Killing for Dishonour Oct03

I condemn, without reservation, any violence or murderous act by anyone for ‘honour’ of family, religion or social tradition.


The murder of Heshu Yones by her father Abdalla Yones has been the subject of articles in our national press by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Amir Taheri, Lina Das and Gitangeli Sapra. These authors analyse the reasons behind such action and philosophise on contributory factors based on religion or ethnic background.


Yasmine Alibhai-Brown (The Mail) believes, I think incorrectly, that “such crimes occur mainly in uneducated families”. Lina Das (The Mail) claims that a girl is “stained” if she is involved sexually with a boy with a different religion and cultural background. Such action is perceived to defy her family and community. Gitangeli Sapra (The Sunday Times) sights family honour, jealousy and financial greed as some reasons for males in a family to intimidate a daughter or young bride. Amir Taheri (The Independent) highlights the unacceptable deficiency of Muslim journalists and intellectuals in raising the issue of ‘honour’ killings.  


Progressive Muslims such as Queen Rania of Jordan ask why there is such a negative perception of Muslim women in the western media? Such a question can be extended to cover Hindu, Sikh and other Asian women. Social tradition in most Asian and Arab societies perpetuates the virtue of virginity, respect for family blessing, approval for marriage and fidelity in marriage. Pre-marital sex and marriage to one with a different religion are discouraged. Such Victorian values were not uncommon in Britain many years ago, including the hesitancy of Catholics to marry Protestants. Any divergence from such expectations is perceived as a challenge to the authority and sanctity of the family and the community. Parents uphold these principles in order to maintain their status within their community.


Therefore, social and religious inflexibility, inherent in immigrant communities, act as serious impediments for the young immigrants as they meet their British peers enjoying freedom of thought and action. The public perception is that ‘honour’ killings occur only in Muslim families. This is not true as many Hindu, Sikh, Chinese and Arab families also face the same problem. The ‘dishonour’ inflicted on the family is a characteristic of social tradition – it is not a breach of religious belief. Neither Islam nor Hinduism advocate or condone ‘honour’ killings. Religion, social tradition and cultural diversity are often used by the guilty to justify their action.


The impact of western culture and lifestyle is most significant for immigrants from Asian villages. Their children experience a dramatic change and difficult challenge in school when they face their peers. They feel restricted to their school, mosque or home as their parents, speaking little or no English, live in poor houses and are mainly unemployed. Insecurity, fear and financial limitations result in congregation of immigrants in generally the poorest part of towns and cities. This isolation reinforces social traditions and enhances the influence of local religious or community leaders. These conditions prevail in northern cities where there are large numbers from rural areas in Pakistan and Bangladesh.


Some of these immigrant families are unable to cope with their children asserting their independence of thought and action. These families fail to realise that lifestyle of every immigrant family changes with each generation. They must accept that their children must be free to seize opportunities for higher education and employment away from home to escape poverty and isolation. Such freedom for their children can only help the family and it need not threaten their religious belief or culture.


We must find practical ways of assisting these families, especially from rural India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to face this problem of adapting to a new way of life. We must encourage them to break away from their isolation and help them integrate better with the host community. In this way these immigrants will acquire the linguistic skills and build a social confidence that will allow them to be self-reliant and make a positive contribution to the life of their local community. Only then we shall succeed in eliminating the hideous crime of  ‘killing for dishonour’.