Crime & abetment

Published : Aug 11, 2006 00:00 IST

SAMAIRA NAZIR WAS stabbed by her brother 18 times. -

SAMAIRA NAZIR WAS stabbed by her brother 18 times. -

European Muslims remain silent on horrific crimes within the community citing fear of fuelling Islamophobia as the reason.

ON June 27, 2006, the two murderers of a 19-year-old honour killing victim, Ghazala Khan, were sentenced to life in prison by a Danish court. On September 23, 2005, Ghazala Khan, a Danish Pakistani, was gunned down by her own brother at a suburban Danish railway station Her crime was marrying a man of her own choice. Her husband Emal Khan survived the attack despite being shot in the abdomen. Seven other people, including an aunt and cousins, were convicted of being accessories to the murder. Perveen Khan, Ghazala's paternal aunt who had maintained contact with the couple and acted as the family's informant about the couple's whereabouts, cajoled and wheedled a reluctant Ghazala to meet her father and brother at the station for a supposed reconciliation. Following Ghazala's murder, her father Ghulam Abbass, the owner of a taxi service and reputed to be one of the wealthiest members of the Danish-Pakistani community, continued trying to kill Emal Khan, even while he was recovering in hospital.

Ghazala Khan is hardly alone in her tragic and untimely end. On July 14, 2006, the killers of 25-year-old Samaira Nazir, a British Pakistani girl, were sentenced to life in prison. In a story unparalleled in the grotesque cruelty of its execution, Samaira, who had defied her family by marrying an Afghan immigrant, was held down by her mother while her brother stabbed her more than 18 times. Her two nieces, aged two and four, were made to watch as their young rebellious aunt was given the treatment deserved by girls who defy the will of their family. When the police arrived at the behest of a neighbour who heard Samaira's screams, they found her bloodied body in the hallway of her home. A silk scarf had been tied tightly around her neck and her throat sliced three times. The two nieces, their clothes spattered with blood, watched as their aunt's body was carried away to the morgue.

Despite the alarming details of both cases, little has emerged in terms of condemnation by the European Muslim community. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the leading representative organisation of the Muslim community in Britain, has yet to denounce the killing. In the single statement on honour killings available on the group's website, the MCB asserts that the problem is found only "in a very small section" of the British Muslim community. Furthermore, the statement defensively asserts, that "such killings are not restricted to Muslim families but occur also in Sikh and Christian families".

In a position paper that follows the statement, the MCB continues its defensive rhetoric by reiterating the fact that the worst forms of punishment for women who bring dishonour to their families "affect only a small percentage of women" and that "women from other faith groups may be subject to similar attitudes from within their communities". The remainder of the report treads the delicate line between asserting the validity of Koranic injunctions that regard all extra-marital sexual relations as sinful while also condemning honour killings that are often avowedly perpetrated by family members to punish women who stand accused of just such sexual relations. While the MCB's position paper urges Muslim leaders to "take an unequivocal stance against behaviour that is direct violation of Islam", it seems that no MCB leader actually considers such advice worthy of notice. "Unwillingness to deal with the issue," the MCB asserts "is the result of an inherent distrust of perceived `Western' attempts to malign Islam in the interest of global politics."

If reticence of the British Muslim community in the face of Samaira Nazir's brutal killing exposes the shackles of denial that bind British Muslims, the apathy and indifference of Danish Muslims is just as blatant. The same Danish Muslim community that was so vocal in condemning the publication of cartoons against the Holy Prophet is callously silent when faced by the gruesome murder of one of their own. Abdul Waheed Peterson, a well-known Danish Imam, says that he does not regard the honour killing as "their case" despite the fact that in "many people's minds it will be connected to Islam". Other Danish Muslim organisations refused to issue any statements on the killing or the sentencing of the nine murderers of Ghazala Khan.

The obstinate silence of European Muslims and their leaders in condemning these horrific crimes and their efforts to pin the blame of their apathy on a fear of fuelling Islamophobia represents the dilemma facing the Muslim world. Be it terrorism, honour killings or female genital mutilation, Western Muslim leaders have become adept at using the excuse of misguided interpretations as a means of shifting responsibility away from themselves. It is undeniable that while Islamic doctrine itself does not support either terrorism or honour killings, many Muslims engage in these acts specifically by claiming that they are to be religious duties or that they have religious sanction. While misguided interpretations may indeed play a part, offering this hackneyed and rather overused explanation does not obliterate the reality that the actions of these Muslims increasingly define Islam for the non-Muslim world.

