The Dishonour of Honour Killings

Recently, here in the Great White North, a murder trial ended and the accused were sentenced to life.

A father and his son killed his daughter, all because she was too progressive to be a good little Islamic girl.

Muhammad Parvez and Waqas, his son, murdered Aqsa Parvez on December 10, 2007, in the guise of avenging their family pride in the face of her scandalous embracing of Western culture and lifestyle, even though they lived here.

These cultural-killing cases weigh heavily upon me.

I loathe what they do to the image of Islam, and what they do to my thinking, despite my best efforts.

Honour killing: image from The Baltimore Reporter.

I used to teach ESL a long time ago. Here, there. In people’s homes. It always gave me an interesting perspective on cultures I’d only ever seen from the flipside of a take-out menu or on the big screen.

For the most part here in Vancouver, that meant working with Taiwanese, Koreans, and the Mainland Chinese.

Once, though, I worked with two young Islamic women from Saudi Arabia. They were both married, under age 25, and would wear full burqas when out in the world, but, at home, wore tight jeans and cute trendy t-shirts that clung tightly to their breasts.

Their husbands were charming kind men who spoke to me often about our culture and tried to compare that with their traditional culture at home, so I could know more about them.

Their hospitality and the respect they showed me was warm and sincere. I always felt welcomed and appreciated, and never judged for being “Western” and very liberal. They even knew I wrote about sex, and the men found my blog entertaining.

I truly thought they were all wonderful people, and the kindness and graciousness shown me by them has lingered long in my memory as an example as what the true basic beliefs in Islam are — very similar to any a “good Christian” might follow.

But the burqas never sat well with me — the hypocrisy of bouncy, beautiful breasts being savoured in private but the pretense that this feminine beauty doesn’t exist in the world, or the suggestion that they’re doing what is right and good by Allah when hiding the feminine form from the world at large, despite the fact that Allah created all they hold in esteem.

But that’s a whole other issue that’s too large in scope to tackle, and which I’m not nearly informed enough to weigh in on without research.

It is, however, indicative of just how large a chasm exists between fundamentalist Islam and the standard Western world-view.

So, when a  family like the Parvez move here from Pakistan, there’s a galaxy of culture-clash to contend with.

Me, I’m so white I’m of the fish-belly variety of humans. With Irish/Scottish and French dotting my ancestry, I don’t even have a culture, let alone any experience with culture-clash — except for that which lands on our shores.

But that’s who we are. We’re Canadians.

We’ve got an open-door policy, and because we’re the most multicultural country on the planet, we’re constantly shaping who we are as a result of the immigrants who land here and build lives, for better and for worse.

You know what? I love that.

I love that, when Pierre Elliott Trudeau died, I had to take a cab that day and my driver was a man from South Africa. He was constantly wiping his eyes and sniffling as we moved slowly through rush-hour traffic.

In his thick, thick accent, he told me how hard he’d struggled to move to Canada two decades ago, that it had become his dream after this Canadian Prime Minister had been the only leader in the world to cry out against Apartheit in South Africa in the 1970s, that he saw Canada as being a place that held true to the belief that all men were equal — even beyond our borders.

This man made me cry that day — this immigrant, he and his love for my country, what we stood for, and what he wanted it to keep standing for now that he had given up his S.A. citizenship to become a Canadian. We cried together over a leader who divided the country but ultimately contributed more to what “being Canadian” meant than any leader in our history.*

It’s conversations with men like him who make me believe deep down inside that the majority of those who emigrate to Canada are those who ultimately admire our lifestyle and our tolerance of others.

So, yes, when I hear of honour killings, I’m left wondering how much it hurts the progressives who’ve immigrated long before these fundamentalist assholes, and how hard it makes life domestically for them.

Muhammad and Waqas Parvez are not your typical Pakistani-Canadians.

They are not your common Muslims.

And while honour killings aren’t common in Canada, they do happen.

From Wikipedia:

Human Rights Watch defines “honor killings” as follows:

Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce — even from an abusive husband — or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

Let’s face it. Much of what women have gained in the West, in terms of freedom to be who they want to be, has come in the last 60 years. We’re a young culture, too.

Islam, however, and its main regions of practice (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq) forms the seat of all of civilization.

For thousands of years these principles have been in place. They’ll come undone, but it’ll be slowly.

The world needs to stand against honour killings, and while these sentences are a start here in Canada, they’ll do little to effect change in the high mountains of the Khyber Pass and throughout Mohammad’s land in Saudi Arabia.

Here, in Canada, some will experience anger and disdain toward Islam, as if these men represent all of what the Qu’ran teaches.

