We have been following the continuing plight of girls and women in some Muslim countries, particularly the occurrence of “honor killings” where relatives murder women for simply seeking to marry the men who they love or refusing become child brides after payment to their families. This long litany of cases has left few delusions but a new case in Pakistan still shocks the conscience. Sajjad Ahmed, 26, and Muawia Bibi, 18, were murdered in northeastern Pakistan for getting married without the approval. The two newlyweds were tied up and then decapitated by their relatives.
The savagery and deception of this crime defies the imagination. The family lured the two newlyweds back to the village of Satrah in Punjab province. The family then murdered the couple and turned themselves into police. The United Nations estimates that over than 5,000 women are murdered by family members in honor killings every year. In the last year, 869 women were victims of honor killings.
As I have discussed previously, I have participated for years in a program to help train lawyers and judges in dealing with cases involving the “cultural defense” where a defendant claims a tradition or religious practice as a mitigating factor or even an outright defense to crimes or civil claims. I have long drawn the line in the use of the cultural defense on such violent acts. However, there remain troubling outliers in the cases. In January 1985, Japanese immigrant Fumiko Kimura tried to commit oyako-shinju (or parent-child suicide) after learning of her husband’s infidelity. She walked her infant daughter and 4-year-old son in the frigid ocean off Santa Monica. The children drowned but she was rescued. While she had lived in the United States for some 14 years, she claimed the cultural defense (even though oyako-shinju is illegal in Japan). She was successful. Kimura received just one year in jail and five years’ probation. She then reunited with her husband.
Such defenses are likely to resonate with many in Pakistan due to the deep religious and cultural foundations for these acts. What is mindboggling is that these families believe that this is God’s will and that they are the paragons of morality in lying to a newlywed couple and then decapitating them. It is the grotesque result of cultural imprinting of these extreme views of morality.
Kudos: Bert Gieseman