What This Social Media Star's Murder Tells Us About The Horrors Of Honor Killings
What does it mean to be honorable?
In the wake of Fauzia Azeem‘s murder, a so-called “honor killing” at the hands of her brother, that word, an abstraction, is trapped on my tongue. Honor. It tastes meaningless.
Fauzia, aged 26, was Pakistan’s internet sensation. Under her pseudonym, Qandeel Baloch, Fauzia expressed her own sexual openness, and explored feminism in a country full of conservatism.
Qandeel’s collection of head and body shots had been compared to Kim Kardashian by fans and critics alike. But, as her followers grew, her harmless selfies took on an element of activism. Recently, she seemed to find a balance between modelling and societal critique. She called herself a “one-woman army.” She spoke out against arranged marriage. “I was 17 years old when my parents forced an uneducated man on me,” she told Images this month. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to spend my life this way.’ I was not made for this. It was my wish since I was a child to become something, to be able to stand on my own two feet, to do something for myself.” More and more people took notice. Her Facebook page was closed for obscenity. Her inbox was flooded with requests for prime-time interviews.
The audience was split. Each post—on Facebook, on Instagram—contained compliments as well as threats. To some, she was a sex icon, celebrating femininity outside of societal bounds. To others, she was a narcissist, breaking the rules for her own gain. It was not honorable for a woman to decry her husband, to identify with feminism, to earn money through risqué photos. On Instagram, a Muslim woman from Scotland tries to help me understand. “If it was your sister or daughter doing all what she did online and in real [life] and showing her bits off to the world, would you turn a blind eye or help her promote her sexuality?” In my hotheaded response, I curse, saying that they could choose to express their sexuality however the fuck they wanted to. It was not an honorable way to speak.
“I need security from you.” Those were the words Fauzia wrote to the Interior Minister of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Authority three weeks before her death. She was concerned after the threats against her had become more personalized when she’d taken a video alongside a prominent cleric. Pictures of her official identification documents were making rounds online. The request was left unanswered.
Fauzia’s visibility, and the global access of social media, makes her murder an international headline, but honor killings are not uncommon. Every year in Pakistan, some 500 murders are committed by family members in the name of honor. Despite their prevalence, these heinous crimes aren’t usually picked up worldwide. They generally occur further away from reporting, in rural pockets of Pakistan such as Balochistan (from which Fauzia adopted Qandeel’s last name).
Even when rural cases are covered, justice is still hard to come by. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy‘s heart-wrenching short documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, earned her an Oscar and a promise from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to eradicate honor killing. But, several months and several murders later, no such legislation has emerged.
After Fauzia’s horrific death, Obaid-Chinoy described such attacks as “an epidemic.” “It’s upon the lawmakers to punish these people. It appears it is very easy to kill a woman in this country—and you can walk off scot free.”
Fauzia’s stagename, “Qandeel,” shares the same Latin root as “candle.” Today, that light shines brightly in vigils and protests worldwide. Our collective inaction has honored those men who would rather kill than feel discomfort or shame. Instead, let’s choose to honor Fauzia’s name—not the familial name of her killer—as well as the names of countless women before her whose lives were valued less than an abstraction.
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Images via Dawn.