Like most religions, Islam teaches some pretty fucked-up things. Ask any cartoonist.

Any religion has proverbs that, taken word-for-word, could unleash hell with the devout. Islam is certainly not far from the path of nuttiness with ideas like Jihad and honour killings and the rants against cartoons and Salman Rushdie.

It doesn’t mean Islam’s unholy and hell-bent on destruction or death. That’s bullshit.

What men like the Parvezes do, though, is, they give validity to those who would tar Islam and rail against its practitioners with the belief that all who practice it are extremists who are literal about Allah’s messages in the Qu’ran.

And they make women like me scared of dating Islamic men.

I hate that.

The thing is, I’m not particularly afraid of dating a Muslim man — as long as he’s not a fundamentalist.

But I wouldn’t date ANY religious fundamentalist. I’d probably try to avoid most men who practiced religion of any kind, really, but I would think a Muslim would better understand why I’m not following his faith than a Christian would, since I was raised in Christianity and now reject the practice of it. Try to make sense of THAT, eh?

So, yeah, I’m not afraid of dating a Muslim man at all.

I’m afraid of dating his extended family.

Let’s face it. Families are nuts. You should meet mine.

There’s some serious fuckin’ wackadoos in the extended-family works here, and I would hate for anyone to judge me on the basis of being related to them. But they’re there.

And that’s the thing. A Muslim guy might be incredible, and god knows I find men of Persian descent incredibly hot, but I’m scared what Uncle Mojinder might be like or what distant Cousin Navez might get up to if I get a little rowdy one night, since I’m not exactly Miss I Don’t Drink.

It’s hard enough keeping philosophically on-page with a lover, but when there’s a cultural heritage that has the potential of honour killings in their extended family, it’s a little unnerving a concept for some of us who are given to misbehaviour.

I’m not sure how to end this piece, I don’t think there’s a comfortable “pat” conclusion I can offer.

It’s a terrible thing, honour killings — for what it does to women, for the rise of the fear and suspicions we nurse against an entire faith, all because of what some select group of them do.

It’s horrible that I feel justified in my fears, that I’m apprehensive of men based on their faith, not because I don’t trust them but because I fear their families.

And even that is hard on me, because I love what I know of the traditional Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern family lives.

Yet.

Yet this one thing exists, a small niggling fear — this negligible concept of  “honour” and what it is for and to others, and the price one can pay for damaging it.

In the end, there’s a reason I’m not religious anymore. I stopped believing in Catholicism in my teens, and by rights all other religions, because of the fear and judgment they sought to have me live life under.

Life has many chains that will bind me, but religion will not be amongst them.

I want to know, I guess, how honour killings affect you.

What do you think of them? How have they changed your thoughts on Muslims?

If you’re a woman, does it make you apprehensive of dating men who are Muslims but super-hip and very liberal, just because you fear their family?

Have you ever had a friend who has been under the thumb of this religion and wanted out?

Talk to me. I want to hear about this.

*On his death, the stories I heard from second-generation Canadians who immigrated to Canada with their parents when Trudeau was leader, just blew my mind. The reverence they held for P.E.T., and the esteem they held Canada in, made my heart explode with patriotic pride. Yeah. That’s who we are, Canada. We’re the port in the storm.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted June 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Wow. So much to comment on here, since the ideas of religion, cultural tolerance (a curious term that perhaps deserves its own post), and the great Canadian quest for cultural identity are inextricable. Really, the best one can do is to continue this conversation, and never come to a conclusion. It’s too big, and too grey. This is especially true in our current era, which has been characterized by mainstream sanctioned xenophobia, particularly against Middle-Eastern cultures, and Islam.

    The best I can come up so far on this when confronting another culture, and finding any views that fundamentally (a loaded word here) grate against what I hold to be true and right is this; “I respect your right to hold that opinion, and good luck with it, but I think you’re an asshole.” It’s really the best I can come up with, right or wrong. So, if you believe that it’s your right as a man to impose a certain wardrobe, or gender role, on your wife, sister, whoever, according to your beliefs and traditions, then fine. Go for it. But, I could easily come to the conclusion that you’re an asshole – according to my beliefs and traditions — and we’re probably not going to be close friends. That is cultural tolerance as I see it.

    This is the consequence of having a strong opinion on anything, whether it’s the divinity of Jesus, the portrayal of Mohammed in a satirical cartoon, or whether Funhouse is the better Stooges record than Raw Power. Sometimes, people are going to consider you an asshole, and very publicly too. Or sometimes, in the case of honor killings and other associated violent practices usually aimed at girls and women to terrorize them into obedience (and an incredibly ego-centric concept it is as far as I can tell), people, and the laws of the country you’ve moved to, are going to consider you a psychotic killer. I know I do.

