Wednesday, June 16, 2010
On December 10th, 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario Aqsa's father and brother murdered her in a so-called "honour killing" - a punishment for the "shame" that Aqsa brought upon her family by resisting their strict Muslim religious rules. One of the main "shameful offenses" that Aqsa committed was insisting on wearing Western clothing, rather than the traditional hijab head covering.
When Aqsa's mother asked her husband why he did it, he answered: "My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. This is my insult. She is making me naked.” Possibly even more surprising than this, Islamic leaders that spoke to the media after the tragedy almost implied that Aqsa invited her fate, discussing that Muslim's who stray from their path must "pay for it", and stating that "parents fail and bring shame upon themselves if a child chooses to abandon holy writings and not wear the hijab". Young Muslim men even lashed out through the Internet, calling Aqsa a "slut" on Facebook, and implying in emails that she was pushing drugs or pregnant.
This story on its own is heartbreaking enough*, but the really sad thing is that this is just one of many of these types of crimes that have occurred in Canada in recent years. All it takes to get a sense of the prevalence of these crimes is a google search for "honour killings in Canada", which turns out about 46,900 results. Brother gets life for gunning down his 20-year-old sister and her fiance in Ottawa, a 14-year-old rape victim is strangled to death by her brother and father, three teenage sisters and their aunt are found in their car submerged in the Rideau Canal in Montreal, a mother stabs her 19-year-old daughter in the head and face, and the list goes on and on.
These stories are so tragic, not only because of the loss of young and as yet unfulfilled lives, but because these killings are justified by such ridiculous reasons. Now, I'm a very open-minded person and I'm very accepting of other cultures and religions, so this is by no means a diatribe against Islam or religious traditions in general, nor a rant about the superiority of Western society. We certainly don't do everything right, and I think there is a lot that (mostly) secular Westerners can learn from the traditions and beliefs of other countries and people.
However, one thing that I feel we Westerners do better is cultivate societies based upon free-will, free-speech and freedom of choice. To kill a member of one's own family because they wish to choose their clothing, boyfriends, and hobbies is simply barbaric and isn't tolerated, at least according to our laws.
One of the great things about Canada as a multi-cultural nation is that there aren't a lot of rules and regulations governing our civil liberties - for the most part, we can go where we please, when we please, wear what we please, say what we please, and spend time with whomever we please (within reason of course). Even if you are expected to follow certain societal rules when you come here to live, you are still free to continue practicing your religion and other cultural traditions, as long as it doesn't harm or disrupt anyone else's life in a negative way.
However, it's a completely different animal when your cultural and religious traditions DO bring harm and suffering to those around you. In Canada, women are not possessions of men. We are not expected to obey our fathers, brothers and uncles, nor are we punished for making choices that the men in our lives don't agree with (again, there are always exceptions to the rule, but this is a generalization).
And what is so wrong with the children of these families wanting to dress like their friends, and participate in the activities that their friends do? What is so wrong about wanting to wear jeans and t-shirts, have free-flowing hair, go to movies and dances, and have boyfriends? Is that not what their parents wanted for them when they came here anyway? Did they not come with the hope that their children could have healthy, free lives and access to the opportunities that they never had? It shouldn't be a crime to love life and live it to the fullest.
As Ausma Khan, editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl magazine says: "So many girls are trying to live a faith-based life within a larger secular society. They are trying to fit in with friends and stay true to Islamic values. It can be a struggle." No wonder they rebel - teenagers who have much less pressure on them have lashed out in much more destructive ways.
Luckily there are many in the Muslim world who condemn honour killings and similarly strict behaviour. Tarek Fatah, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, has been a very vocal critic of the restrictive aspects of Islam. He was quoted in a Globe and Mail article (from which the quote from Ausma Khan above also comes) addressing these cultural issues, stating: "I put the blame straight at the feet of people who have made young Muslim girls feel that they are sinners if they don't cover their heads. How many more Muslim girls have to die before the liberal intelligentsia wakes up and the feminists wake up and say the hijab is a symbol of oppression?"
Unfortunately, it seems the answer to his last question is "many more", at least as long as acts like this continue to be excused and swept under the rug. We all have the obligation to speak out about this issue - Muslim or not.
This is religiously-sanctioned domestic abuse, and nothing else.
*I normally really try to not get too political with my posts, but I just couldn't ignore this; it really got my back up