Muslim women don’t need you to “save” them: Farzana Parveen and the media’s erasure of Muslim feminists

Salon.com: I first met Rasheed in 2007. As we walked into a school building, he smiled ruefully at the bricks strewn across the floor, played with his long beard, and said, “It’s under construction. We have too many students and not enough space.”

Afterwards, we drank a cup of sweet milky tea in his office and Rasheed told me about life in Karachi for the Pushto-speaking community, many who had come to the city as refugees from earthquakes and flooding. Rasheed ran a school and was also an elected representative of the Awami National Party.

The next year, during a long, hot summer, he brought a van full of his female teaching staff to learn English with me. The girls, some as young as sixteen, came from the Pathan community. When I went to their homes for tea, I noticed beards and shirttails disappearing behind closed doors as the men and women were kept in total purda from each other. Parents, despite cultural norms, had been convinced by Rasheed to encourage their daughters to pursue education. Rasheed often fondly looked at the shy, giggling young women and said, “I have dreams for them to succeed one day, I want them to be leaders.”

I saw him for the last time in December of 2012, when he came to congratulate me on my wedding. “You must come back again,” he said, smiling, “Although the politics are bad these days. Insha’allah, soon, you will be able to come teach our girls English again.” Only months later, Rasheed was dead. Blown up by a Taliban hand grenade brought into his school during an assembly. One child had lost her legs and many others had been injured. Violence, like the many-headed mythical Scylla, had consumed another person in Pakistan.

I thought once again of Rasheed while reading about Farzana Parveen, a 25-year-old woman who last week was stoned to death on the steps of the Lahore High Court. Some may have forgotten that hers was not a unique case. Honor killings occur withstartling regularity in Pakistan — and, perhaps less obviously, in many other countries where they go unreported. Yet, when covering only one crime in thousands, there are a few things Western media conveniently forgets when discussing violence against women.

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