Furthermore, this distinction between the doctrine of Islam and the actions of Muslims is one that has been resorted to far too often. Particularly in the Western Muslim case, it has been set up as a decoy that insulates moderate Muslims from taking responsibility for what goes on in their communities. The recipe for denial is simple: the first step minimises the impact of the problematic view or practice by emphasising its unpopularity and reiterating its occurrence in a "very small percentage of Muslims"; next, examples are cited that indict other cultures and communities where the problematic practices may also have occurred and finally a few generalised Koranic verses that condemn violence and promote egalitarianism and justice are cited. Dictated by the fallacy that acknowledging problems within is an indelible mark of surrender to the enemies of Islam, these limited reactions fail to develop potent antidotes for the scourges ravaging the faith from within.

In the case of terrorism where international scrutiny is high, Muslim leaders promptly issue strongly worded statements that decry acts and declare sympathy for the victims. As terrorist attacks continue and ravage the world from New York to Karachi and Bali to Mumbai, prompt declarations emerge that deprecate the barbarity of the attacks and reiterate again and again the fact that Islam is a religion of peace. Following the familiar recipe, the problem is often rationalised away once adequate expressions of sympathy and concern have been provided.

Comforted by the truth that Islam itself is a religion of peace and that there is no doctrinal support for terrorism or misogyny if one follows the "correct" Islam, Muslims in the East and the West remain largely inactive and apathetic to the ravages that such extremist and misogynistic interpretations of their faith have on their faith as well as the world around them.

While countless sermons across the Muslim world on any given Friday are devoted to the insidious and nefarious tactics of Islamophobes that want to malign Islam, and millions of dollars are devoted to excavating the image of Islam as a religion of peace by distributing pamphlets and holding open mosque nights, little time or intellectual energy is devoted to cleaning house from within. Similarly, while much effort is expended on ensuring that new generations of Muslims remain pious in observing proper Islamic dress codes and dietary rules, little is done to ensure that they are aware of the evils of terrorism. Organisations like the Council on American Islamic Relations(CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the MCB devote immense efforts to documenting incidents of Islamophobia. At the same time, nearly all the anti-terrorism material available on the websites of these organisations are directed toward the larger public rather than Muslim youth who are most vulnerable to the propaganda of extremist and distorted interpretations of Islam.

Many Muslims are especially susceptible to the tendency to hold internal reform hostage to external geopolitics. Discussions emphasising the necessity of development of initiatives that acknowledge and combat misogyny and terror inevitably devolve into tirades that enumerate the geopolitical injustices Muslims across the globe are subject to. In a distorted expression of supposed solidarity, the unjustified and gruesome deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Lebanon are used to construct an ideological wall that requires a conscious and purposeful denial of the atrocities perpetrated by Muslims. If the history of the world is any testament, making internal reform conditional on the cessation of all atrocities against Muslims is akin to eliminating its remotest possibility.

One catastrophic result of elevating Islamophobia to a status that invalidates all necessity for reform is that many Muslims, in their obstinate belief that all critique is borne out of a desire to malign their faith, resolutely refuse to accept the existence of any problems in their community. In a much-cited Pew Research Poll, it is reported that 56 per cent of British Muslims and 46 per cent of French Muslims do not believe that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks. Given the vast amounts of evidence establishing the identity of the 9/11 hijackers, this stubborn and misguided denial demonstrates the delusion that pervades the communities.

The resulting intellectual stagnation has thrust Muslims into even deeper isolation and denial, which is concertedly destroying the possibility of wresting Islam from the clutches of decline. Moderate Muslims, on whose backs the hopes for redemption of the faith are so optimistically constructed, are the very people whose apathy is at the root of such devolution. When confronted, they too limit their involvement to verbal condemnations of both terrorism and misogyny, believing that their own lack of positive support for either are adequate vindications for their inaction; Thus unwilling to ostracise extremists openly from their mosques and communities, they remain content in their apathy and fully assuaged by a self-righteous and often misplaced sense of victim-hood.

Caught in this grotesque and absurd web of rationalisation and apathy, girls like Ghazala Khan and Samaira Nazir are murdered not once but twice. They are killed once at the hands of their families which consider their lives worthless if not lived according to the dictum of their fathers and brothers and a second time by their communities who consider expressing sympathy and outrage for their deaths as an act traitorous to their religion and deleterious to the image of their community.

These girls, like the thousands who die in terrorist attacks, are victims not simply of misogyny but also of denial; a resolute, all-consuming denial that fails to be moved into action by their plight. To extricate these lost lives from the abyss of meaninglessness, all those Muslims that proudly wear the mantle of moderation must realise that adherence to faith exacts a duty not merely to defend Islam from those without, but more crucially from those within.

Rafia Zakaria is a lawyer and member of the Asian American Network Against Abuse of Women.

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