A Paradox: Killing for Honor?

In Pakistan, approximately 400 women are killed every year for disrespecting a family’s name. In the past three years, Pakistan remains the country with the most frequent honor killings against women, and the annual number has continued to increase rapidly. If a woman dares to refuse an arranged marriage, want a divorce, have an unapproved relationship, become pregnant, fight for custody of her children, elope, or even look at a man in an “inappropriate manner”, she could become targeted for murder by her family members.
Historically, honor killings have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Roman times. The father of the house was allowed to kill an unmarried but sexual daughter, or his adulterous wife. Other types of honor killings were popular in medieval Europe, but today most of these types of killings occur in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Arab countries would proudly show off the murder weapons in order to increase honorable status. In Arab countries, the first honor killings date back to Pakistan where families would bury their newborn baby girl alive in order to preserve her virginity forever. The practice is not religious, but perhaps cultural, although some countries will say it is part of a religious defense plea.
Some people believe that honor killings have stemmed from Islamic teachings. However, Islam does not approve of or condone murder without lawful reason. More recently people have been claiming honor killings as a way of the Quran. Muslim teachings do not allow people to commit murder no matter how religiously justified. It is thought that these recent justification patterns stem from poor teachings, but they actually predate the Islamic religion. Honor killings usually face trial, but often the killer receives no punishment, because Islam likes to avoid violence as much as possible!
Previously, honor killings were often not tried, especially if the family showed forgiveness towards the murderer. If there happened to be a trial and the perpetrator sentenced to prison, this could be avoided, if the family expresses forgiveness. Typically, if a prison sentence was to be carried out, it would only be for five years.
Recently, internet personality Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother because he did not approve of her internet fame and selfies she would post. Although these types of killings have been frequent occurrences over hundred of years, this one particular death sparked an outrage in her many fans and prompted the Pakistani government to react.
In October, Pakistan’s government passed a new law to try and protect their women. Any man responsible for the killing of their family member in the name of honor will be subject life in prison or sentenced to death. If the family forgives the murderer, the death penalty will be lifted. However honor killers must still face a twenty-five year prison sentence. Pakistanis still remain cautious because the judge still needs to determine whether or not the murder qualifies as an ‘honor killing.’ If the judge declares that the murder was because the woman of the family eloped, there could be much less severe punishment.
This new law has provided hope for women’s rights activists, because they believe this is one more baby step closer to protection of a woman’s human rights. Of course, while some are expressing appreciation for the new law, others are expressing anger and resistance. More traditional Muslims fear this law will pollute Pakistan to a culture of western values.

India’s Identity Crisis

The Indian Constitution states that there is no official religion and therefore is a secular country and government.  It has been this way since 1947, when India gained its independence, with Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jainists, Sikhs, and Jews living somewhat peacefully.  However, after the election of the Indian Prime Minister in 2014, the country has experienced a period of upheaval, which has left people wondering what constitutes an Indian citizen.

In 2014, Narendra Modi was elected as the Indian Prime Minister.  He is a member of the BJP, or Bharatiya Janata Party.  Some of the party members believe that only Hindus are actual Indian citizens.  They oppose Muslims, not only because they are not Hindu, but because they are as seen as a threat to India due to terrorist attacks.  Many Indians, who are now known as “Hindu nationalists,” share that same belief, which has caused riots and the abuse of Muslims across the country.

There have been reports of Hindu nationalists attacking Muslims.  Some of these attacks have been violent, and have lead to deaths.  On September 8, a group of Hindu-practicing men stormed a mosque and attacked the Muslims praying there, killing 15.  It is often not reported for fear of retaliation since many of the police are Hindu nationalists themselves, and support the attacks.  A man named U.R. Ananthamurthy, a long time political commentator and Indian novelist, wrote a book prior to the 2014 election called, “Hindutva or Hind Swaraj.”  In it he addressed the issues that India faces.  He accused candidate, Narendra Modi, of provoking anti-constitutional movements, and warned the people of India that electing him was dangerous.   The backlash from the publication of the novel was so great that he received death threats, and had to be protected by security until he passed away after the election of Modi.  Ananthamurthy was well-respected in his field, until he published his final book.  Although he was only trying to to protect his fellow citizens, many of them agreed with Modi’s policies.  The people who once looked up to him have rejoiced at his death.  Following his death, there were more outbreaks of anti-Muslim sentiment.

Hindu nationalist movements are deeply rooted, going all the way back to British governance.  India was divided by Britain into Muslims and Hindus in July of 1945 in hopes of derailing the revolutionary movements that might get rid of their rule.  After British rule, the split between the Hindus and Muslims was more pronounced.  The recent election of the Indian Prime Minister has caused these tensions to resurface.

The results of Modi’s election has caused officials to question whether or not nationalist parties should be banned from running in elections again.  In the article, it states, “Chief Justice TS Thakur said, ‘the essence, the ethos of our constitutional system is secularism… religion and politics don’t mix.’”  It goes on to explain how Hindu nationalism has been apparent in India for nearly two decades now, but recent events such as terrorist attacks have caused the nationalist movement to become even more violent, and prevalent, than before.

