Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sandeela Kanwal, Chaudhry Rashid: Honor Killing? Maybe, Maybe Not

What we've got is a dead woman, a weeping father, and a really ugly situation.

Sandeela Kanwal is Dead

Here's what's in the public record, so far.
  • Sandeela Kanwal, daughter of Chaudhry Rashid, was taken from America to Pakistan
  • In Pakistan, on March 14, 2002, she was married to Majid Latif in an arranged marriage
    • Arranged marriages are fairly common in many cultures - including Rashid's
  • Back in America, Sandeela Kanwal lived with Majid Latif for several years
  • April 15 - presumably this year - the couple separatged
  • July 1, 2008, Sandeela Kanwal filed for divorce
  • Then she died
    • Abruptly
  • Investigators say that Chaudhry Rashid confessed to killing her
Something struck me as I read headlines and articles about this murder investigation. With the possible exceptions of a headline, and a claim by Rashid's lawyer, every significant statement I read could be quite true. Even the apparently contradictory ones:
  • "Investigators said Rashad confessed to strangling the 25-year-old woman."
    Clayton Co. Police Say Father Killed Daughter to Honor Family
    (MyFOX Atlanta (July 6, 2008))
  • "I have done nothing wrong." Chaudhry Rashid, in court, through an interpreter.
    "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death"
    (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 8, 2008))
  • "But police say Rashid, 54, used a bungee cord to strangle Sandeela Kanwal, 25, early Sunday morning in the family's Utah Drive home in Jonesboro."
    "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death"
    (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 8, 2008))
  • " 'I don't know anything about an arranged marriage," Long [Rashid's lawyer] said. 'I am not positive that is a factor in this case.'
    "However, Long said she could not elaborate and would need time to talk to the family in depth. She also asked for privacy and declined to discuss Kanwal's funeral arrangements."
    "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death"
    (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 8, 2008))

"I've Done Nothing Wrong" Doesn't Mean "I'm Innocent"

The newspaper headline reads, "I'm innocent, says man held in daughter's death" - but what Rashid's interpreter said was "I have done nothing wrong." There could be a translation error, but that's a pretty simple idea. And, in English, there's a difference between "I'm innocent" and "I have done nothing wrong."

American law includes the idea of justifiable homicide. Not for awkward circumstances like the one Mr. Rashid faced, but we do accept the idea that sometimes it's okay to kill someone else: as in cases of self-defense.

So, Mr. Rashid's confession (perhaps 'statement' might be a better term) that he killed his daughter, the police assertion that he strangled her, and Mr. Rashid's "I have done nothing wrong" during his tearful court appearance, could all be true. Assuming that he killed her for a culturally-mandated reason.

That assumption could even explain his tears in court. He said he was mourning his daughter - which could be quite true - particularly if he'd been 'forced' to kill her, in order to follow his culture's code of ethics.

I think that Rashid's lawyer is prudent in dismissing the arranged marriage, and I rather doubt that we'll hear much about America's intolerance of non-western values in court. Playing on a jury's sympathies probably wouldn't be as effective in this case, as it was in the Menendez Brothers' first trial.

Do I Think This is an Honor Killing?

I don't know. But that's a distinct possibility:
  • An arranged marriage that doesn't seem to have gotten off to a good start
  • A young woman who learned enough about American culture to know that there are alternatives
  • An old coot, about my age, who may very well have that mental ossification that makes adjusting to new realities difficult
Yeah: I'd say that 'honor killing' is a real possibility.

On the other hand, Mr. Rashid may just be a guy with anger management issues, a dead daughter, and a lawyer who may be able to get him sprung. As long as the defense doesn't bring up the 'cultural' thing, and concentrates on a father's tears, I'd say Mr. Rashid has a shot at a reduced sentence, at least.

Finally, about Islam and honor killings. In Indonesia, a country that's more Islamic that America is Christian, in terms of percentages, and which has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, there are almost no 'honor killings. I've written about this before.

More, in the news:
  • "Dad charged with murdering reluctant bride"
    CNN (July 9, 2008)
  • "Father charged over 'honour killing' "
    Herald Sun (AU) (July 9, 2008)
    (This article has some additional information about the marriage's circumstances.)
  • "Chgo Trib's 'Honor Killing' Report Omits Islam Connection" (July 8, 2008)
    (This is a quite biased report, which I think has a point:
    • "OK, I am wondering here if the hanging of a black Southerner by the KKK in the American south would be reported by the Chicago Tribune in the same kind of vague language of 'cultural' murder as a recent Muslim murder in Georgia was treated? More likely, of course, the story would be immediately pegged to the racist, white motives that actually led to the murder. In essence that is how the Chicago Tribune mishandled their reporting of another so-called Islamic 'honor killing' that occurred in Georgia this week. They wrote about the 'culturally rigid Pakistani' immigrants and said that 'honor killings' occur with 'other South Asians' without ever once mentioning that this is more often than not a Muslin practice. Instead of pegging this murder to Muslim 'culture' the Tribune makes it a vague and nondescript 'culture' so that the reader is unaware of the connection with Islam...."

About the op ed

I doubt that there are many American readers who would not associate an honor killing with Islam - but I do believe that there is a distinct reticence - a sort of prudery - on the part of some news services to openly discuss the connection.

And, I believe that, by leaving Islamic/Middle Eastern/Asian cultural and religious issues out of reports, this prudery makes room for gossip and rumor - some of it rather wild.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.


Anonymous said...

If Muslim immigrants want to "import" their customs to America such as "honor killing", then maybe, the US should practice another Muslim tradition - public beheading of murderers.

Brian H. Gill said...


Some might find your suggestion emotionally appealing, but I doubt that it would resolve many issues.

As for beheading being a particularly Muslim tradition, I suggest checking out "Islam, Christianity, Culture, and Kooks (November 26, 2007), or another of the posts listed in "Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture
and the War on Terror

Of course, I am appalled at practices like honor killing, and think that the assumptions of America's dominant culture about assimilation need a thorough and serious review.

Anonymous said...

Honor killing is probably an aspect of culture that predates Islam, but that does not exonerate Islam from being a strong force that perpetuates it.

Under sharia law the act of a parent killing his offspring is (at the very least) decriminalized, as shown in the authoritative Shafi'i manual of sharia law "Reliance of the Traveller" pages 583-4 ("o1.2 The following are not subject to retaliation: ...(4) a father or mother... for killing their offspring..." and page 587 ("o3.12 ...When an injurious crime is caused by a non-family member in cooperation with the victim's father, retaliation is only taken against the non-family member...").

"Reliance of the Traveller" is highly recommended as a reference work on mainstream sharia. It is authoritative and extremely well indexed, and very quickly puts the lie to much of the disinformation about Islam that is spread by apologists (for instance, the book has 1 sentence on the "greater jihad" (spiritual struggle), and 7 plus pages on the "lesser jihad" ("war against establish the religion." (p 599)).

Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for making those points.

I responded in greater detail to a very similar comment of yours in another post.

I appreciate facts (or assertions) with citations about their origin.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.