Honour Killings in Britain: Calculated murders with no honour
The trial of the gruesome murder of Shafilea Ahmed, the British girl of Pakistani origin, by her own parents in so-called ‘honour-killing’, which ended on Friday with both parents being convicted and jailed for life, reinvigorated the debate on the vile practice on the British soil – and in the 21st century.
The beautiful teenager, who had been subjected to a regimen of prolonged physical abuse by her parents for being too ‘Westernized’, Iftikhar Ahmed, 52 and Farzana Ahmed, 49, went missing from her home in Warrington, Cheshire on September 11, 2003. She was reported missing by a teacher, most probably on being brought to her attention by the worried friends of the bubbly teenager.
Six months later, her badly-decomposed body was found in the River Kent in Cumbria by workmen. By then, the police had appealed the public for information regarding Shafilea, but to no avail. Her parents, meanwhile, maintained that she just ran away from the family home on the fateful day and supported their argument by portraying her as a rebel.
The body was identified as that of Shafilea by her dental records and the jewellery that was still in her possession. Since two post-mortem examinations failed to determine the exact cause of the death owing to the state that the body was in, it was declared as unlawful killing. The body was, then, handed down to the parents for a traditional Muslim burial: it was brought home for the family to pay the ‘last respects’ and to chant prayers in the presence of an imam; then, the remains of Shaflia were buried in line with Islamic traditions.
In the meantime, judging by the fake emotions exhibited by the parents, the police seemed to have other ideas about the murder. They planted a state-of-the-art high-tech device inside the house in order to monitor the conversations of the parents on the matter. Despite being suspicious of being monitored, the guarded-chats of Ahmeds slowly shed light on the mystery of the disappearance of the teenager. There was, however, not enough evidence to implicate the parents in the murder.
By an extraordinary twist of fate, however, the breakthrough came when Alesha Ahmed, Shafilea’s younger sister, was arrested for an incident involving her family home in August 2010, almost 7 years later since the teenager’s disappearance. The arrest had nothing to do with the murder of her sibling, though; it was related to a robbery which took place at her family home.
As far as the police were concerned, it was the watershed moment of the murder case. When police interviewed her about the alleged robbery in her family home, she divulged every single detail of the murder of her sister Shafilea, by her parents in their presence, to the detectives.
In her account, she described how her parents pushed Shafilea on to a sofa and then suffocated her by stuffing a plastic bag in her mouth – and right in front of Shafilea’s siblings. Farzana Ahmed, Shafilea’s mother, according to Alesha, was every bit involved in her murder; the former even uttered the words, “Just finish it here,” said Alesha, in her account while describing the final moments of her sister in graphic detail: how Shafilea struggled for her breath after being subjected to the brutal force of two muscular adults and ultimately how her life slipped away, only to become a lifeless corpse, minutes later; she also described how her father wrapped the body in a blanket for dumping later.
As a result, the parents were arrested by the police and later charged with the murder. During the trial that lasted for three months, both parents denied their involvement. The defence even tried to portray Alesha, the daughter who turned against her own parents, as something of a loose cannon and her side of story being pure malicious, but with very little success.
In the last phase of the trial, however, Farzana Ahmed, the mother of the unfortunate teenager, suddenly changed her side of the story, much to the surprise of all those who were following the trial with a keen interest. She may have realized that tide of justice was rapidly turning against them.
Farzana, who up until then denied any involvement of her and her husband in the act, said that she saw her husband hitting the teenager on the night she disappeared. On being questioned as to why she kept quiet about it for so long, she described her husband as a violent man and further said that he even threatened to kill her if she dared ask about it again.
It was, however, too late for Farzana to save her own skin at the expense of her husband. On Friday at the close of the trial at Chester Crown Court, the jury unanimously decided that Safilea’s parents were guilty of her murder. The trail judge, Mr Justice Roderick Evans, sent both of them to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years in jail. The judge, while handing down the verdict, told them: "Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child."
The murder of Shaflea is not an isolated case of so-called honour killings. Nor is it going to be the last one of that kind. The practice, which once was endemic in certain communities in Britain – among some sections of Sikhs, Bangladeshis and of course, Pakistanis, Kurds and Arabs – may be on the wane as authorities are coming down hard on arranged marriages of British-born girls against their will; but, it has not been fully eradicated. Nor is there any room for complacency.
If a girl refuses to marry a man from the rural areas of the Indian sub-continent, where her parents usually hail from, and decides to go for the man she loves, more often than not, she is earning the wrath of the family – and to some extent, that of a small circle of the community – for bringing ‘dishonour’ upon the family. So, her fate is sealed, if the victim failed to make the move first and fast – by running away or alert the authorities.
The element of ‘honour’, if any, in this medieval practice is further complicated when men often can get away with things which clearly stem from testosterone-fuelled acts – without even a slap on the wrist. It is often girls, or women, who are the sacrificial lambs.
Mr and Mrs Ahmed now know the kind of ‘honour’ they collectively brought upon the family, both in the UK and Pakistan. It is high time ‘honour’ in this brutal practice was substituted with an appropriate noun, which could reflects the elements of barbarism, vengeance and petty-mindness in appropriate degree.
- Asian Tribune –