Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Twisted Concept of Honour

When Judge Robert Maranger spoke to the killers at their sentencing in the Sharia trial, he said to them, "...the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted concept of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society." He showed no hesitation in referring to the murders as honour killings, and yet now a heated debate has begun over whether or not the crimes should be referred to as honour killings, or domestic violence.
I love Canada. I was born here and grew up here, and I know it's one hell of a good place to live, but I am not blind to its shortcomings. I know domestic violence lives here, right alongside our generally accepted ideal of equal rights for women and men. I know there is still a long battle to be fought before the White Ribbon Campaign can become a thing of the past, here in my Canada. I also know, however, that Mohammed, Tooba Yahya, and Hamed Shafia come from a cultural background that freely accepts, even idealizes the ignorance of misogyny; a culture that dictates male ownership of females. Just this week, in Afghanistan, a man strangled his wife, already a mother of two daughters, when she gave birth to a third daughter. He had wanted a son. Horrific as her death was, it was made all the more horrible by two details. One was that the misogynist who ended her life was so stupid he didn't even know the baby's gender was his doing in failing to contribute a Y chromosome. The other was that his mother helped him in his grisly undertaking. There are far too many women in such cultures who not only accept the misogyny under which they live, but also willingly abet it.
Canada needs to denounce the Shafia murder case as one of honour killing, because it is the only way for our society to get the public education out there about our society's official intolerance of such an attitude toward women. It is the only way for us to get the word out to women newly arrived from such cultural backgrounds, that they have the right to determine their own course through life, here, in Canada. It may be a right they have never even dreamt of before, and it may be hard for them to comprehend, but they need to know men here do not own women. They need to know that honour killings simply will not be tolerated here. They need to know there is help if they are afraid they may become the next victim. Society, in general, needs to know these facts.
The people in official capacities to whom the Shafia sisters reached out for help before their murder, and every other person like them, need to know that if such a request for help is ever made again, it needs to be dealt with directly, and immediately, not swept under the rug in Canada's usual fear of seeming to question multiculturalism.
The despicable crime of honour killing has come to Canada, brought here by those who have left behind a country where it is accepted. In December, 2007, Aqsa Parvez,a 16 year-old Mississauga girl whose family came here from Pakistan, was strangled to death by her own father and brother. Her crimes, as perceived by the two murderous males, were her reluctance to continue wearing the hijab, and a desire to wear western style clothing. Apparently, as the police conducted their investigation into Aqsa's death, a man who had worked with Waqas, the girl's brother, came forward to tell them that Waqas had asked him how to get a gun because his sister was “causing the family embarrassment” and he intended to kill her. The co-worker told police the brother had asked “what happens to someone in Canada if they kill someone.” Asking such a question should have resulted in an immediate encounter with the police, but it didn't. Perhaps it might have if the co-worker and all other Canadians had their awareness of honour killings raised by a public education campaign.
The Parvez murder, like the Shafia murders, was premeditated. It was also something that others had been told to expect. A friend of the slain girl remembers walking down the street with Aqsa when they saw her brother approaching. Having taken off her hijab, Aqsa was in a panic to replace it. Aqsa said to her friend, ‘He’ll kill me, he’ll kill me.’ The friend quotes herself as replying ‘He’s not going to kill you,’ to which Aqsa responded with the assertion, ‘Yeah, he will.’ The very sad part of the friend's memories is her final statement, "And nobody believed it.” Perhaps someone might have believed it and secured help for Aqsa before it was too late, if Canadians had an accurate awareness of the twisted concept of honour killings; an awareness brought about by our giving the crime its proper name and getting a public education campaign about it underway.
Feeling free, here in Canada, to address one's prayers to Lord Hanuman, Allah or Jesus is a good expression of multiculturalism. Feeling free to celebrate the New Year according to the Gregorian calendar or the Lunar; using split peas to make dal or boiling them with a ham bone to make soup is a good expression of multiculturalism. Feeling free to take murderous action based on a completely twisted concept of honour is anything but a good expression of multiculturalism, and it needs to be made clear to any and all that this is the case.
There is more than one kind of violence aimed at women, unfortunately, ranging all the way from female foeticide to honour killings. We need to stop the nonsense of playing with an umbrella term and label each type of violence separately for what it is. Judge Maranger was completely right to use the term 'honour' in his address to the three murderers who stood before him. There is, indeed, no "more honourless crime".

1 comment:

Andy Dabydeen said...

Very well written ... and a lot of restraint shown. I just get angry at these things. I think "honour" in this context does need the quotes. There's nothing honourable about murder. It's even worse when it's premeditated; it's the murdering of children; and the children are murdered because of their gender. I think Canada needs to do a lot more to excise such ignorance before it takes up citizenship in our country.