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Afshan Azad, ‘Honor’ Killings and Religion

July 3, 2010

So I just read about Afshan Azad (famous for playing the role of “Padma Patil” in the Harry Potter films) being attacked by her father and brother in their home:

The father and brother of a Harry Potter actress will appear in court later this month in Manchester, England, on charges of threatening to kill the young star, prosecutors said Friday.

Abdul Azad, 54, and his son Ashraf, 28, are accused of attacking actress Afshan Azad earlier this month because of her relationship with a Hindu man, a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said. The family is Muslim.

As was to be expected, a chorus of condemnations rose in response to this, with many citing Islam or religion in general as the root cause of the attack. There’s something curious about the way people are discussing this… Take a look at these comments posted in The Huffington Post:

Okay, after reading through four different news stories of this incident, one thing appears to be clear. Nobody who knows anything about this is claiming that it had anything to do with religion.”

Let’s all keep dancing around and pretend this has nothing to do with Islam.”

Try to spin it as having nothing to do with religion if you like but it’s pretty plain.”

Does this involve Islam?”

Could also be this has nothing to do with RELIGION. … All I’m saying is RELIGION isn’t always culprit.”

Could be. But most probably this has much to do with religion.”

Tell you what – will you give ma $1 for every attempted murder I can find where family members collaborate to kill one of their own and it has nothing to do with Islam? You will lose a lot of money.”

I absolutely positively guarantee that this had nothing to do with religion. :/”

let me guess…had to do with their religion…”

People on all sides of the debate were pretty concerned about whether or not this incident “involved” or “had to do with” religion/Islam. I found myself wondering if that question had any significance at all.

I’m still trying to figure out what it actually means to describe this as “having to do with religion” or “having to do with Islam”. There seems to be an unspoken consensus among a lot of people that “having to with religion” or “involving Islam”  is some sort of definitive explanation of what happened. I can imagine two people chatting..

A: Did you hear about that girl getting attacked by her dad and brother? What was the deal with that?

B: Had to do with religion.

A: Ah..

Using this description is a wonderful way of talking about something without saying anything about it. It’s like describing Joseph Stack’s decision to suicide bomb an IRS building as being caused by “political philosophy” (and of course then decrying the long list of all violent, crazy things done by “political people”).

A: Did you hear about that IRS building getting attacked by that guy in his plane? What was the deal with that?

B: Had to do with political philosophy.

A: Ah..

If we spoke this way about the Stack incident, even in the most casual of conversations, no one in their right mind would take us seriously. The same should be true for issues like this one.

Of course the attack on Afshan Azad might “have to do with” Islam. The problem is, though, that a great many people use that misleadingly obvious statement not to mean that the attack is related to religion, but that it is reducible to religion – as if Azad’s father and brother were reading the Qur’an one afternoon and came to a passage that told them to kill her.

A riddle: if someone has major political disagreements with his daughter (e.g. one is liberal and the other conservative), and he finally decides to try to kill her, do we explain the attack as “having to do with politics”, or could it be possible that he was simply… a violent control freak?

Finally, a comment about so-called ‘honor’ killings and religion.

1) They predate Islam.

2) They happen frequently among non-Muslims as well.

3) They are unheard of among the world’s largest population of Muslims (among others).

4) They are driven by ideas about, well, “honor”. People don’t seem to get this part, and thus anytime someone associates a religious issue or value with this “honor”, they fail to differentiate the two:

“She says these horrific acts against women have nothing to do with Islam”

That’s a notion difficult to defend when the reason for that behavior was that the girls’s boyfriend wasn’t of islamic faith.

It doesn’t occur to them, though, that:

killing your daughter for dating outside the Islamic faith is against the Islamic faith.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. ImadK permalink
    July 3, 2010 3:42 pm

    I stopped caring to read the comments in the huffington posts a very long time ago, i generally hold 95% of them in contempt for being idiots who parrot sound bites, i pretty much don’t care to read the 5% that may have something more profound to say.

    As for the serious issue about honor killings, everyone would benefit to watch this talk given by Rana Husseini, who elaborates on her work to combat against honor killings in Jordan.

    • July 3, 2010 4:12 pm

      “i generally hold 95% of them in contempt for being idiots who parrot sound bites, i pretty much don’t care to read the 5% that may have something more profound to say.”

      Yep.. I often wonder why I bother, considering that every time I go on that site, my view of humanity becomes a little more pessimistic. lol

      Thanks for the link btw, I’ll have to watch it a bit later.

  2. Mary Alice permalink
    July 6, 2010 2:09 pm

    Great article thank you.

  3. mario239303 permalink
    August 4, 2010 11:34 am

    yes great article – i agree, but i don’t think you can say honour killings and islam have nothing to do with each other – i’m sure afshan’s father and brother would be justifying their actions in terms of their religion – otherwise why would they do this to someone they love? religion is powerful driver to culture. whether you agree with that or not – it’s how it is.

    • August 4, 2010 12:28 pm

      Hi mario239303,

      I guess the point I wanted to make was that this is something that goes deeper than religion (“honor killings” are very widespread among other groups as well such as Hindus in North India). Religion was just part of the reason Azad’s father might have disapproved of her behavior, but it doesn’t explain the decision to attack her.. that’s a decision of rage and boiling anger.. not an act of religion.

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