Honor-related violence can now be described as a European phenomenon. Countries there are now starting to face the sad truth about honor-related violence inside their borders, starting to look at mulitIculturalism in a different way, and starting to ask themselves, "What went wrong with it?"
Last month in Sweden, on the ninth anniversary of the death of a young girl of KurdIsh origins, the survivor of a forced marriage, Sara Mohammad, held a conference to stress that Sweden will "Never Forget Pela and Fadime," as the conference was called -- as well as other victims of honor-related violence, such as, in Italy at least, Hina, Sanaa and Begum.
In 2009, the European Parliamentary Assembly's Resolution 1681 pointed out the urgent need to combat so-called "honor crimes," and referred to the "emergency" in Europe. It read: "Drawing attention to its Resolution 1327 (2003) on so-called "honor crimes," the Parliamentary Assembly notes that the problem, far from diminishing, has worsened, including in Europe. It mainly affects women, who are its most frequent victims, both in Europe and the rest of the world, especially in patriarchal and fundamentalist communities and societies." For this reason, it asked the Council of Europe member states to "draw up and put into effect national action plans to combat violence against women, including violence committed in the name of so-called 'honor,' if they have not already done so."
At the conference in Sweden, the alert was sounded. Sara Mohammad pointed out the need for an intelligent integration policy, and stated her concern over the loss of equal justice under cultural relativism in Europe and the accelerating spread there of political islam.
Jasvinder Sanghera, president of the Karma Nirvana Association in the UK and a survivor of an attempted honor killing, denounced the lack of knowledge and deep insight of British institutions, and urged that honor-related violence be curbed through education.
As for Italy, the history of honor killings, and the way they have been tackled by justice and government, show that at least something has been done.
Purna Sen, Head of Human Rights at Commonwealth Secretariat, suggested in 2005, six key features of honor killings, all of which had been present in Italy's first honor killing in 2006:
- Gender relations that control and make problematic women's behavior, in particular controlling women's sexuality.
- The role of women in policing and monitoring women's behavior.
- Collective decisions regarding punishment, or actions considered appropriate, for transgressions of these boundaries.
- The potential for women's participation in killings.
- The ability to reclaim honor through enforced compliance or killings.
- State sanction of such killings by accepting "honor" as an excuse, and therefore as a mitigating circumstance..
On August 11th 2006 Hina Saleem, a 21 year old girl of Pakistani origin living in Brescia, was slain by her father apparently because she wanted to live like a Westerner, and had decided to go and live with a non-Muslim man. The crime was committed after he had developed the so-called "family council, "which had was convicted of "free behavior." During interviews, Hina's mother repeatedly said that if her daughter had behaved properly, she would not have been killed. At the time, neither Italy nor Italian judges and politicians were prepared for this occurrence.. Hina's boyfriend immediately announced his intention to stand as a plaintiff. At least three buses arrived from Milan, Rome and Turin carrying the Board of Directors of women belonging to the Association of Moroccan Women in Italy [ACMID], led by the now-MP Souad Sbai. The Board members of ACMID declared their intention to stand as plaintiff together with Hina's boyfriend, but their request was denied by the judge "because they had nothing to do with it." At the same time, Hina's boyfriend was represented by the brave lawyer Loredana Gemelli, who during the trial, discovered that the honor crime against Hina was really more a vengeance than a honor killing: Hina's father had raped Hina many times; when she was 14, she had denounced him to the police, who had then done nothing to protect her. Hina's case revealed staggeirng shortcomings at every level, from the judiciary to the social.
The second case of honor killing in Italy occurred on September 15th 2009, in Pordenone. Sanaa Dafani, an 18 year old girl of Moroccan origin, was killed by her father because she had a relationship with a 31 year old Italian. Her father was immediately arrested, while her mother, as in Hina's case, tried to find an acceptable reason for his act: "My husband loved Sanaa. Maybe she was wrong. I could forgive my husband. Yes, I could. He is my husband, my sons' father. Sanaa dressed and ate in a proper way, but he did not want her to go out in the evening with bad boys or friends. My husband loved Sanaa. Maybe she was wrong. He always sent her messages: come back home. He wanted her beside him."
More deeply aware of the seriousness of the issue this time, the court accepted ACMID's request to stand as plaintiff together with Sanaa's boyfriend and the Italian Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia -– and the Minister of Equal Opportunities instituted a civil action against the father. In addition, the lawyer Loredana Gemelli, this time representing ACMID and all the other plaintiffs, asked for a summary judgment against her father, a request which usually implies a shortening of the punishment. This time, the court not only accepted the summary judgment, but awarded the father the maximum punishment -- a life sentence.
The last honor killing in Italy occurred in October, 2010, and involved the mother. In a village near Modena, the Pakistani Begum Shahnaz was killed by her husband, Ahmad Khan Butt, because she defended her daughter Nosheen, who refused an arranged marriage. The daughter, age 20, was admitted into a hospital with a cranial trauma and a broken arm after her 19-year-old brother beat her with a stick in the courtyard of their building.
The reaction was immediate: the Minister of Equal Opportunities again said she would stand as co-plaintiff in the case, declaring that "Standing as plaintiff is a way of showing my support for young immigrant women, to underscore that our country is with them every time their freedom and dignity are attacked." The Pakistani community in the person of Ahmed Ejaz, a journalist and liberal Muslim, condemned the crime, and admitted that there is a problem, inside the community itself that had to be solved through education and a liberal religious interpretation.
Souad Sbai, an Italian of Moroccan origin and President of ACMID, elected as a member of the Italian Parliament in 2008, officially proposed in February 2010 that all cultural extenuating circumstance in trials regarding honor-related crimes be abolished. She proposed reforming articles 133 and 62bis of the Italian penal code, which provide a reduction in punishment for crimes committed in the shadow of suspected cultural traditions. In Sbai's opinion, an honor-related crime has to be handled as other crimes are. Sbai, who has worked with immigrant women in Italy for many years, denounced the failure of multiculturalism and the danger of cultural relativism in Europe. A look from within immigrant communities is needed to avoid naïve interpretations and decisions by well-meaning outsiders who may not understand the full ramifications of extreme pressures against family members who might prefer to dissent.
The steps forward in Italy in the way to fight honor-related crimes owe much to people like the lawyer Loredana Gemellii and Souad Sbai, who proposed that each year in Italy, a day be dedicated to the victims of honor killings, and never to forget Hina, Sanaa or Begum.
Europe is now at a crossroads: as Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany recently admitted, multiculturalism failed; and as the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Rasmussen, has pointed out, Europe needs new immigration policies.
According to a recent Swedish newspaper, in 2011 almost 70,000 young girls and boys in Sweden alone will not be able to choose their partners. How does one change this situation? How does one deal with this situation until one changes it?
It would be best if the countries of Europe could band together to fight this sad and dangerous situation There are many good people at the activist level who could be of great help to policy makers: one just needs to let them speak, then transfer the conclusions of their experience -- not based on ideology -- to the ground. Sara Mohammad in Sweden, Jasvinder Sanghera in the UK, Ahmad Mansour in Germany, Karima in Belgium and many others all over Europe are there, just waiting for someone to listen.