Killed For Honour, Again Print E-mail
And while the world mourns the passing of a pontiff who kissed the ground and walked on women, the murder of women goes on unabated!
Read on - Lynette
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Web | Mar 29, 2005

OPINION
Killed For Honour, Again
Yes we are talking about 'honour' killings, not in NWFP, but in one of the most advanced industrial societies in the world. All in the heart of Europe, all the victims are Turkish Muslims and all these murders took place in Germany.
ARSHAD ALAM
A young woman, standing at a bus stop is shot many times. Within minutes, she is dead. Two women are stabbed to death in front of their own children. Another is strangled. Another drowned in a bath- tub. What is common to all these murders is that all of them were committed by very close relatives of the victim. Some by husbands themselves, some by younger brothers. Often the whole family is involved in the conspiracy to kill and mostly the younger brother is chosen to perform the act, since he will get lesser punishment on account of his being juvenile.

The only fault of these women was that they wanted to live according to the choices that they had made in their lives. In the process, they defied the ascriptive roles which their society and family had given them to play, unthinkingly, unreflectively, like mere cogs in the wheel called family, run by men and adhered to by women. Killed because they wanted to live freely, wanted to go out, wanted to work. Killed because they were seen talking to other men, men not from their own communities, alien men, men without religion and values, men whose mere shadow was enough to have a corrupting influence. Basically killed because they wanted a life every human being aspires to.

Yes we are talking about ‘honour’ killings, not in NWFP, but in one of the most advanced industrial societies in the world. All the above examples are from the heart of Europe, all the victims are Turkish Muslims and all these murders took place in Germany.

The latest one in the series of murders took place as early as in first week of March. A young woman, Hatin Surucu, was gunned down at a Berlin bus stop. She was a Turkish Muslim, 23 years old, single mother. Forced into marriage at the age of 16, she came to Germany later on, divorced her husband and was bringing up her five-year-old son alone. She paid the price of this individualism. The men who killed her were her own brothers. She had brought shame to the family honour. Firstly by defying the dictates of the family to remain with her husband, secondly by throwing out the hijab which every ‘pious’ Muslim woman should wear, thirdly by intermixing with German men, polluting, de-cultured, lax and perhaps more importantly not one of them.

And yet she is not the only one to have paid such a price. In the past six months, there have been as many honour killings in Germany. If the police are to be believed, there have been as many as 45 honour killings in Germany during the past eight years among its Muslim population.

Even if we doubt the claims of the police as exaggerated, it is beyond doubt that such killings have a long precedent in Germany. Yet what has made this murder much talked about is the opinion of Turkish school children living very near to the place where Mrs. Suculu was murdered. It is astonishing that these 15 year old school children called her ‘a whore who lived like a German’, thus blaming her for her own murder and in a way legitimizing the actions of her killers.

What’s wrong?

Conservative German opinion knows for sure that it is about Islam. School principals across Germany are quick to point out that such sympathy for the killers is widespread among Muslim children. They argue that the fault lies not in the schools but in their very rearing up. It is the Muslim families, which need to be reformed first; since it is there that the children are taught to articulate sympathy for such murderers.

Similarly sections of the German press have used the murder of Mrs. Surucu to imagine and transmit Islam as a violent religion in which women are considered no better than slaves of men.

They advocate a greater surveillance of Muslim families, linking it to the fact that Mohammad Atta was virtually unnoticed in Hamburg till 9/11 happened. It is within these families and mosques -- "dark hidden spaces", as they call them  -- that Islamic fundamentalism is not only thriving but also conspiring against Europe.

It would be more fruitful perhaps if the German conservative opinion also looked inwards rather than simply blaming Islam and Muslims. For many decades, the German state did not have a well laid out policy for the proper integration of the Turkish immigrants. They were perhaps in a fantasy- land hoping that immigrants would head home when they were not needed. There was no proper schooling framework for the education of Turkish children in a less alienating environment. Things haven’t turned out the way they thought it would.

The German state now realizes that the immigrants are here to stay and that provisions need to be made for their proper integration. The sooner the conservatives also realize this, the better it will be them and for the country as a whole. Rather than putting the blame squarely on Muslims, they should also look at the ways in which the German state has failed the immigrants, by not planning for them well in advance.

This is not to say that the immigrant Muslims are aboveboard. To start with these killings are happening only among the Turkish Muslim community. Why? What is amazing is that the so- called Muslim leaders in Germany shamelessly failed to even call a protest demonstration against the killing of Mrs. Surucu; the lone march being called by Berlin’s gay and lesbian organization. This is not excusable.

These very same leaders organized thousands on the issue of headscarves in school. These same leaders are very active when it comes to lobbying for a new mosque or opposing mixed physical education classes mandatory in German schools. Where lies the priority of Muslims in this country and by extension in the whole of Europe?

There is an urgent need among the Muslim community to talk about these horrendous crimes and seek ways to address the situation and weed out the evil. And merely issuing statements that such acts are un-Islamic will not help. The victims did not get killed only because of their defiance of religion. The Muslims need to recognize that they have to talk about notions of ‘honour’ which they have internalized and that these notions have become archaic in modern settings.

More importantly perhaps, they need to talk about the position of women in their society. For, it simply cannot be overlooked that men are easily pardoned when they transgress matters of religion as compared to women. It seems plausible to argue that current practice of contemporary Islam in Europe, as elsewhere, is nothing more than those issues which relate specifically to women. Why after all, men are allowed to dress in jeans (even Mullahs do that) while for women it is considered un-Islamic, although Quran stipulates modesty of dress for both men and women.

If such issues are not debated within the Muslim society, then they will have to suffer in the long run. Already things are not looking good for the Muslims in Europe. According to the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, Europeans are becoming intolerant of immigrants and one in five want them sent home. In the same survey, nearly fifty percent expressed that there should be resistance to immigrants.

Similarly, the Helsinki based International Federation for Human Rights in its latest report highlights the "growing distrust and hostility" towards Muslims in the European Union. Muslims are feeling that they are being discriminated against on grounds of religion.

Verbal and physical attacks on Muslims have increased and so have attacks on their properties and institutions. The report sketches a grim picture of the future of Muslims in Europe, since in the eyes of most Europeans; Islam has become synonymous with terrorism and violence.

It is not that the Muslims alone are to be blamed for such a sorry state of affairs. The Europeans themselves hardly know about the complexity of Islam, doctrinal as well as territorial. Fed and brought up on Oriental images, Islam for them is nothing more than a religion in which a man is allowed to have four wives, and where women are not considered fit to work outside the home.

To their lopsided general knowledge on Islam, 9/11 and more recently the Madrid bombing have added two new terminologies: terrorist and suicide bombers. Amidst such a criminally lax understanding of other religion, the European states put the onus of integration among the immigrant Muslims. They have to learn the languages and they have to internalize the new culture of Europe. What they are forgetting perhaps is that the average European also needs to learn as much about Islam and about the cultural of the immigrants.

But this should not deviate us from the role of Muslims themselves in inviting trouble. Incidents such as the murder of Mrs. Surucu serve to imprint a negative image of Islam among the German and other Europeans. What is worse is the failure to even come out with a public condemnation.

The Muslim leaders need to get their priorities right. Struggling for religious space within Europe should go hand in hand with problems that beset their own community. There are problems of quality education, of employment, of gender equality as well as internal racism. By simply fighting for spaces to build mosque and being criminally silent on these important issues, Muslims will never gain the moral acceptance in Europe that they so much desire.
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Arshad Alam is International Ford Fellow, Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural History, University of Erfurt, Germany.