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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Dishonourable honour in the UK - a black and white example? And what if.....

Today a news article caught my eye. A family of albino Muslims in Coventry have had their home's windows smashed, and received many death threats.

The family (the father was born in Pakistan) have been used to ridicule because of the genetic condition that causes their white skin and hair, and eyesight problems, but five months ago, they started to receive death threats. The reason? five months ago a national magazine had published an article (this may not be the relevant article, but it is an interview with the lady in question that I found) about the albino condition which had featured their daughter, Naseem. She had left home and now has very little contact with the family (see below for the reason from her perspective). She married a Christian and goes to church. When the article came out, it was posted on walls around the family's house, and posted through the letter boxes of other Muslim families in the area, resulting in death threats, smashed house windows and vandalism of their car, because to them the daughter marrying a non-Muslim had brought dishonour to that family. The family has
spent £100's on security cameras and are considering fleeing the city to get away from their persecutors. Last week they were driven to call in the police to investigate.

In the second article, Naseem describes how she fled home at 18 to avoid arranged marriage and about her fears of possible retribution. I also found a blogger on a Pakistani forum who reposted both articles here - scroll down, to see the comments as they are revealing. Apart from the normal sympathy for the family, and typical denigration of the national paper ('Only x reported this news' and 'x is not a reliable source of information') and attempts to imply that the story was made up, or re-hashed and old had ('Firm believer in Islam' comments 'plus isnt this story like really really old?') when the family had only just called in the police, what is most disturbing is the attitudes of several posters, including a forum moderator.

The moderator is the first to comment, saying in part 'the first post is quite a disturbing read. If people want to show their hatred. they should find the daughter and pelt her home with whatever they wanted. Poor parents have already got too much on thier plates.' The moderator went on to say that even though he disagreed with many of Naseem's views, she seemed to be doing well for herself. The moderator, Saby is immediately taken to task on his comments by Zareen who asks why anyone should pelt the daughters house, saying there is much more to Islam than just this aspect. The last post is by Saby, in reply, who flippantly dismisses his implied call for attacks on the errant Naseem by saying 'It was a tongue in cheek comment ZK. Of course there is more to islam than this aspect. '

Saby says the first article is a disturbing read. But what I find disturbing is that his concern is not about the crime but the target. Apparently the poor parents have already got too much on their plates. But the daughter too has the albinism, and suffers the prejudice too, and also the fear of honour killing, yet it's OK to target her, and to show hatred to her? Pity the poor Muslim parents, but pelt the turncoat.... Now, I am not saying that Saby is consciously advocating people tracking down the daughter and attacking her (though he may be, and certainly others would want to do that), as he seems quite reasonable - he mildly comments she seems to be doing quite well. But notice how his thinking instantly is that it is illegitimate to target the Muslim parents, but OK to target the daughter who goes to church and married a Christian. This illustrates the fundamental attitude that means even in the UK, those who come to the truth of Jesus from Islam face danger from their home communities.

Another typical attitude is displayed by FBI786 'Firm Believer in Islam' who's tag-line ('My dear heart never think you are better than others. Listen to their sorrows with compassion. If you want peace, don't harbour bad thoughts do not gossip and don't teach what you do not know.) seems rather at odds with their comments which precisely do what we are apparently not to do - Naseem's sorrows are not listened to with any compassion at all.....

'FBI786', in response to someone who comments on Naseem's interview that 'she seems an intelligent girl', says the following :

'Not intelligent enough id say .. about not thinking what the consequences are going to be for her and her family .. and not learning from the past that ppl give hard time with that condition and on top of it .. to make things worse ..marry into a non muslim family .. i d say .. parents are partially to blame for not giving her the proper upbringing in teaching her the 'Islamic Code of Conduct' .. and if someone goes and disobeys the ayat of the Qur'aan ..simply these are the consequences..'

This I suggest, is a typical example of the 'blame and scapegoat the victim' mentality that is often so common. Naseem thought about the consequences for herself when she ran away from the suffocation of an arranged marriage. But according to this poster, the fault of the acts of hatred is hers for bringing down the supposedly impersonal consequences, rather than the fault being those who act with such vile hatred. The victim is blamed for the 'simple consequences', not the people who actively bring about the 'consequences'.

Firstly, we need to pray for Aslam Parvez and his family, that their tormentors would be discovered and brought to justice, and hatred against them should be stopped. And let us pray that the love of Jesus be made known and effective in that family. But we also need to note that the attitudes that led to their suffering and terror is something that needs to be vigorously opposed. We need to openly and boldly challenge the idea that it is somehow OK to target those who have changed their faith. The last poster we referred to obviously thinks it is justified for her to suffer the consequences of disobeying 'the ayat (definition here) of the Quraan'. Thus 'simply these are the consequences...' But they are not. They are the work of human beings, and they are the consequence not of Naseem's actions, but of people steeped in a bizarre concept of 'honour' that demeans free will and continually imputes guilt by association. You are condemned, under this code, for what someone else does, as Naseem's family is finding out.

Let me illustrate the illogic with several examples from the Bible (written, by the way, in a culture which also had a kind of honour-shame culture). Firstly from the Old Testament book of Judges, chapter 6. Israel is under oppression from the Midianites because of their sin. God sends an angel to Gideon, who is hiding in the winepress and calls him to action. His first task, says God, is to tear down the idols of the false gods in his home town and turn their sacred place into an altar for the true God. The problem is that the priest of those same false gods was Gideon's own father, Joash. Gideon obeys, but at night in secret, in fear of his family and his community. His fear proves to be partially justified, because once the townspeople discover who was responsible for so dishonouring their god and, in their eyes, shaming their community they demand his blood (v30 : Bring out your son. He must die.....). But Joash's answer as the priest of the false god Baal is very relevant to the situation we are looking at today. In v31 he replies 'Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar'. The gods, if they are real gods, can take care of their own honour.....

Acts 5 shows this principle twice over. As Jesus' apostles preached the good news, they enraged a faction of the Jewish Sanhedrin who 'When they heard ... were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (v33-39).

And earlier on, when God was dishonoured by two Christians lying to God and the Christian community about a semi-sham act of charity, there was no call for acts against them, for it was God himself who defended His honour. If a god is truly God then he will need no human hands to defend his honour and bring about 'simple consequences'. We need to remind certain of our Pakistani countryman that to be more concerned about family honour rather than God's honour is tantamount to idolatry, as are certain kinds of acting to defend God's honour. If a God cannot defend himself and needs to rely on human help to enforce his will, he is no God at all, but an idol, helpless like the pagan idols that need to be carried around on human shoulders.

But let us go back to the Parvez family for a minute. They, Muslims, living in an at least nominally Christian country, can go to police and reasonably expect their complaint to be taken seriously and their terror and oppression to be alleviated. But what of the Christians of Pakistan who face many times worse threats, like the rape of their two year old daughters if they do not convert, kidnap, forced conversion and marriage, false accusations, lynching and murder? Who can they go to, when the police so often knuckle under to Muslim extremists and imams, often the very ones who have incited the violence in the first place? When they are forced into 'peace reconciliation' with the very promoters of communal violence against them? When their public defenders are brutally and publicly assassinated?
That difference says a lot.

Whilst we should pray for the peace and safety of the Parvez family, how much more must we also challenge and expose the medieval dishonour that has put them, and so many others, in terror for their lives?

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