Afshan Azad, 22, the high-profile Harry Potter actress remains in hiding after refusing to appear in a London court. Ms. Azad had been seeing a non-Muslim man, a Hindu. Her family, specifically her father, Abul Azad, 53, and her brother Ashraf, 28, called her a “prostitute” and tried to force her into an arranged marriage with a Muslim man. Her brother also beat and her father threatened to kill her in May of this year. She escaped her family home and has been in hiding ever since. According to the Telegraph, she refused to testify against her family, saying that doing so would endanger her further. Apparently the British police tried but failed to persuade Ms. Azad to testify.
Ms. Azad’s refusal to appear makes sense to me. She is already in great danger for having associated with a non-Muslim man. Add to that the public and shameful exposure of her family in this matter. Having her male relatives jailed would mean a torturous death sentence.
I have published two studies about honor killing. The first appeared in 2009 in Middle East Quarterly; the second appeared there as well in 2010. In the most recent publication, I studied 230 victims who were honor-murdered on five continents over a twenty year period in 172 separate incidents. (More than one person was murdered in some of the incidents). As these studies have shown, immigrants to the West, including and especially immigrants from South Asia (Ms. Azad is of Bangladeshi descent), continue to perpetrate honor killings in the West.
The level of violence towards girls and women in South Asia can be barbarous and quite unbelievable.
Horrific vigilante mob violence is routinely perpetrated against innocent individuals in Pakistan. Recently, the Pakistani “Taliban” have been known to throw acid into the faces of schoolgirls, disfiguring them for life, if they were seen as improperly veiled or trying to attend grade school.
In 1998, Zahida Perveen’s husband, in a fit of rage, bound her hand and foot and then, using a razor and a knife, proceeded to cut out her eyes and slice off her ears and nose. Zahida’s crime? Her husband suspected that she was having an affair with a brother-in-law. At the time, Zahida was three months pregnant.
In 2004, a tribal council in Pakistan in the Punjab ordered that a young girl be publicly gang-raped then paraded naked through her village—a punishment for an alleged crime committed by her brother. This case became known worldwide when the girl not only did not kill herself but indeed pressed charges.
Girls in South Asia and elsewhere are routinely killed for far less than choosing their own husbands. They are murdered if a false rumor has been spread or if they are seen even talking to a male non-relative. There are few police officers, few judges, few social workers, few lawyers who would be able or willing to protect Ms. Azad in South East Asia from her family’s permanent desire to kill her and so to “cleanse their own shame.” Honor killings take place both among rural, indigent and illiterate South Asian families—and among highly educated, literate, professional, and wealthy South Asian families too.
In 2009, I received an extraordinary report which documented honor killings in Pakistan. (Although Ms. Azad’s family is from Bangladesh, the country was actually part of Pakistan until 1971, and its culture is very similar to Pakistan’s.) My Pakistani informant, of the SW Community Development Department, in Sind, Pakistan, sent me an unpublished paper in which he describes and explains Ms. Azad’s family’s culture very carefully: