Mouth to Mouth: How Pakistani Senator’s Comments Overshadow the Real Story

Ramadan Mubarak everyone! I spent the first day of Ramadan at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities protesting the 2,342,343,253 ways (roughly) that our lovely ruling party has screwed over the world. But maybe that’s another story for another blog. This post might be a little shorter than usual because, honestly, marching all day and holding up signs (‘Stop Hating Brown People!!!’) in the hot sun with robocops on the sidelines definitely takes a lot out of me.

My country of origin, Pakistan, is yet again making headlines because a senator in Balochistan has publicly defended the murders of five young women who decided to have court marriages with their own free will. The women were BURIED ALIVE in the name of honor.

We have covered honor killings before on MMW, probably more than we would like because they happen so much. But a person who has institutional power openly and proudly stating his support of honor killings?? That is just out of my sphere of understanding….and unfortunately, it makes Pakistan look ridiculous.

However, the coverage of the issue on the PakTribune is amazing. Since it is a Pakistani news source, the coverage is not condescending or paternalistic. It doesn’t have a feel of “Pakistan is backwards because of this ONE senator’s opinions”. Instead, the author acknowledges the shock that most Pakistanis would feel if they knew that the senator said what he did. They also do something that is INTEGRAL to the positive portrayal of Muslim women in the media, and that is recognizing the radical work that Muslim women are doing to create change in the communities in which they live.

The article speaks of the women as revolutionaries who were brave enough to break down cultural norms to do what they needed to do to live happy lives. It is because of their strength and courage that they were seen as a threat to the tribal customs and thus, dehumanized, tortured, and ultimately buried alive.

So many news articles about honor killings refuse to acknowledge that most of the time, the acts that women engage in that are considered to be ‘shameful’ are done as acts of resistance against the norms. The women were not meek or timid…they were starting a revolution of their own and gave their lives for the cause. In order for their deaths to not be in vain, news outlets must recognize their bravery and their defiance instead of making them look like weak and submissive little girls.

Too many people in the ‘Western’ world want to make assumptions about Muslim women….we know this all too well. We are NOT weak and we are NOT submissive. We ARE strong, powerful, able-minded revolutionaries in our right. Many of us fight our fights simply by living our lives and many of us protest in more intentional ways. None of these acts should be overlooked. So the next time you hear about an honor killing on BBC or CNN, remember that the woman who died was killed because she was seen as a threat to patriarchy…and she was a hero in her own revolution.

Editor’s Note: Fatima does a great analysis here, but I wanted to point out something extra.

Notice in both stories, the focus is on what the senator said (or didn’t say). Even in this story from the BBC, that highlights the fact that the Pakistani senate has condemned the killings and called for action to be taken against the perpetrators, the focus is on politics.

The horrific murders of these women happened in July, over a month ago. We reported on it in our Friday Links for August 15, which was the same week we learned of the story, and we could only find one source (via Raquel Evita Saraswati) for that story. There was nothing in major Western news outlets about this.

But as soon as a senator says something horrible about the incident, there are three stories within a week. As if what the senator said in defense of the murders is more newsworthy than the murders themselves.

May Allah grant these murdered women peace and justice.

Muslimah Media Watch thanks Kawthar for the tip!

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  • luckyfatima

    your two analyses has very much articulated how i feel when I see this stuff in the news. grrr! thanks.

  • Kawthar

    I wish the world would give equal coverage to the reaction of Pakistani society to the story. Activists staged massive demonstrations, in which even senators took part.

    For an update: the bodies of two victims were exhumed, and the Balochistan minister claims only two women were killed, not five.

  • saviya.c

    This is a great analysis, I just got this report that the bodies have been exhumed and more importantly that women’s rights groups are furious (although the article doesn’t make mention of them except for a small caption under a picture).

    I wonder which women’s rights groups these are and their role in the political system in Pakistan. I would be particularly interested to see what Asma Jahangir has to say about this, she’s pretty active in the scene in Pakistan.

    Lets hope and pray they get a decent and respectful funeral.

  • dawudwalid

    As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    Thank you for your piece, and may ALLAH bless you and protect you at the RNC!

    In regards to framing, I wish that we wouldn’t regurgitate the term “honor killing.” There is nothing honorable about these murders that are done by the ignorant. Murder driven by jahiliyyah and lack of respect of human life is what these are.

    “Honor kilings” have been made synonomous with Islamic socities. This is not to brush these murders under the table; domestic violence is a worlwide tragedy that does result in murders of many innocent Muslimahs in places such as Pakistan.

    Of course, the lack of “honor killings” in places such as Senegal or Ghana don’t receive news coverage.

    Because I deal with media on almost a daily basis, I’m sensitive about how issues are framed. Forgive me.


  • kyla

    saviya.c: Regarding who staged the protests: it was initiated, as far as I’m aware, by South Asian Women in Media, a region-wide women’s organization that has chapters in South Asian cities. The Lahore chapter organized and mobilized for it on a Saturday and the demo was held the following Monday at the Lahore Press Club. It was joined by media members as well as members of civil society.

    dawudwalid: Walaykum salam. I understand your objection to the term “honour killings” but I disagree. The term does not suggest that the killing is in fact honourable. It points out that the reason for the killing was cited by the killer and the supporters of the murder as “honour”. It is distinct from a “crime of passion” or a “hate” crime or an assassination, and the term indicates that. It indicates motive.

  • Fatemeh

    Relevant still is the lack of Western coverage of Pakistani outrage, especially in news outlets. Here are two published sources that detail the anger at the murders.

    Another source argues that these murders have no cultural justification: