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Phyllis Chesler

Dr. Phyllis Chesler is the author of 14 books and an emerita professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies. She once lived in Kabul, Afghanistan. She may be reached through her website www.phyllis-chesler.com.
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The Honor Killing That Never Happened: A Cautionary Tale

Friday, April 13th, 2012 - by Phyllis Chesler

Like many others who were carefully selected, I, too, recently received a very shocking email from one Arsalan Akhtar (arsalan.akhtar21@gmail.com). He accused a rather distinguished Pakistani public figure of having honor killed his daughter. The email also claimed that the Pakistani media had covered this killing up at the request of very high government officials. I immediately tried to contact Arsalan Akhtar, but to no avail.

Many bloggers (who shall remain nameless) reproduced this email without confirming whether it was true or not.

Given what we know about Pakistan the entire episode seems entirely possible. Pakistan is a very dangerous place for women. Daughter and wife beatings are normalized, not criminalized. Acid is thrown right into the faces of young girls and wives who are seen as even slightly “disobedient.” Recently, an exceptionally beautiful Pakistani wife who had suffered this awful fate finally killed herself. She had endured over three dozen plastic surgeries on her face in Italy. Her suffering was simply too great. The fiend who did this to her was her husband and because he comes from a rich and powerful family, he has never been charged. Pakistan is a place where anything terrible can and probably has happened.

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of honor killings that take place in Pakistan as the vast majority are believed to go unreported. In 2010, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 800 women were killed for honor in Pakistan. This figure likely represents only the tip of the iceberg.

According to the Aurat Foundation, a Pakistani human rights organization: “At least 675 Pakistani women and girls were murdered during the first nine months of the calendar year 2011 for allegedly defaming their family’s honor.” Almost 77 percent of such honor cases ended in acquittals.

A similar study, published in 2011 by the Research and Development for Human Resources Women Rights Cell, found that 605 women and 115 men in Sindh, Pakistan were honor murdered or murdered in domestic disputes that same year.

Pakistan is also the capital of what may be called the “honor killing industry.” Female relatives are killed for money. A father may kill a daughter, claim it as an honor killing, then try to extort blood money from the man who has allegedly dishonored the victim. The scenarios can grow very complicated. According to Muhammad Haroon Bahlkani, an officer in the Community Development Department in Sindh, a “man can murder another man for unrelated reasons, kill one of his own female relatives, and then credibly blame his first victim for dishonoring the second. Or he can simply kill one of his female relatives, accuse someone rich of involvement with her, and extract financial compensation in exchange for forgoing vengeance.”

But would a Pakistani public figure engage in such filthy and dishonorable behavior? The answer is yes.

For example, in 1999, a very powerful Pakistani family had their daughter, Samia Imran, contract murdered in her feminist divorce lawyer’s office. Samia’s crime? She dared to seek a divorce from her violent husband who was also her cousin. Her father, Ghulam Sarwar, the President of the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce, and her mother, Sultana Sarwar, a gynecologist, were never even charged. Violent demonstrations broke out against her lawyers, whom the police refused to protect.

In addition, the lawyers were condemned to death by the usual religious fanatics; the Chamber of Commerce supported the murder. Members of Pakistan’s upper parliamentary house demanded that the two women lawyers be punished. To this day, Samia’s parents remain shamefully free.

However, in addition to never hearing back from Arsalan.Akhtar, something about the accusation didn’t feel right. The accusations were too perfect, too big, too astonishing. Therefore, I asked Benjamin Ismail, the Director of the Asia Desk (including central Asia) of Reporters Without Borders, to ask one of his journalists to look into the matter. He did.

The email was fraudulent, a hoax, a case of political malice. The reporter spoke to the daughter. She is outraged. I am not naming her or her father here because I do not want to taint their reputations any further.

What is the lesson to be learned?

The internet tempts us to simply “play telephone” with information. In addition to making things up, both well-meaning and self-aggrandizing bloggers also reproduce whatever crosses their screen. Investigative journalism is a thing of the past. Research is also passé.

This is an era of in which amateurs with poor impulse control twitter the day away. Big Liars, both anti-jihadist bloggers and crafty jihadists, rule the roost. They are tremendously aided by technology. Their word goes viral, global, in an instant.

Consider this a cautionary tale.

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