Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's all in, uh, ON, your head

Aqsa Parvez died of strangulation in the early hours of this morning. She had fought with her father who is now charged with her murder. The articles in the following two links discuss the story:


Globe and Mail

In the second story, as discussed by the Globe and Mail, the events of the evening and this morning are discussed, along with the bail measures, the story of the rest of the family and other details about the trial.

I notice in the first article that the CBC cannot stop from falling all over it's own feet to discuss the "issue" of Muslim girls veiling and whether or not families have a right to force them to do so. They called experts from Canadian Muslim associations, they have quotes from the girls friends about her shopping habits and how much she didn't want to wear the big, scary, oppressive scarf.

I wonder why there is no discussion from expert paediatricians about the commonality of family abuse ending in death and how often girl children are the focus of family abuse. I wonder why there aren't quotes from the girl's friends about the father's history of violence as discussed by her brothers earlier today. Finally, the predictable symptoms of abuse seen by children's groups, women's rights groups and health officials regularly.

Does anyone out there truly believe that this man who regularly beat his children would have calmed down and peacefully gone about the loving actions of fatherhood if she had put a scarf on her head? Do these discussions do anything but reinforce the stereotype of Muslims as misogynistic, violent and irrational people?

None of this is about a scarf. It's about a woman, who died this morning at the hands of an all-too-common personality: an abusive father.


mark said...

As always, your posts are well-thought, well-argued and a good read. But there is more than one issue here, and parental abuse is one of them. Another is the tension between old-country and new-country values that is a normal part of integration into any new place. You’re right to argue that not enough ink is spilled on domestic violence. But avoiding the specific issue of the headscarf obscures the second issue – one which deserves attention as well.

This morning, the head of a Canadian Muslim group was on CBC Radio, pleading with people not to turn a blind eye to the motivations behind this kind of violence in the name of cultural sensitivity. He argued passionately that fanaticism of all kinds, religious or otherwise, must be openly discussed and condemned. Certainly, the media would be quicker to condemn Christian fundamentalist sect committing acts of violence against women, or anyone else – and rightly so.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali refugee turned Dutch MP, writes in her book Infidel that over a one-year period in tiny 1990’s Holland – the first year in which these things were recorded, at her insistence – Aqsa’s story happened at least eleven times. The families called them “honour killings.” Holland is half the size of Canada, and it seems reasonable to assume that these things happen here at least as often – generally without the media circus, much like most tazing deaths.

Even eleven is too high a number. One is too high a number. Yes, an abusive parent is an abusive parent, regardless of cultural stripe. But eleven deaths – or twenty, or however many occur in Canada in a given year – with a common thread, a common motivation, and a common root in intolerance and faith-based domination, deserve a special look. Failure to do so does no justice to the Aqsas out there – those killed and those still living with abuse.

Freshwater Mermaid said...

Your point is well argued, but I completely disagree. The reason to focus on an accessory and call it motivation does nothing to protect girls who are beaten by their fathers for any number of reasons, none of which are good.

There is no justification for any type of honour killing, a tragic practice that happens in many countries. The fact that there is a common thread is akin to suggesting that religious-minded serial killers are egged on by girls who wear crosses.

The femicide in Juarez happening right now is another example of focused violence against women for which there is no justification including a headscarf.

I don't at all think 'the media' would just as quickly condemn Christian fundamentalists who commit violence against women. The amish girl who escaped her village after repeated rapes by her two brothers and the near total failure of news sources to discuss the issue is one example.

The Globe and Mail did an excellent job of discussing the fact that a father killed his daughter, an indefensible crime in many countries including those which are predominantly Muslim. Framing the nature of the crime as some type of religious retribution does nothing to reinforce women's right to safety from abusive families and everything to make Muslim parents more suspect.

Finally, suggesting the idea of "Old Country" versus "New Country" as part of the issue harms generations of Muslims who have lived in Canada longer than many Christian families. The immigrant community is not one giant group of backwards religious fanatics who all got here at the same time. Integration into Canadian culture would not have solved the violence in this man, nor would his daughter choosing to behave as he wished. Suggesting that there is some cultural mindset that can see why he would do such a thing is harmful and vicious towards a huge part of our community.

Not even he thinks he did the right thing. After all, the 911 call came from him. He was distraught and frantic and he knew it was wrong.

mark said...

