Murder of Muslim girl 'rebel' by her father shocks all Italy

Peter Popham@peterpopham
Wednesday 01 April 2009 13:06

The murder of a young Pakistani woman by her Muslim father has sparked a fierce debate in Italy about how to deal with the "clash of civilisations".

Hina Saleem, 21, was reported missing last Saturday by her boyfriend, a 33-year-old Italian carpenter with whom she was living, after a visit to her family. Her relations with them had been strained for years.

She told the manager of the pizzeriawhere she worked as a waitress that she had been summoned home to meet a cousin who was passing through. Then her mobile phone went dead.

When the Carabinieri broke into the house in the region of Brescia in northern Italy, they found Hina's bedroom spattered with blood. In the garden, buried under a metre of soil and with her jeans and blouse soaked in blood, was the body of the missing girl. Her throat had been slit.

Mohammed Saleem, arrested two days after Hina's body was discovered, allegedly said, "Yes I did it, just me", before clamming up. He is in custody but all further attempts to question him are said to have failed.

Hina's boyfriend has suggested that she had been promised in marriage to a cousin. At the beginning of July, she was said to have refused her father's insistent demand that she return with her mother and sisters to the city of Gujarat in Pakistan, where she was born, to get married.

Police believe that her father, a brother-in-law, Mohammed Tariq, and another man, Mahmood Zahid, tried to persuade her one last time. The female members of the family had already departed.

It is thought that Hina was told: "Either you come back with us to Pakistan or you're not going anywhere."

There are said to be at least 10,000 Pakistanis living in Brescia, the largest component of an immigrant community of 120,000. Hina Saleem's father, Mohammed, worked in a local saucepan factory and has lived in Italy for 10 years.

A nation of emigrants until a couple of decades ago, Italy is gradually becoming used to seeing brown and black faces in the streets and hearing unfamiliar tongues.

However, the horrific death of Hina Saleem has aroused all manner of buried doubts and fears.

Only weeks before, Giuliano Amato, Italy's Interior Minister, had announced a planned liberalisation of the rules for obtaining Italian citizenship, cutting the waiting time from 10 years to five. But Hina's murder, and the public outcry against it, have caused him to pause.

"The case of the Pakistani woman murdered by her father says a lot about the aims of citizenship," he commented, "because it is clear that it is not enough to require adhesion to the values of the Italian Constitution. Adhesion to fundamental rights is also necessary, such as the fact that women are to be respected according to rules which I consider universal."

Now the Vatican has weighed into the highly emotional debate. An editorial in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official daily, denounces this "horrible and ferocious crime, the fruit of years of hostility and fighting which caused the father to lose every trace of reason and sentiment."

In the midst of the rising tide of indignation, some small voices have made the point that not long ago Italy would have understood Mohammed Saleem's feelings better. The law offering the possibility of clemency in cases of "honour crimes" - still far from rare in the south - was only repealed in 1981.

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