This story didn’t receive much attention here but it has dominated the headlines in Canada since October when the Shafia Family trial began in Kingston, Ontario. Mohammad Shafia, his second wife Tooba Yahya and his son Hamed Shafia were accused of the June 2009 murders of his teenaged daughters Zainab, Sahar and Geeti (ages 19, 17 & 13) and his first wife Rona Amir Mohammad. Their bodies were found submerged inside a car in a lock along the Rideau Canal outside of Kingston.
The Shafias were originally from Afghanistan but fled to Dubai before moving to Australia and then finally to Canada in 2007, settling in Montreal. On Sunday, the three defendants were found guilty of four counts of first degree murder and each sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility in 25 years. The Crown prosecutor (the Canadian equivalent of a D.A.) argued these murders were honor killings. The three Shafia daughters had shamed the family by adopting Western lifestyles and the two elder daughters had boyfriends.
Not surprisingly, most Muslim organizations have rejected that the Shafia murders were an honor killing and argue that they are an act of domestic violence. Alaa Elsayed, Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Centre of Canada in Toronto, claims, “It’s a domestic violence issue, bottom line. It has nothing to do with religion, specifically Islam.” Meanwhile, Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women calls the killings “femicide.”
But Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, sees things quite differently. Fatah told The Toronto Star the system had failed the Shafia girls:
If these four women were white women, they would still be alive today.
If a white student would go to the principal or the police and say they would be beaten up, no one would go to their parents and say ‘can you repeat what you said to us?’ These girls went to the school, the cops, child services and everyone wanted to protect multiculturalism – not the lives of these young women.
(I should note here that I knew Fatah during my NDP days and am glad to hear he is in better health.)
It’s also not surprising that some Canadian feminists aren’t willing to call the Shafia murders honor killings and that many liberal Canadians are unwilling to call these acts honor killings for fear of being called racist. But here are a couple of articles that take these arguments apart – one by Barbara Kay of The National Post and the other by Naomi Lakritz of The Calgary Herald.
Kay explains why Western feminists won’t speak out on behalf of Muslim women:
Such a step is difficult for ideological feminists to take, because they are also great champions of multiculturalism. As well, it would mean admitting that violence against women is not inherent impuluse in men, but contingent on historical and cultural circumstances. Worst of all for Western feminists, it would mean colluding with women who want to improve their standing, security and dignity within their cultural communities, but don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. By that I mean they don’t want to be abused, but they don’t want to have to walk away from their culture and community to stop it.
Meanwhile, Lakritz pulls no punches and tells the West to get over its white, liberal guilt:
And while some westerners pussyfoot around, afraid to use the term “honour killing,” no such reticence exists among women in the countries where these crimes occur….The women in these societies use the term “honour killings.” Why shouldn’t we?
Both articles are well worth reading. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we will face honor killings in both Canada and the United States.