In the name of honor

Posted: Jul 01, 2006 12:01 AM

Samaira Nazir was brutally and needlessly murdered. The 25-year-old in Southall, England, was killed in April of last year by her 30-year-old businessman brother -- all in the name of "honor." He stabbed her, cutting her throat in front of his young children, ages 2 and 4.

Samaira had turned down family arrangements for marriage and ultimately fell for another man, an Afghan her family said was from the wrong -- lower -- caste. As a prosecutor put it, "It would appear she lost her life for loving the wrong man."

Her brother, appropriately, has been found guilty of murder, and is facing the prospect of life in prison. And the good news, if it can be called "good," is that you're reading about Samaira and her story. Her name lives on and makes headlines. And in her memory, we'll keep any veil from covering the next time this happens -- until, finally, there is no next time for these "honor killings" that are anything but honorable.

We'll remember, too, Ghazala Khan, who was shot dead in a town west of Copenhagen, Denmark, this past September, by her brother, just two days after her wedding. Her death won't go unpunished, either: Both her brother and her father, along with other family members (six in total were all involved in the planning of the murder, which had been ordered by her father) are now in jail for their crime.

The murders of Samaira Nazir and Ghazala Khan are infuriating and tragic. But that we know about them, and that civilized society is refusing to tolerate what happened, is cause for hope.

Honor killings, to be honest, are hard to write about -- in part because they are so brutal. No one really wants to read that Samaira's blood splattered on her young nieces as they were made to watch, authorities believe, the perverse execution -- including her escape attempts. (Neighbors reported seeing her dragged back into the family home by her hair.) But what makes it even more difficult is the sense that the honor killings we know about may be the tip of a horrific iceberg.

You see, honor killings sometimes (possibly most often) go completely unreported: Murders will be disguised as suicides, and no one outside of a particular family will know what really happened. Some will be killed and never found. In Jordan, just a few weeks ago, three bodies were found in makeshift graves outside Amman -- three sisters, killed 12 years ago by their brother (again, on their father's orders) for "immoral behavior." The family told anyone who asked that the girls had left the country.

As the free world wages an international war on militant-Islamic terrorism, nations like Britain and Denmark need to confront this far more domestic form of terrorism. And it is Muslims who face a special challenge, as word of these honor killings spreads. All of the stories I've mentioned have involved Muslim families, they need to make it clear that they will not tolerate these atrocities -- often committed in the name of Islam.

Here in the West we are constantly cautioned, when we encounter news of a terrorist plot in which Muslims happen to be involved, not to take out our anger on Muslims in general, which is only sensible. One shouldn't lash out at a whole group of people because a member of the group did something awful. But what we really need are loud Muslim voices of outrage. They're out there, but not quite loud enough yet. Moderate, mainstream Muslims -- those who abhor the kind of values that condone honor murders -- need to speak out against those who are bringing such shame upon their religion.

This kind of speech can have a global effect. As Nina Shea of Freedom House has pointed out, "even Islamist totalitarian governments like Iran and Saudi Arabia can be shamed by public exposure. There are examples where these governments have desisted from executing stonings and other hideous human-rights atrocities after a public outcry either in the West or at home."

Bat Ye'or, a scholar of Islamic culture, says we need to denounce these atrocities vigorously "because secrecy is the best friend of crimes."

Denounce them not just for the sake of those who died; the Samaira Nazirs and Ghazala Khans, who can't tell their own horrible tales; denounce them also for the "lucky" ones like Noor Jehan, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot five times by her cousins (by order of her father) because she wouldn't submit to her arranged marriage. She told reporters, "They thought I was dead but ... somehow I got courage to come out of that ditch."

Hundreds of women and girls are believed to be killed this way in Pakistan annually. Muslims need to start leading, and take their religion out of that deadly ditch.