill women, the reader is left to conclude that the killers are moral monsters, are fanatics or insane.

Tell me GetReligion readers should the BBC raise the question of religion when reporting on honor killing? Is it right to ignore the religious element or make a blanket denial that Islam supports honor killings? Are we seeing unequal treatment of Islam from the BBC? Does it treat other faiths this way?

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  • Dingo Dongo

    We then are offered this tortured sentence explaining why:

    The woman’s stepson appears to have considered the footage an assault on the family’s honour. So-called honour killings are common in northern Pakistan where women are seldom seen by men other than their relatives.

    Which of those two sentences is supposed to be tortured?

    • geoconger

      ‘appears’ … ‘considered’ … ‘so-called’ … These are a reporter’s weasel words.

  • RayIngles

    If the reporting does not lay out why these killers interpreted their
    faith as allowing them to kill women, the reader is left to conclude
    that the killers are moral monsters, are fanatics or insane.

    Why can’t there be an ‘all of the above’ option?

  • LuxRex

    To your typical very secular BBC listener (less than 5% of native born Brits attend church) and writer–religious reasons for anything are just totally implausible.

    Besides that, the underlying reason for the BBC silence is the number of Muslims now in the UK…especially in the larger cities..and the politically-correct, “we must never offend them” FEAR, that comes with that. Laws against “hate” and “insulting” religion or culture–also are major factors in the UK… (Yes, the US 1st Ammendment does mean something, in the US).

    Bottom line: When it comes to Islam, journalists have NO guts.

  • Noah Smith

    Speaking as a Brit, I think the reason why the BBC didn’t blame Islam is because the right-wing, ill-educated American Christian demographic in Britain is mercifully small. This article is amazing: You’re actually complaining that a foreign owned state news organisation hasn’t presented the facts to suit your own prejudices. As if the BBC is Fox News. So called “Honour Killings” (lets call it what it is – misogynistic murder) isn’t just confined to Muslims but also among Sikhs, Hindus (India has a big problem) but also Christian countries and regions such as Corsica, Sicily, the Balkans, Africa and Latin America. In fact anywhere where there’s men. I’m appalled at the ignorance you’ve displayed

    • George Conger

      The ill-educated demographic is large on both sides of the Atlantic
      among left and right.

      • Noah Smith

        true but I did say American Christian ;)

    • Msironen

      “In fact anywhere where there’s men.”

      Last time I checked, there were men in Scandinavia. Can you point to a honor killing epidemic there (immigrants not withstanding)?

      • Noah Smith

        Honor killing involves men killing women over issues of disrespect. I’m aware of the low crime rates in Scandinavian countries but I’m pretty confident that men murdering women still occurs.

        • Msironen

          That’s pretty weak, even for goal post shifting. Zero points.

          • Noah Smith

            Have you edited your initial post to include the second paragraph? If you’re really interested in the subject, educate yourself, don’t rely on some random guy on the internet.

          • Msironen

            I haven’t edited anything. Your demonization of men stands on its own appalling merits.

          • Noah Smith

            You have edited it and now you’re lying about it. (Slow, sarcastic hand clap) Bravo, sir/madam, bravo.

      • jasmine999

        What you need for an “honor killing,” is a culture where women’s
        sexuality is considered shameful, and where a man’s honor is tied to “his” woman’s sexual purity. Sadly, such societies and killings are not limited to Islamic lands. They’re not even limited to Abrahamic religions; a Roman father had the right to kill his wife or daughter if they “dishonored” him through sexual behavior. You see a form of it in Shakespeare’s Much Ado. I hate to put it this way, but it’s basically “backward” behavior, independent of religion.

        • Msironen

          Thank you for this red herring.

          • jasmine999

            Not a red herring. Your insistence on tying Islam to honor killings is overly simplistic. Honor killings happen in cultures where a family’s honor is tied to a woman’s sexual purity. That’s what you have to change. Seriously, watch Much Ado. Joss Whedon has a great version out now.

  • JimmyKhan007

    Honor killing is mostly a cultural issue rather than a religious one. One of the worst country for honor killing and violence against women is India – a Hindu country.

    • SatyaAsian

      That’s not what the statistics say Jimmy…look them up. Almost every honor killing, 97% of them in the world are done by Muslims to Muslims.

  • Whitney Elliott Azzab

    I am an American Christian women living in Egypt doing research for my PHd in psychology in Human behavior.I came here to find the beauty of Islam and prove how women are NOT treated badly.I CAN’T.Everything done here is in the name of Islam, then if I point out I don’t know of it being in the Koran-show me I am told it’s culture.The weight of morality is on the women,when clearly the men need to be raised to control themselves, the weight of the children is on the women, while the men are of at the Mosques or coffee shops whose at home-of course the women, when someone gets married a rifle goes off and the man starts yelling in the night letting everyone know he’s popped his virgin-that is an utter disrespect and completely repulsive.If a woman works along side her husband for years even in hard labor, who benefits and deserves his inheritance if he dies-not his wife. He doesn’t do anything when he gets home even if she has worked all day outside the home, they should work together at home.Men here do what they want, when they want, and as a woman don’t say shit about it.

    • Noah Smith

      The gang rapes in Tahir Square are appalling. Very few religions extol women and certainly none of the abrahamic ones (outside of liberal interpretations). Hinduism have lots of goddess, yet that doesn’t stop men from treating women like garbage in much of India. Islam view of women is awful but I’m not aware of anything in the Qur’an which mandates honour killing. Did you find anything in your studies?

      • http://ralphanomics.blogspot.com/ Ralph Musgrave

        I’m not aware of anything in Mein Kampf which mandates gassing Jews.

        • Noah Smith

          I’m not aware of that either. I fail to see your point.

  • Rima Peaks

    Killing your family member for the sake of your clan’s pride and dignity seems so cruel but that is a part of their culture. And sadly, we cannot do anything about it at this point.
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  • http://www.ilhaad.wordpress.com/ Ilhaad

    The discussion about Islam with Muslims could take many dimensions, most of them will eventually go in favor Islam.
    Islam as a body of religious knowledge should be presented with its religious text only to avoid any bias, and should be commented accordingly.
    I rather support BBC’s instance on criticism of Islam, because any injustice or inhumanity whether found in any religion or custom or law any where in the world should be exposed, that’s what the basic purpose of media is.


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