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|Written by Dahlia Liwsze|
|Thursday, 25 June 2009 00:00|
Since being declared "persons" in Canada on October 18, 1929, women have come a long way in terms of gaining rights, which include the right to be educated and to vote, to freely express themselves, to have a career, family or both, to own property and to get divorced. It is therefore disturbing that a Canadian woman living in the 21st century can risk death should she choose to exercise her right to live her life how she wishes. This is of concern because of a disturbing form of murder of which we've been hearing too much of lately: "honour" killings.
Khatera Sadiqi, a 20-year-old Afghan woman, was shot to death by her brother, Hasibullah, on September 19, 2006 in Ottawa. Aqsa Parvez, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl, had her life strangled out of her by her father, Muhammad, on December 10, 2007 in Mississauga.
The reasons for these killings? Khatera planned to marry her fiancé, Feroz Mangal, but had not asked her father's permission and had moved in with Mangal's family. Aqsa had refused to wear the hijab and wanted to be a regular girl who wore the clothes and dated the boy she wanted. Both young women came from strict Muslim homes where their actions were seen as having brought shame to their respective families.
During his trial, Hasbillah Sadiqi was adamant that he was not guilty of the two counts of first-degree murder. His close friend, Hasbillah Assadi, testified that: "He said that he got rid of them. He said that he shot them." His mother, Nasima Fayaz, testified that her ex-husband, Ghulam, was a traditionalist who had beat her and the children and had almost smothered her with a pillow one day. When Fayaz spoke with her son about his father, he told her, "Don't talk about my dad like that. I would slap you in the face if you were here."
Over the fall of 2007, Aqsa sought refuge in youth shelters and homes of friends because she feared her father and her 26-year-old brother, Waqas. When interviewed by Toronto Life magazine for 'The Immigrant Experience' issue in December 2008, Ebonie Mitchell, one of Aqsa's closest friends, said, "A week before Aqsa died, we were walking to the plaza to get food and she said, 'Last night, my dad swore he was going to kill me.'"
Fortunately, Hasbillah Sadiqi, now 23, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder this May and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Rutherford called the young man's actions the product of his "twisted sense of values."
While the investigation is ongoing, Muhammad and Waqas Parvez have both been charged with first-degree murder.
Sadly, Khatera and Aqsa are not the only young Muslim women who will die at the hands of their family members.
Dr. Amin Muhammad, a psychiatry professor at Memorial University in St. John'swho has studied honour killings, has said that:In some cultures, people feel some boundaries are never to be crossed, and if someone would violate those practices or go against it, then murder is justified to them."
The killers, Dr. Muhammad added, consider their murderous acts "appropriate" based on "long-standing traditions and cultural beliefs." He pointed to the example of his native Pakistan where there are hundreds of honour killing cases each year. "People can get away without being punished [because] the courts actually sanction them under religious contexts."
What disturbed Raheel Raza, a diversity consultant, interfaith advocate and public speaker, about the brutal murders of Khatera and Aqsa, in particular, was "the denial by the community leaders."
"Instead of rallying against such atrocities, they tried to justify this as domestic violence," she said in a recent e-mail interview.
Sheikh Alaa Elsayed, the head of the Islamic Centre of Canada, the largest mosque in the GTA, however, was an exception. He was one of two imams who held a press conference the day after Aqsa's murder and denounced the barbaric act. He read Koranic passages to demonstrate how Islam condemns honour killings, because "taking a life is an act against all humanity."
While there haven't been any honour killings in her family, Raza said she recently met a couple where a Muslim girl was dating a non-Muslim boy. "Her brother has already damned her as a non-believer and told her she has shamed the family. In cases like this, unless she has some recourse, it could sometimes result in violence if the brother took it upon himself to be the 'saviour' of her soul and protect the honour of the family, which is [a] total farce. How can the life of a woman become the honour of a family?"
Raza, who is also the author of Their Jihad ... Not My Jihad, a journalist and a filmmaker, calls on her fellow Muslims to "speak out at once - openly and frankly about violence in the name of my faith."
"Although this is not Islamic, it so happens that these are cases in the Muslim community, and unfortunately, we sometimes spend so much time in denial and as apologetics, that we bypass the main concern which is the fragile life of these women who are victims of male dominance and violence."
According to worldwide studies, there is a consistent pattern of events that trigger violence: refusing sex, talking back, not obeying the husband, not having food ready on time and not asking permission to go somewhere. For instance, 80 per cent of women surveyed in rural Egypt said, "beatings were common and often justified, particularly if the woman refused to have sex with her partner."
The UN Population Fund reports that over 5,000 women and girls are victims of "honour" killings worldwide each year. These killings tend to be more prevalent in countries with a majority Muslim population, but are not limited to those countries.
In a press release, Yakin Erturk, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, was quoted saying, "[h]onour killings are among the primary causes of unnatural deaths among women in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and a number of reports are also documenting the practice of female genital mutilation."
