BBC: Another generic, mysterious ‘honor killing’ (updated)

This time the bloody honor killing took place in a public place, for all to see — outside the Lahore High Court. The short BBC report noted:

Police said 30-year old Farzana Bibi died on the spot after being attacked with bricks and sticks. Her father handed himself in, but police say her brothers and former fiance, who also took part in the attack, were still free. …

Farzana Bibi’s parents accused her husband, Muhammad Iqbal, of kidnapping her, and had filed a case against him at the High Court. However, she testified to police that she had married him of her own accord. Police said the couple had been engaged for a number of years.

Religion, apparently, had nothing to do with this event, which was said to be a mere cultural phenomenon. However, the report ended by noting:

Under Pakistani law, the victim’s family is allowed to forgive the killer. However, in many cases family members are themselves responsible for the killing.

And what legal system forms the foundation of Pakistani law? What, for example, has been the root cause for the headline-generating Pakistan cases in which believers in a minority faith, usually Christianity, are accused of apostasy against the faith at the heart of the nation’s government and culture?

(By the way, the Associated Press included — in its lede — another detail BBC missed or omitted, the fact that Bibi was pregnant at the time she was murdered.)

There is no need to dwell on the Islamic element of this crime and it would be wrong to suggest that all Muslims in Pakistan, and elsewhere, practice, accept or ignore “honor killings.” In fact, a Washington Post report on this same crime did an excellent job of including the essential details. For example:

“I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,” her father told police, adding that it had been an “honor killing.”

The anecdote is horrifying. But even more horrifying is the regularity with which honor killings and stonings occur in Pakistan. Despite creeping modernity, secular condemnation and the fact there’s no reference to stoning in the Koran, honor killings claim the lives of more than 1,000 Pakistani women every year, according to a Pakistani rights group.

They have widespread appeal. Eighty-three percent of Pakistanis support stonings for adultery according to a Pew survey, and only 8 percent oppose it. Even those who chose modernity over Islamic fundamentalism overwhelmingly favor stonings, according to Pew research.

Yes, yes, there is the unfortunate use of the f-word, in clear violation of the Associated Press Stylebook guidelines. And “fundamentalist” shows up again in another crucial passage in this fine report.

Some Islamic fundamentalists think that only through the murder of an offending family member can honor be restored to the rest of the family. Honor killings predominantly affect women — 943 women were killed under such circumstances in 2011 and another 869 in 2013, though not all of them were stoned. Some were just gunned down in cold blood. …

Those who are stoned in an honor killing are oftentimes accused of committing adultery. Both genders face stonings in Pakistan and across 14 Muslim countries, but women are more frequently the targets.

The reason is rooted in sexual inequality in such countries, where the punishment has survived through some interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law, that say adultery is punishable by stoning.

This left me with two questions, once of which would have only required a few words to answer. How many men in Pakistan have died in honor killings, during the periods mentioned in the story? Even if no one really knows, or if the answer is effectively “zero,” then that is important information.

My other question, I admit, would require a paragraph or two: What is the reference in Islamic tradition that is being debated in these fights over sharia? In other words, when that brother threw a brick at the head of his sister, why did he believe that he did this in obedience to Allah? He believed that this was not only a rational act, but one necessary for holiness and justice. Why?

If the father talked, and he was quoted in some reports, how might he have answered that question? In terms of doctrine, why do these believers believe that they believe?

UPDATE: (Cue: audible sigh)

Thus saith The New York Times. Let us attend:

Honor killings in Pakistan are often mistakenly described as the product of Islamic law. Some reports on Tuesday described Ms. Parveen as the victim of a stoning — an image that conjures up images of Taliban-era executions of women accused of adultery — because she had been beaten to death with bricks.

But such killings more frequently stem from tribal traditions or deep-rooted cultural norms.

They are often called “stonings” because the women are buried up to their shoulders and then killed with stones. That was probably hard to do in an urban setting with a quickly moving target. Bricks were nearby, not stones.

However, the college of cardinals at The Times is right that there are disagreements INSIDE Islam over whether these traditions are linked to Islamic law and tradition. It is also clear that the “tribal” traditions (in other settings as well, apparently) have taken root in the Pakistani legal system, which is rooted in sharia. I am not sure that The Times is the final court that gets to settle those bloody debates among Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia B

    Why do you describe the folks at the NYT as “the college of cardinals”?

    • Reformed Catholic

      Um .. they meet in secret, and then pronounce their wisdom from afar??

      I really don’t think he meant anything other than that ..

  • Julia B

    Reformed Catholic: but the college of Cardinals isn’t a tribunal or a synod. The only function Cardinals as a body (college) have is electing a new Pope. “Cardinal” is a designation on top of already being a bishop or archbishop – it doesn’t move you up in authority – other than voting for the Pope. Burke was head of the Supreme Court at the Vatican for years before he was named a Cardinal. You don’t have to be a Cardinal to be a member of the many dicasteries and committees. Councils and synods also include bishops; their meetings are very open and everything is published. Most of the Cardinals are not theologians.

  • Jeremiah Oehlerich

    CNN sounded much like the NYTimes in their report.

    “So-called honor killings often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan, but are not a part of Islam. Although they’re common in rural areas, Tuesday’s attack in a public area of a big city was unusual.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/28/world/asia/pakistan-pregnant-woman-killed/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

  • Pol

    I believe that it is estimated that over 90% of so-called “honor” killings are carried out by Muslims. Excuse me for jumping to conclusions.


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