Shafia Honor Killings

I often go to Kingston Mills for BBQ’s, and a respite from the city. On a hot day it’s possible to swim in the canal, though you’re not supposed to. The waterway is actually a series of locks which, if opened, form an undertow that could drag you down. We still swim, of course. To this day the lock system is manually operated, so you have plenty of forewarning as the personnel start hand-cranking the gates that move the water. The second level of the lock is the best for swimming, situated as it is next to the picnic tables.

This is where they found the girls’ bodies.

Kingston Mills, 5 minutes from where I live

On June 30, 2009, members of the Shafia family killed Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti; the teenage daughters of Mohammad Shafia. They also murdered Mohammed’s first wife, Rona Amir. The murders (and subsequent botched cover-up) happened on the road above the picnic tables, where it narrows to an old, single-lane bridge.

The plan had been to drown the girls, then push the car into the lock to make it look like an accident.

It’s pretty obvious that as soon as the front tires crossed the edge, the car dropped and hit the undercarriage, preventing the back end from following through. Faced with four drowning victims in a perfectly dry car, the family used their second vehicle to ram the car from behind, sending it flying into our swimming hole.

They say now that this crime—honor killing— was cultural, not religious. In some regards, I have to agree. Bereft of a North American culture, these morons had apparently never seen an episode of CSI, and as such never thought that the police would piece together the broken headlight on the van with the bits of glass and plastic found at the scene. Moreover, it never occurred to them that the police might have the foresight to plant a listening device in the van before they returned it

The Victims: Rona, Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti

As such, the father in particular felt free to blather on about what kind of ‘whores’ his daughters had been, even going so far as to tell him son “’Would they come back to life a hundred times, you do the same again!” Then, just in case there was still some lingering doubt about whether these were honor killings or not, the father added: “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows…nothing is more dear to me than my honor.”

If you’d seen this in a movie, you’d have thought it too stupid to be believable.

They’ve been found guilty now, and all that remains in the media is the ongoing argument about whether or not an honor-killing is religious or cultural. For me, it’s a chicken-and-egg question, and the answer is nowhere near as important as the root cause. It doesn’t matter that Islam does not overtly condone honor killings. In fact, Sikhs and other religious groups also have elements that believe that an insult to your honor is worth killing for. What’s important here… vitally important… is not how any specific religion is interpreted. It’s that religions CAN be interpreted.

For every imam out there tonight defending Islam, there are thousands of Muslims who hear very different words from the Qur’an. The same is true within Christianity, Judaism, and every faith on the planet. The sectarian nature of religions leaves the door open for a culture (or individual) to interpret the Holy Books as they wish. Whether honor killings are a part of Islam or not is irrelevant. Like so many other murderous options, it’s the interpretation of the ‘Holy Word’ that’s important.

The Girl's Killers: Mother, Father, and Brother

Having listened to the tapes and followed the trial, I am convinced that Mohammed Shafia feels he is right and good with his God. So too are many other fathers in countries around the world who feel equally ardent about the behavior of their children. Most won’t kill them, though. They’ll only torture them; deny their freedoms and character and (if all goes well) turn them into a new generation of equally repressive and cruel parents.

So it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. Maybe religion is creating the culture. Maybe the culture is using religion. As long as the end result is repression and murder, it doesn’t matter. The only hope I see is a clear-cut, secular response that trumps all the religious dogma [READ: bullshit]. A universal declaration that simply states “Unless you’re trying to save a life, killing people is wrong.”

Of course, this won’t happen. Religion can’t be trumped. No matter how many imams step up to oppose honor killings, there will always be a contingent of Muslims that see American imams as ‘westernized’ and won’t listen… Just as there will always be Christians out there torturing and killing their kids in the name of Jesus because they believe the mainstream church has gone ‘soft’. Whether it’s religion or culture (or both) that incite the violence doesn’t matter. The two have always gone hand-in-hand.

And me? I’m going to look for a new place to swim.

Written by Wm. Hopper, author of
“The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions”


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