Recent reports of killing of a pregnant woman, Farzana Parveen, in Pakistan by her father and brothers who disapproved of her choice of husband has yet again spurred the use in media reports of the term "honour killing." How can some one use the word "honour" to describe what most of us, regardless of faith or culture, view as inexplicable cruelty?
I have worked in the field of social services in the Canadian Muslim community for decades and I cringe every time I hear this term, in part because of the unjust demonization of people's religions and cultures and because I know how this loaded term has the power to keep victims hurting, hiding and vulnerable to future attacks. It demeans and silences them, and empowers their abusers.
An abuser who identifies with a particular faith or culture may hide behind it to rationalize and justify his abuse while his victim is re-victimized for choosing this faith and maintaining a culture that "condones" his behaviour.
We must reflect on how attaching honour to killing affects the victims of violence and what we can do to break this habit of cultural and religious name-calling, so we can help those who in need.
I know that as a consequence of this name-calling leaders of my community go into defensive posture and focus their energies and resources on correcting the skewed portrayal of their faith and culture, rather than focusing on helping the victims.
When crimes of violence against women are identified as having cultural or religious sanction, service providers are prevented from identifying with the victim, hampering efforts to build trust between them. When a service provider in words or action questions blames the victim's culture or religion, they inadvertently put the victims in the position of self-loathing and negative self-image.
Stereotyping of crimes gets in the way of unbiased intervention and treatment. By invoking the noble concept of honour in a heinous crime, we are telling the victim they must have come to harm due to their dishonourable conduct. This hinders victims seeking and receiving appropriate timely supports.
Equally important, the use of the honour term deflects from the perpetrator's responsibility and, in a skewed way, allows him to justify his actions. This in turn continues, with impunity, the cycle of violence against women.
We must realize uncritically accepting violence against women as sanctioned by certain cultures and religions impacts social harmony. It divides between "us" the "good," and "them" the "bad." It is as if we are saying to the victims that having chosen their religion, they have somehow signed on to their own death sentence.
The community's defensive responses also allow society -- including law enforcement agents -- to deflect their own responsibility.
Our society should focus its efforts, rather, on providing competent and preventive services.
Stereotypes, sensational media coverage and the acceptance of the cultural defence of criminal behaviours has allowed for mutual mistrust to flourish and the marginalization of minority communities. Instead, we must seek to build an open, safe environment that encourages families to seek help in resolving their issues before they become a crisis. Rationalizing murder on cultural grounds creates a sub-class of citizens, who are less likely to receive the kind of help they need.
Changing attitudes requires supporting a person's cultural or religious identity, giving them the confidence to stand up for their rights and to seek help without shame or fear.
Families riddled with conflict, poor communication and whose members are at different levels of integration, linguistic capabilities and who are lacking social and community supports need a holistic intervention at the early stages of conflict.
We must begin by earning the community's trust so we can work together to help victims and rehabilitate perpetrators before domestic violence turns to murder. We must all agree the perpetrator alone is responsible for his actions, be it violence or murder. We must work, also, to restore mutual respect by supporting community-based social services.
Shahina Siddiqui is the executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg.