Honor, Honor on the Wall! Who’s the fairest of them all?

Strangled to death at the age of 26, Qandeel Baloch met a gruesome death at the hands of her brother a day ago in her hometown of Multan. Qandeel had been challenging and provoking standards – and the limits – of ‘modernity’ and liberalism in this country for over a year. Her scathing critique of patriarchy and patriarchal norms embedded in local culture made her a heroine among a significant chunk of feminists in the country. The rest mocked and derided her while extracting pleasure from her sensual videos and photographs regularly posted to tease a generation of desperadoes in the country.

But Qandeel didn’t care. She didn’t care for the majority of hypocrites and slanderers who invoked honor, culture and religion to pass fatwas against her.

They say she was killed for honor. The idea that every single murder of a woman in a family must be an ‘honor killing’ is an Orientalist trope. The fact that it’s the only discourse and vocabulary we have to fall back upon to explain such misogynistic murders needs to be problematized. However, at this stage, it is important to consider the material motivations behind this act. After, Qandeel’s controversy with the Maulana, many would argue that “she had it coming” – an internalized misogynistic attitude that slut shames and marginalizes women at every opportunity. Where was her brother’s honor when he wrapped his hands around her neck and strangled her? Where was his honor when he condemned his own flesh and blood to a brutal death?

Our society has strange notions of honor, I must say. We find honor in policing women’s bodies, their behavior(s) and sexualities yet there is no dishonor in homicide? There is no dishonor in killing innocent Shias and Ahmadis – there is no dishonor in female infanticide and certainly there is no dishonor in killing thousands of innocents in Balochistan. Where was the nation’s honor when the Hazara let the bodies of their dead rot in the freezing winter?

It is a despicable travesty of justice when the nation’s honor is contingent upon surveillance and control through structural patriarchy that plagues the very foundations of this country.

We kill for wealth. We kill for religion and worse, we kill for an imaginary honor that dissipates the moment we determine what’s honorable and what isn’t.

Circulating criticism(s) allege Islamism as the root cause of Qandeel’s death. I ask the question: were the mullahs and religious and/or conservative sections of society the only ones inciting hatred against her, or were they also joined by modern, so-called secular liberals of this country also ashamed of her ‘fahaashi’ and vulgar exhibitionism? Did the latter’s responses not drip with an air of classism and elitist self-righteousness, where only they can be the gatekeepers of how to be – and not to be – a liberal in the country?

Qandeel’s death has exposed an inherently hypocritical class of secular liberals that flaunt their bikini-clad bodies in the West but express horror at those who challenge existing duplicities within the ‘Islamic republic.’

This critique might compel us to question how we view religion and its social construction in a country that is ‘confused’ about what is deemed Islamic and moral. Islam is peaceful, Islam is tolerant, Islam is a champion of women’s rights – these facts have been overstated and beaten to death. But when will the ummah recognize the true practice of these principles? Conveniently, Islam is selectively invoked to justify murder, treachery and discrimination but what about foundational codes that exhort women’s equality and justice for all?

In light of Qandeel Baloch’s tragic murder, as a nation we all have a lot to ponder about. Qandeel is gone but sadly, this won’t be the first or the last of a long line of honor killings that are yet to come.

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Shanzae Asif

Shanzae Asif is a former LUMS graduate with a BSc(Honors) in Political Science.