    Thanks for the post, Steff!
    .-= Rob J´s last blog ..Molony Performs ‘Northern Town’ =-.

  2. Kulpreet Singh
    Posted June 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Hey :)

    1) I fully agree with the sentiment of your post. There’s no honour in “honour killings.” This type of crime is committed by people who, regardless of their self-perception as being faithful/religious, are the biggest hypocrites and furthest from any concept of faith in God.

    2) For some religions, the teachings do allow, if not endorse, chauvinism and the subjugation of women, and fanatics also often justify their crimes by their self-serving interpretations of scripture. This is a fact. However, I do think it’s also a cultural thing. Western culture has its demons as does Eastern culture, and this ‘honour killing’ phenomenon is one of Eastern culture’s demons. Besides Muslims, there have been the same sort of killings in Hindu, Sikh, and Christian families of South Asian / Middle Eastern heritage. Speaking from the Sikh experience, this is completely outlawed not only in Sikh scripture but in Sikh traditions and the Sikh martial code of conduct. The ‘protocol’ is to prosecute anyone who commits these crimes, and socially boycott them. This is what ‘traditional Sikhs’ used to do. However, in modern times, when these killings happen, despite living in Canada, despite being ‘moderate,’ many people in my faith community remain silent. In the case of the Sikh teachings — because I’m more familiar with them than Islam — I don’t think their silence is because of their religious teachings but in spite of them (when a Sikh fails to stand up against injustice s/he is dishonouring the Sikh teachings and universal value of compassion to selfishly protect the honour of his temporary worldly family). They remain silent because of patriarchy and their dependence on social ranking within the community.

    3) I don’t like the overgeneralized connection of the words “liberal”=>good and “fundamentalist”=>bad. This is where semantics fires an emotional engine. You could be liberal on child pornography and fundamentalist on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Which is good or bad? Yes, I know these words represent agendas and ideologies but when used in the mainstream media (especially to define Sikhs in Canada and Muslims in the US) they serve a purpose of division and stereotyping. For example, someone could be defined as a “fundamentalist” because of their strict personal spiritual discipline, but also be very open, “liberal,” non-judgemental, non-dogmatic, feminist, egalitarian, loving, caring, compassionate, empathetic towards everyone. So yeah… sometimes the way people are defined and the way that definition is interpreted is over simplified and not representative of their true beliefs anywhere on the spectrum.

    peace :)
    –k.s.

  3. Posted June 30, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I just have a comment about your opinion of the fact that those women were wearing burqas.

    When I was in Morocco, women were out in anything from western Jeans & T-shirt to a hijab or a djellabah or burqa. We inquired about the variety and levels of dress, and our Muslim Moroccan guide had this answer: “There are 1000 reasons to wear the headscarf” (or, that’s what the common Arabic saying translates to).

    Meaning, people there generally wear what’s comfortable. Some women enjoy covering themselves up, only exposing their true shape for their husbands. Some enjoy the freedom of not worrying about having infinite bad hair days under their scarf. Most people know there’s no better way to beat the heat (wardrobe-wise) than a djellabah. And some have fallen in love with Western fashion and wear it all the time.

    And yes, some women wore what their husbands told them to. Many women in the western world are subjected to this as well.

    I know that’s not really what your piece was about, but I think beyond honour killings (which are a handy thing to make an example of), I’m glad of the sentence these men received, because it shows that Canada is not a place where someone is allowed to take another’s life. Period.

  4. Kevin
    Posted July 11, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that you soften your point about Islam. You say “Here, in Canada, some will experience anger and disdain toward Islam, as if these men represent all of what the Qu’ran teaches,” implying that Islam shouldn’t be blamed. I disagree.

    People are impressionable. We believe lots of things because we are afraid of them or want them to be true. Religions also encourage a sort of “mob mentality”. It’s clear that people are easily swayed by what’s taught by religion and written in holy books.

    Now, if we were all intelligent, rational beings many of those teachings would be discarded. That’s a bit idealistic though. Instead we end up with religious fundamentalists who strive to uphold every word written in, say, the Bible. These people are dangerous.

    We need to hold the world’s religions accountable for what they teach. We are all born atheist, after all. We created religion; when humans are no longer around religion won’t be either. I am tolerant of religions only when they do not preach hate, prejudice or misinformation.

    In this case, it’s clear that these men used the teachings of Islam to justify what they did. They are ultimately responsible for their own actions, but their religion was the catalyst.

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