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Lecture

SOC 202 Lecture Notes - Honor Killing


Department
Sociology
Course Code
SOC 202
Professor
Louis Pike

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After a gruelling 10 week trial, the Shafia murder case comes to a close. The extensive
media coverage of the Shafia trial and convictions raises important questions about how violence
against women is framed in the media as well as its influence on the jury’s decision. Just as a
photograph is framed by the photographer, so is the media's framing of a particular issue; the focus
of our attention is on what is in the picture only. Out of sight is the back-ground we will never
know. Media influences on the Shafia jury have raised issues of racial stereotypes and prejudice
against Islam, using fine tuned labelling to capture the attention of the world.
Many media portrayals of Muslims are stereotypical and negative. Dehumanize a group
first before attacking it - Muslims and Arabs have long been negatively portrayed in America.
What they are witnessing is in fact confusion, hatred and in some cases, ignorance, of
terrorists/extremists. Terrorists/extremists have turned Islam's ideal of peace and harmony on its
head. Rarely does one hear experts in the media saying that such actions are not sanctioned by the
religion and have no place within Islam. The Shafia family being Muslim triggers those negative
stereotypes of Muslims and when the jury is collaborating; their minds visualize an Islam culture
viewed as a negative icon in the media.
The reality, we as a society must face, is that these murders are about gendered violence.
The primary stereotypes in certain religions are affixing familial femicides to particular cultures.
Going back to the coverage of the Shafia murders, many reporters referenced the family's Afghan
cultural background and adherence to Islam, suggesting that the murders were motivated by
cultural and religious beliefs. According to the 2006 census, there are 48,090 Canadians with
Afghan ancestry. Yet the media have unearthed only this one high-profile case of multiple familial
homicides. The media bombards the world with stereotypes that influence our way of thinking
logically and politically as a society.
In the case of the Shafia murders, the media frame the story as an honour killing. Some
authorities argue that the notion of honour is key to defining this type of crime involving family
members. Typically, the victims are women pegged as having deviated from the moral code and
thus undermined the family's honour; by killing them, family reputation and honour may be
restored. The media had initially labelled the act as honour killing and so, in the minds of the
readers, the perspective of the trial changes drastically from ruthless to understanding. When a jury
selection has been made, the goal is to have an unbiased group of people. Due to the swarm of
media covering the Shafia trial, the “honour killing” label across articles and newspapers brought a
softer standpoint into the minds of the jury’s.
Although jurors are told not to read or listen to media accounts, in a case like this, it is almost
inevitable that they would be aware of the coverage and may well be tainted by it. The Shafia trial
has struck international attention, debating issues of feminism, false propaganda and prejudice
against Islam and their role-play in the jury’s final decisions. The problem lies in that many
people are gullible and society as a whole is easily influenced by the media representations. The
media also responds to public demand and provides the information that the public craves. The
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