Raising awareness and offering hope to victims of honor-related violence
Over the years, Cosmo covers have given parents plenty of reasons to divert the kids’ attention from the checkout counter magazine racks. A typical cover shows a female celebrity in skin-tight clothes whose image is surrounded by titles or teasers on that month’s features explaining 25, 78 or 52 ways to get more out of sex (and they don’t mean babies). Not the worst of Western decadence, but certainly a contributor to the zeitgeist that elevates recreational sexual activity above all other human pursuits.
So it may surprise many that Cosmo has produced a limited-edition wrap-around cover for its February 2015 issue in the UK. It shows a beautiful young woman posing as if she’s being suffocated to death in plastic sheeting, an obvious reference to honor killings and, in particular, the 2004 murder of Shafilea Ahmed, a seventeen-year-old British-Pakistani, murdered by her mom and dad in front of her siblings for having refused an arranged marriage. But no worries. The real cover of the February issue is true to form — with Kylie (Kardashian) Jenner, a dominatrix tale teaser and “LOOK SEXY NOW: Make Them Obsessed with You!”
Is the faux cover supposed to be a gesture of atonement? Doubtful. But it’s close to the apex of irony, considering that the main reason for honor violence and honor killings in North America and Western Europe is that fathers (and moms, uncles, brothers and cousins) see the teen girls as too “Western” in attire, attitudes and friends.
The Cosmo wrap-around cover is part of the “Britain’s Lost Women” campaign by Cosmo and Karma Nirvana, an organization whose mission is to raise awareness of honor-related abuse and arranged marriages, to advocate for victims and give them a safe haven from their families.
Honor violence and arranged marriages still occur in many traditional cultures — Hindu, Sikh, Yazidi and Muslim. It is cultural or tribal in origin, not religious. Honor-related violence seems to be on the increase in the West due both to the increasing size and number of Middle Eastern and Asian immigrant communities and to the clash between Western “values” and the immigrants’ views on sexual morality, marriage and the role of women. The apparent increase may also be due in part to a greater willingness of police to investigate allegations, which they notably failed to do, despite appeals for help in the cases of Banaz Mahmud (20, strangled on the order of her dad and uncle), Surjit Athwal (27, murdered on the order of her mother-in-law and brother-in-law) and Shafilea Ahmed (17, suffocated by her parents).
Lest any modern, Western readers start to feel righteous by comparison, consider how many parents in the US have thrown their teen daughters out of the house when they became pregnant or threatened to throw them out unles they got an abortion. Three such women are good friends of mine. One had been raped by an uncle and was then left to fend for herself at age fourteen on the streets of Chicago. Through my involvement in the Church’s Project Rachel Ministry, I’ve heard or read the stories of scores of women who received similar treatment. And these Western parents have the same motivation for abandoning their daughters or forcing them to undergo abortions: the family’s reputation.
The UN has estimated that 5,000 honor killings of teen daughters and wives are committed annually by male relatives, but others believe the number is far higher. Dr. Phyllis Chesler has stated that 5,000 honor killings/year would be an accurate figure for Pakistan alone.
Nazir Afzal, a Crown Prosecutor for the northwest of England, sees ten to twelve murders every year in the UK