Social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled in what appeared to be an "honour killing," in Multan, Pakistan, is pictured in a selfie on her Facebook page. Qandeel Baloch/Facebook/via Reuters

The brutal murder of Pakistani model and social media star Qandeel Baloch drew so much international attention that Islamabad is finally taking steps to prevent such “honor killings” by removing legal loopholes which help culprits to escape punishment or receive light sentences. However, this social evil can’t be wiped out unless Muslim communities reform and allow women and girls to make their own clothing, dating, marital and even sexual choices.

The case of Qandeel Baloch, the “Kim Kardashian” of Pakistan, has rightly captured international headlines. A social media phenomenon, Baloch was known for posts that were provocative in the context of her home culture, even if they would be considered rather benign to many in the West, and certainly in the United States.

Social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled in what appeared to be an “honour killing,” in Multan, Pakistan, is pictured in a selfie on her Facebook page. Qandeel Baloch/Facebook/via Reuters

Honor-based violence – a type of violence in which families, sometimes with the help of the broader community, punish a victim (usually female) for a perceived social or sexual indiscretion, has long been a plague. This is certainly true in Pakistan – most especially in more insular communities where a more regressive interpretation of Islam is enforced.

Even low estimates indicate that at least a thousand girls and women lose their lives to “honor” violence in Pakistan every year. Those who are not murdered are raped, maimed with acid, cut with knives, or tortured in some other way – including being detained in chains, forced to endure hard labor, and ostracized.

Honor culture and the “honor system” – the manifestation of honor culture in which families and communities monitor, spy on and restrict girls and women – are an ever-present reality with danger that can strike at any time. We have seen, over and over again, stories of girls and women who have been mutilated, brutally murdered, or who have “simply disappeared.”

Their murderers, believing they have a divine mandate, act without remorse, often declaring that they would commit the murder or murders again because “honor” is more valuable than life. They believe that they have served and pleased God.

Yet, despite the fact that the issue of honor killings has been such a tremendous problem, it fails to grab international attention in any consistent way. Worse, those who raise awareness about these crimes and work against them – especially Muslim women – are regularly targeted with threats and violence, and vilified in even mainstream and liberal media who claim to care about progress and human rights in the developing world and minority communities in the West.

So why did the death of Qandeel Baloch garner so much international attention, even among those who don’t regularly discuss honor-based violence or abuses of women and girls in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority societies?

Is it because of her notoriety on social media – or, is it because she was so wildly compared to the ubiquitous Kim Kardashian? Did this comparison render her, and her life, somehow more relevant and valuable to the world? This is a tragic, disturbing, yet completely feasible reality.

The question then is – if the death of Qandeel Baloch is a turning point – whereby a human rights crisis meets the omnipresence of reality TV – how do we ensure that Qandeel did not die in vain?

There are reasons to hope. First, there is progress in the movement to enact legislation that would abolish loopholes in current law which allow killers to escape punishment or receive extremely light sentences. Second, the amount of coverage her case has gotten, and the attention it received on social media, could be a watershed moment.

But no matter of coverage, attention, or even discussion of this case will undermine, much less destroy, the system and culture that killed Qandeel Baloch unless we – Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis, Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women the world over – actively work to honestly, boldly and consistently expose and combat honor culture at its core.

As Baloch lived in a majority Muslim society, because I am a Muslim man, and because so many stories of honor-based violence do involve Muslims, I speak from this perspective and insist that the aspects of Islamist ideology which advance misogyny ­– both those formalized in legal systems and those enforced by community and family systems – must be abolished.

Of course, other religious communities where honor-based violence is present must also be pushed to address these issues from within, urgently, with the encouragement of those outside of their communities.

Until honor codes, including “hudud,” are extinguished, and the misogynist radicals in our homes and heads are toppled, we will see many more women killed just as Qandeel Baloch was – but their names will continue to go unmentioned and unknown. Until Muslims overthrow the tyrannical, misogynist, racist, and terroristic Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its affiliate and offshoot organizations, these crimes will continue unabated.

The solution lies within our communities – bold demands for reform, as outlined by our Muslim Reform Movement, are the only way to abolish the curse of honor culture, which targets half of our population with violence and teaches boys and men to adopt toxic masculinity and call it piety.

Women and girls must be permitted to make their own clothing, dating, marital and even sexual choices free of familial and community policing, with the support of law enforcement and their governments. When this happens, Qandeel Baloch would not have died in vain.

 Dr M. Zuhdi Jasser MD is President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement. He is a former U.S.Navy Lieutenant Commander and author of “A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save his Faith”. Follow him @DrZuhdiJasser

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times. 

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