‘Honour violence is a crime. There’s nothing honourable about it’

'Honour violence is a crime. There's nothing honourable about it'
A demonstration in 2005 held in the memory of Pela and Fadime, victims of two of Sweden's most high-profile cases of so-called 'honour killings'. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT
Opinion: Attributing honour-related violence to a culture or religion risks giving it legitimacy. It should be dealt with as a criminal act, writes entrepreneur Faisal Khan.

January 1st, 1994, as the clock in our hallway was ticking towards the New Year, a tiny voice disrupted the calm; crying frantically a baby girl was born in our cold and dark household.

We named her Hadya, which in Persian means “a gift”. Hadya, my little sister, had not taken more than a dozen of breaths of fresh air when the dark skies of Kabul were illuminated by fireworks and their sound made her cries disappear in their unpleasantness. The fireworks were not to celebrate her birth. It was not to celebrate the New Year either. It was the commencement of the deadliest phase of the Afghan civil war, which had already claimed thousands of lives since its start in 1992.

We lived in an apartment building located just on the banks of Kabul River. On our side of the river forces loyal to a heartless warlord ruled. His forces were known for their brutality and heartlessness towards both civilians and their rivals. On the other side of the river just a few hundred metres away, forces loyal to another warlord reigned. They were as cruel as their rivals on our side.

The river where once I together with my friends would make paper boats and set sail had become a natural division in this unnatural and cruel phenomenon. Gunfire quickly erupted into a full-scale war with sounds of explosions rocking our home. We barricaded ourselves in the hallway thinking that the concrete walls would protect us from bullets and shells as the two rival groups mercilessly and aimlessly exchanged rockets and bullets.

“What have you done to deserve seeing this?” I remember my mother telling Hadya. Neither Hadya nor any of us for that matter had done anything bad enough to deserve living through a phenomenon that cruel.

Long story short, after a few days of hunger, cold, fear and living at the frontline of a senseless war, the Red Cross negotiated a two-hour ceasefire for civilians to escape the war, which soon would engulf most of Kabul in its evil grip and continue for several years.

Through snow-packed mountains and cold deserts, after several weeks of walking and hitchhiking on the back of trucks, mules and dockeys, we finally made it to a safer place in the east of the country where the madness of the war had not yet reached.

During the journey I held Hadya glued to my chest, hoping my body warmth would save her from the brutal cold winter. I would look at her and tears would roll down my cheeks as her hungry and cold body shivered. I dishonoured my pride by begging for food and warm clothes for her along the journey.

Despite all the odds of the civil war, a long period of malnourishment, living a life of a refugee and among all being a girl in the Talibans' Afghanistan, today Hadya has turned out to become a young, vibrant and ever-happy person. She weathered all hardship and like a fighter pulled through.

On June 19th, a day before the International Refugee Day, she received a letter from the Swedish Migration Agency welcoming her as a new Swedish citizen as well.

It calls for congratulating Sweden and all Swedes for getting a fighter as a new fellow citizen.

Hadya got her Swedish citizenship in the midst of a fierce debate over Sweden's approach towards taking in refugees and the social problems it entails.

One of the challenges highlighted very much is a criminal act when some parents forget their sole duty of protecting the loved ones and instead impose their own narcissistic version of righteousness upon their children – most of the time with violent outcomes.

The media and authorities have named this cruelty “honour-related violence“, however, I see nothing but shamefulness in this practice, which makes it stand so distant from its name.

Hadya is an ultra-optimist person; I have never seen her not laughing. She is known among all my relatives and acquaintances as a madly happy person. Every time I see her laughing even about silly matters, I see how we had it all wrong when we looked at her and thought that she must have done something wrong to be born in the midst of a civil war. She lives a life worth living: in ultimate happiness.

I am a Muslim man originally from Afghanistan and despite the popular belief the real honour for me, and for that matter for all parents from all over the world including Afghanistan, is to make ourselves a shield between anything and anyone, including ourselves, who would try to take that laughter away from our loved ones – even at the cost of dishonouring ourselves.

Attributing the madness of “honour-related violence” to a culture, religion or origin gives it legitimacy and might even provide the basis for its justification. I see it as it is: a criminal act and it should be dealt with accordingly, with the full force of criminal justice. Only then justice will fully be served without defaming a group of people or followers of a faith.

This is an opinion piece by Faisal Khan, an entrepreneur with a background in media. He moved to Sweden in 2004 and has lived here ever since. Follow him on Twitter