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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