Local murder stirring
'religion versus culture' debate

By Daniel Silliman


For some, the death of Sandeela Kanwal is just another example.

The 25-year-old woman was strangled to death with a bungee cord, according to police, allegedly by her own father as a "matter of honor," because Kanwal wanted to end her arranged marriage.

The way "Aaron," a Republican blogger from New Jersey understands it, "this is just another case of how radical Islam is taking over not only Europe, but evidently America as well."

After the July 6, Jonesboro murder, 56-year-old Chaurdhy Rashid, originally from Pakistan, was arrested and allegedly confessed to the killing, citing his Muslim faith as motivation. The story immediately got national attention. The Clayton County Police Department received more than 200 media inquires about the case, taking phone calls from the Chicago Tribune, national television networks, and obscure radio shows, according to Officer Tim Owen.

All the media accounts apparently approached the story from the religious angle -- ticking off references to Pakistan and arranged marriages and attempting to confirm the family's Muslim faith. Many professional and amateur pundits echoed Aaron's opinion.

"Let us make no mistake," wrote Rob Taylor on Red-Alerts.com, "Militant Islam is the driving force here. The same Militant Islam that drives brothers to kill sisters, the same Militant Islam that drives parents to kill their children, and ultimately the same Militant Islam that drove 17 well-to-do Arabs to kill themselves and 3,000 of our countrymen [in the terrorist attacks of 2001]."

Robert Spencer, an author and columnist who writes about "Islamic jihadist" violence, sees Kanwal's murder as the result of "traditional Islamic mores." He wrote that though "there is no direct sanction given in the Qur'an or Islamic law for [honor killings], the practice is encouraged by the shame/honor culture that Islam has created."

Reached by the Clayton News Daily on Monday, Spencer said Kanwal's death should rally Americans to oppose "Islamic jihadists" and multi-culturalism.

"This is a choice now," Spencer said, "a question of whether the American culture is going to stand up for its own culture."

That response has put the area Pakistanis under some pressure. The Pakistani American Community of Atlanta issued a statement two days after Kanwal's death, officially condemning the killing, but Farooq Soomro, a spokesman for the group, said that in the Pakistani community, "People are under a lot of stress because of this, because they have to answer for it, even though it has nothing to do with Pakistan or Pakistani culture."

Soomro attributes "honor killings" to the "very backwards, illiterate ... tribal" cultures.

"This man, he lives here and he does well in his business, but he is obviously an ignorant person," Soomro said. ""Islam completely forbids taking the life of anybody. In Islam and in the Quran, it is forbidden ... He wants to say, 'I didn't just become a cold-blooded killer and lose my freaking mind, I did this in the name of Mohammed.' That is absolutely ridiculous. You have not only dishonored your family, your religion, your ethnicity, your country and God, you have killed an innocent. You haven't achieved anything other than disgrace."

Soomro said Pakistani religious scholars have formally decreed honor killings to be un-Islamic, and forbidden. "You will never be forgiven and you are basically going to hell," he said.

Abdullahi An-Na'im, an Emory University professor of international law and Islamic law, said that divorce is provided for in the Quran and in the laws of Islamic countries. A recent survey of the laws in Muslim countries by Emory students showed women were allowed to divorce their husbands in all of them.

"This is not a question for Muslims. It is not an Islamic issue, it is a cultural issue," An-Na'im said. Islam, according to the professor, does not make any distinction between murders based on who does the killing, and there's no religious justification for strangling a daughter with a bungee cord.

"We all tend to do this -- there's a tendency to seek legitimacy for cultural practices in our religious beliefs," An-Na'im said. "This is an extreme form of domestic violence and we know domestic violence is practiced everywhere, unfortunately. And even in this country, there are not very good laws against domestic violence."