You’re right to say that a strong stance against so-called “honour killings” does nothing to protect children who are beaten by their parents for other reasons. A strong stance against drunk driving likewise doesn’t address collisions caused by sober drivers speeding, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary.

Understanding and addressing the various motivations behind illegal actions is a necessary step in preventing them, and gives you additional tools in the fight. Simply nailing the bad guys without understanding the crime is akin to condemning suicide bombers without attempting to understand their motivations. The actions are clearly indefensible, but without an understanding of why they take place, they are sure to be repeated by others.

We agree on the broad stroke – that there is no excuse for any kind of domestic violence, faith-based or otherwise - but we differ in how to understand a specific case. You say that “the fact that there is a common thread is akin to suggesting that religious-minded serial killers are egged on by girls who wear crosses.” I don't see how that's true, since this motivation indicates an individual perversion rather than a cultural phenomenon. But even so, any insight into a particular motivation, however perverse, may help us identify other, similarly-inclined criminals and tailor our prevention, apprehension and rehabilitation strategies in the future. Understanding a crime can never be a bad thing.

I’m ashamed to acknowledge that I’ve neither seen nor heard the story of the Amish girl that you mention. But neither have we been bombarded with reports of the 11 Aqsa-like cases in the Netherlands fifteen or so years ago, or any of the dozens or hundreds of cases since then, in Canada and elsewhere. My shame – and it should be everyone’s shame – is on behalf of the media that we rely upon for accurate, complete information about pressing issues, and nowhere do I argue that they fulfill this mandate. Just the opposite.

You argue that addressing the motives behind the crime draws suspicious eyes to all Muslim parents, and it is unfortunately true that some people will turn on the television and immediately paint broad strokes across an entire community because of the actions of the few. But this is not an insoluble problem – Muslim spokespeople like the one I mentioned in my previous post are leading the charge in condemning this kind of violence. Their condemnation of domestic violence – rooted in their understanding of the motivations behind it – is a powerful tool in its prevention.

I’m not sure it’s relevant that Aqsa’s father is repentant – the apologies of murderers hardly lessen the horror of their crimes.

As for my feelings on “old-country” vs. “new-country” values, I’m not sure why you assume that I’m referring specifically to one community – I certainly don’t feel that this applies only to any one cultural group. My grandparents of Italian, Chinese and enormous difficulty integrating into a society with values and expectations different from those of their own. Their struggles – and to an even greater extent, the struggles of their children – were long and difficult. This is normal in any new place, and as a descendent of very recent immigrants, and with a mother born in Jakarta, I certainly don’t argue that “the immigrant community is one giant group of backwards religious fanatics who all got here at the same time.” It's a bit disingenuous to suggest that I do.

That said, not all cultures condemn domestic violence with our level of outrage and disgust. Longstanding cultural traditions are not always moral or acceptable. The practice of female genital mutilation is a chilling example of this – one that takes place in Canada and elsewhere – and has absolutely nothing to do with religion. We do not hesitate – nor should we – to condemn this for what it is: a barbaric element of a horrific view toward women. Nor do we ignore its cultural origins for diplomacy’s sake, and communities of East African origin have not been stigmatized for what we all acknowledge is a practice of the very few – at least in Canada. It would be foolish for Canadian law enforcement to simply lump this practice in with other domestic violence, as this does nothing to prevent the crime. Widespread outrage and education are far more effective tools, because some people see domestic violence – such as genital mutilation and “honour”-related killings – as their culturally-imposed right or obligation. This belief must be shattered.

Freshwater Mermaid said...

"Simply nailing the bad guys without understanding the crime is akin to condemning suicide bombers without attempting to understand their motivations." at the expense of discussing the entire issue with experts from other fields? It would be irresponsible to examine religion in the cases of suicide bombers to the exclusion of examining economic factors, pandemics, environmental destruction and a host of other factors. This is what happened in the CBC article focusing only on Islam and nothing else.

I'm also very pleased to hear that you are aware that 'some' people 'might' use the issue to exhibit and justify racism against Muslims. The CBC disseminates news and information and as operates under journalistic responsibilities. When they choose to frame the issue around Islam and deliberately ignore violence and abuse, they are at fault in inciting racism and xenophobia. That is the nature of my complaint.