‘Honour killing’ is not a racist term

The perpetrators of multiple ‘honour’ killings in Ontario, Canada are to appeal against their conviction in 2012 on the grounds that provision of expert testimony on ‘honour’ crime was “highly prejudicial”. In 2009, Mohammed Shafia (58) and his wife Tooba Mohammed Yahya (41), drowned their three daughters Zainab (19), Sahar (17) and Geeti (13), as well as Shafia’s previous wife Rona Amir Mohammed (50). The couple’s son Hamed (20) was also convicted for his involvement in the murders.

From left: Zainab (19), Geeti (13), Rona (50), Sahar (17)

From left: Zainab (19), Geeti (13), Rona (50), Sahar (17)

The appeal brought by Shafia’s lawyers is an attempt to undermine the definition of ‘honour’ crime. The Toronto Sun reports:

“Canadians still take issue with the semantics of the crime, as we are often uncomfortable labelling pre-meditated murders such as this one as an honour killing, under the guise of multiculturalism While you have to admire the Canadian dogged persistence of not wanting to offend, it must also be highlighted that the term honour killing is not racist, nor is it religiously intolerant, since honour killings happen to occur amongst various races and religions.”

The only thing that’s racist about this appeal is that the perpetrators now have a chance of escaping justice because of their ethnic background. According to one report, defence lawyer Frank Addario told the appeal judges that Shahzrad Mojab, a professor whose research focuses primarily on violence against women, particularly in the Middle East:

“should not have been permitted to tell (the jury) how honour killings are typically carried out, or  [to] read out denunciations on honour killings” … Mojab’s evidence involved “stereotypically reasoning about Afghani Muslims”, while her testimony on how honour killings are typically carried out had “zero legal relevance.”

This is an obvious effort to deliberately misinform jurors. ‘Honour’ killings have three distinct elements: the existence of multiple perpetrators; the motive of a perceived breach of a strict code of behaviour, and community collusion, where members of the wider community either legitimise, call for or are directly involved in carrying out violence. Mojab would have highlighted Afghanistan as a region of the world where similar crimes are prevalent, and to dismiss this kind of background as ‘racist’ is absurd.

If this case sets a precedence of such wilful blindness when it comes to preventing similar crimes, the risk to other potential victims will no doubt escalate, as crucial lines of enquiry will not be pursued that are simply not relevant in other domestic violence situations.

Shaheen Hashmat

Shaheen Hashmat

Shaheen Hashmat is a Scottish Pakistani writer and campaigner, and the founder of Double Bind. Having escaped the threat of forced marriage 20 years ago when she was 12 years old, Shaheen now spends much of her time highlighting the long-term recovery needs of those affected by forced marriage and ‘honour’-related abuse, focusing specifically on the need for urgent improvement of mental health services. She occasionally writes for Telegraph Wonder Women and the New Statesman, and has also appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, BBC Asian Network, Reuters, Stella Magazine and the Scottish Sunday Mail. She is also winner of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation's 'True Honour' Award 2016. By promoting the voices of other women from a Muslim background, Shaheen hopes to play her part in addressing some of the most urgent issues concerning our generation today. You can follow her on Twitter @tartantantrum, and on her personal blog - www.shaheenhashmat.com.

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Garabet Tahmajian says:

    Read this:
    “The defense said their deaths were the result of a joyride gone wrong after Zainab took the wheel ….”
    I think this lawyer is telling the real truth about the deaths of these four “Martyrs of Honor killings”
    yes Zainab wanted to take the wheel .. she wanted to drive along the path of her own life and decide what she likes and how to be a real Human being by herself, and what went wrong was that the father thought that he lost control of the lives of these four innocent women and put an end to this “joyride” ……
    ….so he hit the breaks and decided to turn off this energetic vivid momentum that got out of his desires,stupid and ignorant beliefs.
    25 year of imprisonment is not a just sentence verdict for this horrible crime committed.

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