India has prided itself as a secular country for most of its history, but new challenges and old tensions have started to create animosity between the Muslims and Hindus.  The change of power has brought a Hindu nationalist movement, which is threatening the constitution of India.  It has sparked the question, “What makes you an Indian citizen?”  For some, the answer to that seems to be Hinduism, and this is causing massive protests against Muslims.  Some citizens hope that the tension will die down, but for now, it does not seem to have an end, which is causing more and more violence in India.

Do You Hear the People Cry?

In 2001, the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan and caused the Taliban regime there to fall. Under the Taliban, many human rights violations were being committed, especially against women, and a lot of people hoped that with the fall of the Taliban, and the involvement of Western powers, things would take a turn for the better. The rights of women and children and freedom of speech, among other things, would progress. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

The situation in Afghanistan today is not much better. While a lot of progress has been made in the human rights area, the situation is still unimaginable to Western minds. The Taliban has not been completely defeated and still holds power over territory in Afghanistan. In fact, now ISIS has begun making attempts to take parts of Afghanistan. But Afghanistan’s problems do not just come from terrorists and rogue groups; they come from the Afghan government’s military groups and from non-government backed Afghan groups as well. Both sides are responsible for crimes such as civilian deaths, targeting of schools/children, and abductions/holding hostage of civilians. The militant groups with ties to the government also fight among themselves, and not just the Taliban, and they have been accused of abusing civilians. One of the most common reasons these groups fight among each other is the poppy smuggling business, and with the reducing of U.S. troops, the Afghan security forces cannot control all of the militias and other groups working for the government, and the fighting increases.

Not only is the Afghan government trying to control its militias and militaries as it attempts to take down the Taliban once and for all, it also has to battle other issues that create rifts in the country and the government. One such tension is ethnic – to some groups in the country, it seems that the large minority of Pashtuns runs the entire government, and when the First Vice President General Rashid Dostum made some comments to this effect, President Ashraf Ghani (a Pashtun) responded in denial, and then proceeded to subtly threaten Dostum with an investigation into the accusations of human rights violations leveled against Dostum and others in the government. I don’t know about you, but when a government is using the promise of addressing concerns about possible human rights violations as a threat, I start to sincerely doubt their commitment to fixing the human rights situation in their country.

Which brings me to my next point. The government really hasn’t done much for a while now. It makes promises or talks about vague plans for the future, but never follows through on them to actually fix the situation. And the situation is pretty bad.

In addition to all of the military related human rights violations, journalists and freedom of speech are under attack, from both the government and the Taliban. There are areas in Afghanistan that will soon become ‘black holes’ of information, because of the difficulty to report from there. People are afraid to speak too negatively of either the Taliban, militants, or the government for fear of punishment. Government officials can and do make it difficult sometimes for journalists to investigate too closely into the affairs of the government. Women still suffer from being accused of moral crimes, even under areas controlled by the Afghan government. The government puts forward plans to try and fix this situation, but they are not followed through on, and laws trying to fix the situation are not enforced as well as they should be, or even at all. Torture,  carried out by the government and the Taliban, still occurs.

The chief problem is that improvement in human rights issues as well as the country’s overall situation relies heavily on foreign aid. At first, foreign aid was dependent on progress in the human rights area in Afghanistan, but more recently many countries have slacked off on making sure that Afghanistan follows through on its promises. The countries can’t stop giving Afghanistan aid – Afghanistan relies heavily on aid, and if it doesn’t get aid, it could become weaker and allow the Taliban to gain more and more strength, which is the exact opposite of what the U.S. and its allies have worked towards all these years. But since the situation for human rights is so bad in Afghanistan, requiring a tremendous amount of aid and effort, which most countries are not willing to put forward, at a time when nobody wants to remain in Afghanistan any longer than they have to, the focus on human rights as a requirement for aid from other countries has been lost. Nowhere is this more apparent than the October 5th, 2016 Afghanistan donor conference in Brussels, where the issues on the table had barely, if anything, anything to do with the major rights issues in Afghanistan, and the rights issues were relegated to side events (such as the Women’s Empowerment event).

However, not all is lost. Recently Canada announced that it would be investing $40M in Afghanistan over the next five years, and that $14.5M of that money would be given to War Child Canada, to be used to help women’s and girl’s rights, as well as protect children, in Afghanistan. War Child Canada hopes that this will set an example to the rest of the international community and inspire them to follow similar paths.

If the rest of the international community chooses to follow similar paths, the situation in Afghanistan could be dramatically improved, and the influence of the Taliban perhaps even extinguished. But if countries continue to give money, but not focus on human rights (or worse, pull out altogether), Afghanistan will weaken and splinter more and more as the Taliban gains more power. The goal of the U.S. and its allies for these long years, for which men and women gave their blood, sweat, and tears, as well as their lives, would have been in vain. And the countless people in Afghanistan who suffer day to day would have no outside help. A bleak future, indeed, but one perhaps we may change.