When it comes down to it, murder is murder. "Honour" killings are an oxymoron: there is no honour in killing. If the murderer believes that the woman is the one who has brought dishonour to the family, he should think again.
The UN says the number of honour killings is continuing to rise. It will not decrease anytime soon unless both men and women make a united stand against this horrific form of murder. Deaths of women like Aqsa Parvez and Khatera Sadiqi signify more than the dark side of multiculturalism or violence against women, but rather represent a gross violation and abuse of women's rights, particularly those of Muslim women.
In the most basic sense, feminist.com defines "feminism" as "the movement for social, political and economic equality of men and women." The site adds, moreover, that "feminism means that women have the right to enough information to make informed choices about their lives." Equality is therefore "a balance between the male and female with the intention of liberating the individual."
My question therefore is: Will the real feminists please stand up?
As a feminist, I'm disturbed by the hijacking of women's rights through violent crimes such as honour killings and especially by how a number of feminists describe these killings as a multi-cultural issue. It is much more than that! We need more female and male voices to condemn these barbaric and illegal acts occurring in our peaceful country. Canada follows Victorian law, not Sharia law after all. We, as Canadian citizens must not remain silent any longer!
I will always be appalled by violence such as the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal on December 6, 1989, when Marc Lepine, a 25-year-old disturbed man who hated feminists, gunned down 14 women.
While the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women commemorates women who have died because of violence and calls for the end of discrimination and violence against women, it largely dwells on the past.
In her December 6, 2006, National Post column, 'Lone gun man: The Ecole Polytechnique massacre was a freak tragedy. So why is every man made to feel guilty about it?' Barbara Kay criticized how "both male and female feminists colluded in promoting the myth of lone killer Lepine as the symbol of all males' innate hostility to women, however dormant it might appear."
Kay went further, saying, "Honouring the dead should draw people together - the whole country, not half - either to heal historic wounds, acknowledge sacrifices made on all our parts and strengthen our sense of national purpose, or to affirm solidarity in the face of calamities inflicted by a real, external enemy."
In turn, men were criticized for their inactivity during the 1989 massacre, and newspaper columnist, Mark Steyn, wrote: "Yet the defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lepine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate-an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history," he wrote in his "The war on terror is the real women's issue" article on www.macleans.ca on January 9, 2006.
Steyn pointed out how Lepine was born Gamil Gharbi (he later changed his name), the son of an Algerian Muslim who beat his wife, "though you wouldn't know that from the press coverage."
Lepine's father believed that women weren't equal to men and beat both his wife and son. As a result, Lepine became an anti-social man who was awkward around women and is not known to have had any intimate relationships. He hated women, particularly feminists, and blamed women for stealing men's jobs and for his own personal failure. In his suicide note, he wrote that he was ending his life for "political reasons" and how "feminists have always enraged me... They want to keep the advantages of women ... while seizing for themselves those of men."
While the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre was not an honour killing per se, it serves as a reminder that parents must teach their children, especially boys, that violence is wrong. If children are educated to respect both sexes early on in life, the chances are greater of them leading peaceful and healthy lives.
Raza insists that "where we are and how progressive we are" is critical to determining if the honour killings situation will worsen or improve in the next 15 or 20 years.
"In Pakistan, if the Taliban impose their version of Islam, then such happenings will continue. Unless Muslims in Canada learn to bring Islam into this century, we are doomed to live like the Tribes of Arabia 1,400 years ago."
While Raza encourages women to stand up for one another and speak out against all kinds of violence, she has a special message for her fellow Muslim women: "Understand and acknowledge your rights under the faith and arm yourselves with weapons of mass instruction, so no one can violate your rights. Form support systems, and most of all, don't let anyone tell you what Islam is - learn for [yourselves] because very often the voices are clouded with dogma. Allah has given us equal rights and responsibilities, so implement them in your lives and support your sisters in solidarity for the right to take charge of their own lives."
A Real Feminist, Standing Up.
I find this article offensive for more reasons than I'm confident I can make intelligible. In a feeble attempt, a list:
Wow Sarah, a nice of example of using 1000 words to say nothing.
Jerome, as usual, I disagree with your attitude.
Just because it's the internet doesn't mean you have a right to be rude.
This is pretty dismissive of commenters. An article such as this one is generally going to attract differing opinions, no need to dismiss Sarah as a faaaar lefty, unable to be pleased.
kevinjohns and Emily:
The point I was trying to get across seems to have been lost somewhere in the controversial nature of this subect matter, so I'm going to take another shot.
Sarah, you say:
Okay, Jerome. It seems like we're finally finding some common ground. I agree that Liwsze does bring in a more balanced perspective in the latter half of her article. The problem I see, though, is that she does so after using terms like "barbaric" and "the dark side." The point of presenting more than one perspective in an article is to let the reader draw some of their own conclusions. By framing them with such language, Liwsze sets a certain tone and sends a clear message about the conclusion that should be drawn.