The cover is shocking, gruesome, and bold. It features the face of a woman encased in plastic, being smothered to death. A video shows the plastic wrapping being ripped open, “signifying the release of women from violence.”
Cosmopolitan magazine in the UK has released a mock-up cover of their February issue online, designed by artist Leo Burnett as part of a campaign to raise awareness about honor killings. The cover is that of a 17-year-old British-Pakistani girl, Shafilea Ahmed, who was suffocated to death by her parents in 2003 for the crime of refusing an arranged marriage.
Cosmo has joined Karma Nirvana and the Henry Jackson Society in organizing an “inaugural Day of Memory for Britain’s Lost Women, which will take place July 14—the day of Shafilea Ahmed’s birthday.”
Will mainstreaming a critique of honor killing reach those most likely to perpetrate so dishonorable a crime? Are this cover and the planned campaign proof that some Europeans are ready to relinquish the failed doctrine of multi-cultural relativism, appeasement, and the “soft” double standard of racism? Is the British legal system finally ready to do whatever it takes to abolish barbaric cultural practices?
What happened to Shafilea?
Shafilea Ahmed was a young British-Pakistani girl whose only crime was that of becoming too “Western.” Her parents allegedly sedated her without her knowledge and packed her off to Pakistan to meet her much older cousin to whom she had been promised in marriage. Shafilea responded by drinking bleach in a failed suicide attempt. She refused the marriage. Her mother, Farzana, was furious that she had “made a scene.”
From her parents’ point of view, Shafilea’s body, her virginity and fertility, were resources that belonged to her family, not to Shafilea herself. Shafilea had shamed the family. Her younger siblings would not be able to find spouses.
This may sound “crazy” to a Westerner, but is totally understandable and acceptable to tribal people. A daughter who is slightly disobedient, not to mention disobedient in a significant way (such as refusing an arranged marriage), has shamed her family. This amounts to a capital offense. This is true among Muslims globally, Hindus in India, Sikhs, and Yazidis.
Hindus in India honor kill when young lovers marry someone of the “wrong” caste and/or someone of their own choosing.
Muslims honor kill for a wide variety of reasons, which range from refusing to veil, desiring an advanced education, dressing in a Western fashion, having non-Muslim friends, a non-Muslim boyfriend, refusing an arranged marriage, wanting to divorce a violent husband, etc.
Shafilea endured years of being beaten and threatened, sometimes almost daily; she was sometimes isolated and starved. Shafilea tried to get help. In her own words, found in an application for housing help, she wrote: “Regular incidents… One parent would hold me while the other hit me.”
At the time, in multi-culturally correct Britain, there was no “help” for her. According to an editorial at the Guardian, “Her school, the police, and the social services in Warrington were all aware that there were difficulties in the family. She was 11 when she ran away for the first time.”
When the beatings and abuse failed, Shafilea’s family felt they had to kill her because, clearly, they had failed to control her. Thus, her father, Iftikhar, a 42-year-old a taxi-driver, and her mother, Farzana, a 40-year-old housewife, murdered her in cold blood by smothering her in plastic.
They forced all their children to witness the murder—and threatened to kill them if they ever told anyone.
The police found Shafilea’s body in the River Kent, in Cumbria, but they had no witnesses. According to the Telegraph:
For nine years Shafilea Ahmed’s parents thought their surviving children were so terrified of them that they would never break ranks…To ensure there were no lapses, they were given a detailed “script” of what they should and should not say to friends, teachers and the police…about [their] sister’s disappearance.
Please understand: The family silence is Mafia-like and usually unbreakable.
According to the Daily Mail, authorities knew that there was a suitcase packed in the Ahmed hallway which contained “gold bars and the children’s passports… just in case [they] had to leave the country at the drop of a hat.”
“In Shafilea’s case, intermittent attempts were made to offer her support, but they were repeatedly compromised by basic mistakes. Her friends and tutors knew of her father’s violent temper yet interviews were conducted while he remained in the same room. To avoid answering difficult questions the Ahmed parents claimed they were victims of racism.”
The break came when Alesha came forward and when Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal took matters into his capable hands.
Some people believe that honor killings are primarily carried out by male relatives. This is not true. Women are perpetrators and collaborators, accomplices and instigators. (I am working on a study about this.) Like men, women have also internalized the honor codes and a mother is even more responsible for a daughter’s perceived insubordination than a father is.
Farzana was an active perpetrator both in the murder and the disposal of her daughter’s body. Alesha told the Daily Mail that “their mother began the attack with the words ‘Just finish it here,’ before her father stuffed a plastic bag in Shafilea’s mouth, holding it there until she stopped breathing.”
When I asked CCP Afzal what Farzana was like, he said this: “She was extremely strong, very charismatic, an established community leader, with a manipulative personality. As an uneducated woman in an arranged marriage, Farzana probably viewed her lifestyle as the only possible option for her daughters.”
This was true for millennia in Pakistan and is still true today in non-assimilated Muslim enclaves in the West.
According to Afzal, “Alesha arranged to have her own home burgled to get back at mom and dad. We arrested her. Once in police custody, she said that the reason she did this is because ‘[her] mom and dad killed [her] older sister in front of me. [Her] mum said ‘[She will] be next.’”
According to the Telegraph, Alesha’s testimony “threw the killers’ carefully-constructed defence into disarray.”
In 2012, Farzana and Iftikhar were both convicted and jailed for life.
Britain may be the first European country to have created a special Honor Crimes division with the power to locate and return British-south Asian girls whose parents have tricked or forced them into a marriage in Pakistan.
This is a tragic story about a girl who was betrayed by her family and cultural customs, who tried to save her own life, but was betrayed again by a British system that did not help her do so.
However, Alesha became a hero when she decided to save her own life and bravely spoke out. CCP Afzal made sure this case was properly handled. Afzal has handled a number of honor killing prosecutions. Please note that both heroes are Muslims.
How does the West change barbaric tribal customs? Is it even possible? Do we rescue those who wish to live assimilated Western lives—and deport everyone else? Who will become “family” to the heroic girls who resist being honor killed and who turn their own parents in? Who is talking to Alesha today?
At a policy level, Western leaders must stop talking to the Muslim Islamist street and immediately turn to anti-Islamist and anti-tribal Muslims who understand the bloody nature of honor codes and who treasure Western law and Enlightenment ideals.