For Shafilea Ahmed RIP
There’s something much deeper than ‘dishonour’ going on in ‘honour’ killings!
All I see is hatred, pure and simple. Hatred by these Pakistani parents for Western culture; a generational and cultural hatred inculcated into their very being. You’d have to hate so deeply in order to kill your own innocent 17 year-old daughter.
Sigmund Freud defined hate as an ego state that desires to destroy the source of its unhappiness. And there is absolutely no doubt that Farzana and Iftikhar Ahmed were grossly unhappy with their daughter, Shafilea.
Shafilea Ahmed was a scapegoat child, one who had to pay dearly for her vibrancy, strength and desire for change; change that her parents could not condone. Jungian Professor Sylvia Brinton Perera writes in the ‘Scapegoat Complex’
‘…that because they [scapegoat children] arouse unconscious discomfort, their perceptions may be disregarded or denied, while they themselves are shamed and neglected’.
Where there are thwarted egos involved, then there is very likely to be jealousy as well. In this case, Shafilea’s mother probably felt an intense jealousy of her daughter’s beauty and the way westernisation had opened up that beauty for all to see. Shafilea’s close male and female friendships with her peer group would have enraged her parents. After all, their daughter’s education was a preparation for marriage to a ‘nice’ Pakistani man they had chosen for her. With all the restrictions Muslim society places on women and girls, how could Farzana Ahmed watch her daughter grow and develop in ways that were never open to her, Farzana? For Iftikhar, his absolute power over his daughters was being undermined by Shafilea.
I feel the need to write about this because I can identify so much with the humiliations and abuse Shafilea suffered at the hands of her parents. Scapegoat children are not only found in Muslim families; all the best and worst ancient families had one on whom all their hatreds and suspicions could be laid. Handed down from generation to generation, these values are brought to the new country immigrant families choose in order to live a better life.
My mother, who abandoned me as a ten month-old infant, for reasons I won’t go into here, was a red-haired Italian and although my father’s Lebanese extended family often used this to further denigrate her and me, it was only part of the reason for their hatred of her. No, the crux of the matter, in their eyes, was that she was a ‘sinner’, and I as the girl child, by default, carried that stigma. Nothing that I said or did ever pleased them. I was ignored, abused, and neglected. My spirit and strength just enraged them more and elicited even more punishment. They hid information from me, told lies about other members of the family to hide their failings; almost as if I was an ‘evil eye’.
But, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed chose to take their hatred much further. They murdered their daughter after months of constantly degrading her and subjecting her to emotional and physical torture. In most other aspects of their lives they could show outward calmness and stand up as pillars of their community. Only because, in the privacy of their home they could release all their pent-up anger and loathing upon their scapegoat daughter.
One has to ask why they ever chose to live in Britain and raise their children there? British values were so different from their own and having to see and deal daily with ‘infidels’ must have added to their rage. They evidently were so rigid in their culture and belief systems that they brought with them, they could not allow their daughter to grow up with Western values and so build a whole new life for herself in her what was now her country.
Professor Perera writes of a Sufi fable that is so appropriate to Safilea’s story:
The Wayward Princess
A certain king believed that what he had been taught, and what he believed, was right. In many ways he was just a man, but he was one whose ideas were limited.
One day he said to his three daughters:
‘All that I have is yours or will be yours. Through me you obtained your life. It is my will that determines your future, and hence determines your fate’.
Dutifully and quite persuaded of the truth of this, two of the girls agreed.
The third daughter, however, said:
‘Although my position demands that I be obedient to the laws, I cannot believe that my fate must always be determined by your opinions’.
‘We shall see about that’ said the king.
He ordered her to be imprisoned in a small cell, where she languished for years. Meanwhile, the king and his obedient daughters spent freely of the wealth which would otherwise have been expended upon her.
The king said to himself:
‘This girl lies in her prison not by her own will, but by mine. This proves, sufficiently for any logical mind, that it is my will, not hers, which is determining her fate’.
The people of the country, hearing of their princess’s situation, said to one another:
‘She must have done or said something very wrong for a monarch, with whom we find no fault, to treat his own flesh and blood so’.
For they had not arrived at the point where they felt the need to dispute the king’s assumption of rightness in everything.
From time to time the king visited the girl. Although she was pale and weakened from her imprisonment, she refused to change her attitude.
Finally the king’s patience came to an end.
‘Your continued defiance’ he said to her, ‘will only annoy me further, and seems to weaken my rights, if you stay within my realms. I could kill you; but I am merciful. I therefore banish you into the wilderness, adjoining my territory. This is a wilderness inhabited only by wild beasts and such eccentric outcasts who cannot survive in our rational society. There you will soon discover whether you can have an existence apart from that of your family; and if you can, whether you prefer it to ours’.
His decree was at once obeyed, and she was conveyed to the borders of the kingdom. The princess found herself let loose in a wild land which bore little resemblance to the sheltered surroundings of her upbringing. But she soon learned that a cave would serve for a house, that nuts and fruits came from trees as well as from golden plates, that warmth came from the sun. This wilderness had a climate and a way of existing of its own.
After some time, she had so ordered her life that she had water from springs, vegetables from the earth, fire from a smouldering tree.
‘Here’ she said to herself, ‘is a life whose elements belong together, form a completeness, yet neither individually nor collectively do they obey the commands of my father the king’.
One day a lost traveller – as it happened a man of great riches and ingenuity – came upon the exiled princess, fell in love with her and took her back to his own country, where they were married.
After a space of time, the two decided to return to the wilderness where they built a huge and prosperous city where their wisdom, resources and faith were expressed to their fullest possible extent. The ‘eccentrics’ and other outcasts, many of them thought to be madmen, harmonised completely and usefully with this many-sided life.
The city and its surrounding countryside became renowned throughout the entire world. It was not long before its power and beauty far outshone that of the realm of the princess’s father. By the unanimous choice of the inhabitants, the princess and her husband were elected to the joint monarchy of this new and ideal kingdom.
At length, the king decided to visit the strange and mysterious place which had sprung up in the wilderness, and which was, he heard, peopled at least in part by those whom he and his like despised. As, with bowed head, he slowly approached the foot of the throne, upon which the young couple sat, and raised his eyes to meet those whose repute of justice, prosperity and understanding far exceeded his own, he was able to catch the murmured words of his daughter:
‘You see, father, every man and woman has their own fate and their own choice’.
I believe there are lessons here for all parents.
Shafilea’s parents were convicted of her murder (they stuffed a plastic bag down her throat in front of her younger sister) and received 25 years each in prison.
Another ‘Honour’ killing………………………