Canada's justice system has confirmed (again) that there is no such thing as an 'honour killing', but (again) rejection of this twisted, controlling, patriachal notion of honour comes way too late for the latest four victims...all from one immigrant family.
The three month-long trial of a Montreal man, his second wife and his son has finally ended with the Afghanistan-born trio being found guilty of murdering three of the family’s girls and the first wife.
The Shafia trial has gripped the country not just because killing your own children is for most of us an inconceivable atrocity, but this multiple murder was pre-meditated, cold blooded, and done ostensibly to protect the ‘honour’ of the family.
Four healthy, innocent women – girls aged 19, 17 and 13 – together with their father’s first wife died for such concocted bullshit.
The defence of killing so as to preserve honour was pounced upon by the trial judge once the jury’s verdict was in, and all power to him for telling Mohammad Shafia, his son Hamed and wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya that theirs was a “twisted notion of honour”... “founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society”.
So why does society, including the media, perpetuate this farce of ‘honour’ by referring to such killings as “honour killings”?
Surely such reference conveys upon these murders an almost exotic aura by intertwining notions of family, religion, ancient tradition, the purity of women and the strength of men, when in fact it is murder, plain and simple.
They are not cultural practices immune from the prying tentacles of the law – although in some countries the penalties are almost non-existent. Murdering women is not defensible. It is a misuse of religion. There is no respectability earned by the misogynist criminals who carry out such murders.
These killings are the most extreme manifestation of the discrimination against, and commodification of women. Women are controlled and owned by the men in these families and as such are mere possessions with no identity other than as valuable breeding stock which must be guarded against non-sanctioned men. If the purity of the women is not intact, then through some perverse logic and distortion of human values, the almighty males within the family unit are deemed disgraced unless they wash away the ‘shame’ with blood: the blood of their daughters or their wives.
The United Nations estimates that at least five thousand women are killed each year for supposedly dishonouring their families. The real figure is much likely way higher.
Murders using as mitigation restoration of the honour of a family are overwhelmingly committed by Muslim men against Muslim women and teenage girls. Murder of women and teenage girls is not overwhelmingly committed by Muslim men.
Muslim involvement does not mean Islam sanctions such behaviour any more than Islam has the religious mortgage on considering women as the embodiment of sin, temptation, shame and general evil.
The truth is that like any crime, murder is committed by the few. Referring to ‘honour’ and ‘culture’ in killings only triggers the impression that some groups are more barbaric than others, when in fact, all groups kill.
Killings that are claimed to be necessary to preserve honour are often carried out by multiple members of the family who consider themselves, rather than their murdered females, to be the victims. This collaboration of family members does distinguish these murders from the ‘usual’ femicides.
The ‘crimes’ committed against the families range from being too ‘Western’, refusing arranged marriage, filing for divorce, refusing to wear the hijab, having a boyfriend, kissing, holding hands or wanting freedom. Even being suspected of any of the above is a signature on a death warrant.
So when families like the Shafias come to a country such as Canada, it takes little imagination to realise that the first generation immigrant Shafia girls were navigating two conflicting worlds. The strict laws of their home environment where father was god and their brother a brainwashed young man brought up to believe he owned the women in his family, collided with the ‘outside world’ of being teenagers in the vibrant city of Montreal.
They wanted the freedoms that any average Canadian girl would have, which included for the eldest daughter, a boyfriend. They argued with their parents, but don’t all teenage boys and girls do that? It is part of the job of being a teenager. Few however, end up dead as a result.
The Shafia girls even cried out for help from their teachers who were becoming increasingly concerned about the behaviour of Zainab (19) and Sahar (17) in particular. Social services became involved and the parents were contacted, but each time the girls recanted their allegations, such was the ferocity of the fear inflicted by their brutal and controlling father.
The police, social services and the education system in Canada must ask why they were fooled by Shafia and his wife. Did the Shafia’s considerable wealth, nice clothes and other trappings of their middle class status bestow upon them an air of respectability and therefore plausibility against the erratic complaints and retractions of the now dead girls?
Or, did political correctness put the Shafia girls in a special little ‘visible minority’ column which couldn’t be probed too deeply in deference to ethnic/cultural sensitivity considerations?
If that is the case, then we can all add ‘culture’ to the list of acts of violence against women.
Perhaps as a host country Canada, like others who open their doors to immigrants, has turned a blind eye to the reality of widespread newcomer self-segregation and social separation as these ‘others’ settle amongst their own in distinct neighbourhoods.
Does this save immigrants from assimilation into the ‘values’ of their new, dominant societies and thereby allow their traditions to perpetuate – the good, but also the bad?
It is difficult to imagine Mohammad Shafia giving a toss for the true values and norms of Canada; such was his arrogant demeanour throughout the trial, and the evidence of his unquestionable belief in his own superiority.
Yet he, and every other immigrant to Canada is informed that this country does not extend its “openness and generosity” to “barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings”, female genital mutilation and other gender-based violence...”. The government warning to new immigrants also warns of severe punishment for such crimes.
After the Shafia verdicts were handed down, they were heralded by the chief prosecutor as a good day for Canadian justice which sent a very clear message that Canada is a free and democratic society and all Canadians and visitors are entitled to enjoy those values and core principles.
Mohammad Shafia, his son and wife did cop the severe punishment the government warns immigrants of – 25 years with no question of parole.
It is manifestly too late for Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and the woman they died with, Rona, to enjoy Canada’s values and core principles. They paid the ultimate price for being caught between the mosque and the mall.