Sandeela Kanwal: “Honor Killing”, Race and Religion

NPR did a piece on the “honor killing” of Sandeela Kanwal on January 26, 2009. Kanwal was the daughter of Chaudry Rashid, a Pakistani immigrant who lives in a suburb of Atlanta. The police in Clayton County (where Kanwal and Rashid lived) say that Rashid killed his daughter because she wanted to divorce her husband and Rashid felt that this would bring shame upon his family. They also say that he confessed to the crime. Rashid’s lawyer points out that Rashid had no access to an interpreter in person, that the murder weapon is missing (it was burned) and that Rashid did not understand his rights when they were read to him.

The case and the NPR article bring up a lot of questions and concerns on my part concerning race and religion. Police say that Rashid told them that he killed his daughter because she wasn’t being true to her religion or her husband. Rashid himself has connected Islam to the murder of his daughter. Throughout the NPR piece, Rashid’s religion is mentioned. Sgt. Stefan Schindler mentions that the town they live in (Tara, GA) does not have a lot of Muslims in it. Shahid Malik, who is suppose to be a representative Pakistani community (how can one person be the representative of an entire ethnic community?!), says that this case will “hurt the Muslim community, Pakistani community”. Lastly, in the article, the reporter, Jamie Tarabay, mentions that two other “honor killings” that have taken place in the U.S. One was perpetrated by an Egyptian Muslim immigrant, the other by a Turkish immigrant.

Islam and Muslims are constantly evoked in this piece, which is disappointing. The most obvious reason is that “honor killings” aren’t solely perpetrated by Muslims. By constantly connecting Muslims to “honor killings”, the problem seems like a “Muslim problem” that needs to be dealt with by Muslims. It once again makes Muslims seem like heartless animals who are only concerned with honor.

Another reason I am concerned with connecting Muslims to honor killings is because it presents a face of Muslims that is only South Asian and Arab. Whether it is right or wrong, people in the U.S. connect honor killings to Asian and Arab countries. When honor killings are focused on as a “Muslim problem”, we are turning Muslims into ethnic groups from those parts of the world. Muslims once again become foreign, scary and dangerous every time Muslims and “honor killings” are connected.

Additionally, I am troubled by the focus on “honor killings” as a phenomena of certain ethnic groups instead of “honor killings” being one of the many manifestations of how patriarchy can lead to violence against women. The way “honor killings” was reported in the story and the way it is reported in general, “honor killings” are often disconnected from the larger issue of patriarchy (which affects all women) and instead focused on as a purely localized issue that affects certain racial groups. I would like “honor killings” to be focused on as part of the global fight against violence against women.

This is one of the reasons why I dislike the term “honor killings”. It makes it hard to connect these crimes to this global fight and instead makes it seem like an issue that only Muslims have to combat. This isn’t to say that we should have our head in the sand about these crimes and act like they don’t exist or not address them because they “make us look bad”. When someone kills their daughter in the name of Islam, yes, that person should be given a lesson on how 1) Islam condemns violence against women and 2) how Islam respects human life regard of gender. That said, I wish that the Western media would stop focusing on “honor killings” as an isolated issue.

It seems that only one person in this whole ordeal got this point.  Alan Begner (Rashid’s lawyer), hopes the state doesn’t make this about Islam or ethnicity. This death could have happened, he says, in any culture, with any family.” Thank you Mr. Begner!

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