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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on May 24, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

An Honor Killing By Proxy: Another Kind of Tragedy in Gujrat


At the end of last week, a British-Pakistani father, mother, and daughter were murdered in cold blood by their Pakistani relatives while the victims prayed in a cemetery at the end of a funeral. "Mohammad Yousaf, 51, his wife Parviaz, 49, and their daughter, Tania, 23, from Nelson, in Lancashire, were killed in the eastern city of Gujrat when tensions over the breakdown of the marriage between their eldest son and their niece ended in tragedy."

Father, Mohammed Yousaf, mother Perviaz Yousaf and daughter Tania Bibi

This Gujrat is in Pakistan, not India; the Indian Gujarat was the tragic site of barbaric mass murders, most notably in 2002, when a Muslim mob stopped a train and burned 59 Hindus (mostly women, children, and seniors) alive. Retaliation was swift and ended with 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead.

This is the "peaceful" Gujrat.

The murder of the Yousaf family in a cemetery qualifies as an honor killing, but one of a slightly different sort. According to my own criteria, which I documented and discussed in my 2009 and 2010 studies about honor killing (both appeared in Middle East Quarterly), this is a Muslim-on-Muslim crime; it involves a vigilante family punishment for shaming/dishonoring an intimate family member and therefore for disobeying a specific cultural expectation; the killing was carried out by a conspiracy of extended family members.

Here's what's different about this killing. The families of origin did not kill their son or their daughter for getting divorced. The father, mother, and daughter who were killed were not the actual "guilty" parties. In a sense, this is an honor killing by proxy. The father and mother were guilty of permitting their son to divorce his first cousin; perhaps they had simply failed or were unable to stop him. Their nephew, the divorced woman's brother, was one of the four shooters. He avenged his sister's "shame" by shooting down the sister of the brother-cousin who had divorced the shooter's own sister. He was "saying" that his own sister was as good as dead, was now "damaged goods" and would never find another husband. He was merely dispensing an "eye for an eye" form of justice.

Got that? Cousin marriage, arranged marriage, and honor killings are tribal, cultural values which a) Islam has not tried to abolish; b) Islam has actively allowed to flourish; c) religiously illiterate people believe that Islam permits, prefers, or commands. I view the practice as part of what I've called Islamic gender apartheid.

From the shooter's (and his own family-of-origin's) point of view, traditional family order had been fatefully broken, Western mores had possibly destroyed it all. The Yousafs had lived in Lancashire for thirty years. Maybe they no longer believed in arranged, cousin marriage. Maybe they now believed in allowing their children to "choose" their life partners or to divorce them. Maybe this preference or choice were seen as interfering with future cousin marriages and with future family immigration plans.

According to a relative, the murdered daughter, Tania, was a married mother of two who worked at Pendle Borough Council. "She was a bundle of fun. Her friends are ringing up and everyone is hurting." A spokesman at the British High Commission in Islamabad said that the police were investigating the case.

One wonders: Will this be treated as the murder of a British family in Pakistan? Will the British government pursue it—and if so, how? Will they extradite the killers to stand trial in England? Will Western governments start protecting its citizens from such tribal, cultural, and/or religious customs?

Britain already has the power to extradite British female citizens of Pakistani origin who have been kidnapped and held against their will precisely in order to be force-married to first cousins. Will Britain now go further? I have just learned that Britain is providing an armed guard for other members of the Yousaf family in Pakistan. This case bears watching.


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