I wasn't planning to poke at the hornet's nest of feelings about Islam again, at least not so soon. Then I came across a dangerously deceptive Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle about honor killings and, damn it, I felt I was being prodded with a stick. I do agree with conservative writer Cinnamon Stillwell on one point: Honor killings are a horrific, barbaric and inexcusable practice. But, our agreement ends there.
Stillwell argues that the Muslim community's response to the recent murder of Aqsa Parvez of Mississauga, Ontario, was disgraceful. As news hit last December that the 16-year-old had been murdered by her Muslim father, some immediately speculated that it had been motivated by her refusal to wear the hijab. Prominent figures in Canada's Muslim community framed the girl's death as a result of domestic violence and downplayed the role of Islam, says Stillwell. She quotes a Muslim reformer:
"Moderate Muslims have warned that we shouldn't leap to conclusions. Who knows what other dynamics infected her family, spout hijab-hooded mouthpieces on Canadian TV. Not once have I heard these upstanding Muslims say that whatever the 'family dynamics,' killing is not a solution. Ever. How's that for basic morality?"
Unsurprisingly, Stillwell doesn't bother to mention that in discussing the case on Fox's "American Newsroom," a representative from the prominent Council on American-Islamic Relations, which also has a Canadian division, did exactly that:
"[Honor killing] is not a Muslim term and it's not recognized in the Muslim community ... it's a tragedy and so our hearts go out to the family, and our prayers go out to the family. Having said that, this man's acts are indefensible and we as CAIR have put together a coalition of 20 Muslim organizations of the highest caliber all over Canada and North America that condemn this act and that called, in very strong terms, for the strongest possible prosecution of this man and for a policy of zero tolerance within our community and every community against domestic abuse and abuse against women."
You couldn't ask for a clearer disavowal of the practice, from one of the foremost Western Muslim groups around, no less. Honor killings simply aren't sanctioned by Islam; nowhere in the Quran are honor killings justified. Groups that are, you know, actually out there doing something to fight the practice tirelessly explain that honor killings are not inherent to Islam, that it is a cultural rather than religious problem; that's a crucial difference that deserves recognition.
Violence against women is a global problem that manifests itself in innumerable ways and in nearly every culture. In an interview with National Geographic, Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, made a beautiful point: "In countries where Islam is practiced, they're called honor killings, but dowry deaths (which account for 5,000 deaths a year in India) and so-called crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable."