I was saddened to hear news on All Things Considered (Host Melissa Block, NPR) a few days ago about an immigrant family where three family members, a father, a second wife, and a son, were found by a Canadian jury guilty of murder. The family was from Afghanistan. The three convicted justified the killing of the first wife and three daughters, ages 19, 17, and 13, as “honor killings.”
I almost pulled to the side of the road from the horror of the news! I felt this sick gnawing in the pit of my stomach all of a sudden. Then the revulsion crept up to my throat and stayed there like a thick wad of pre-masticated bolus.
I listened as the reporter described the judge’s description of the murders. Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger said to the three guilty members:
“It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honorless crime…The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor … that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.” —CBS News, January 30, 2012
The telltale signs were evident from the more than 58 witnesses, including teachers and officials from youth protection in Quebec, who came forward and spoke to the court, all illustrating the tight control by the family over the young girls. The teachers reported seeing bruises on them. CBS news went on to report further that the girls dishonored their family
That’s all? I could think of way more serious acts that could dishonor families. Surely, normal discourse among peers regardless of race or creed, age-appropriate dress, socializing, use of the internet especially social media, dating, etc. all these are very normal adolescent activities in the Western world. This family chose to move to Canada. They cannot expect to live the exactly the same way as they did where they came from. There are needs and requirements for adaptation to a new environment.
The father, Mohammad Shafia, a wealthy businessman, is all about his honor and his control over his family. He was heard in a wiretap saying:
“There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this,” Shafia said on one recording. “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows … nothing is more dear to me than my honor.” —CBS News, January 30, 2012
These parents destroyed the lives of not just three children and the first wife. They also destroyed the future of their son, Hamed, 21 years old, their willing accomplice. It’s interesting how this son had grown up, been educated and moved around in Canadian social circles, and yet, did not seem to show an ounce of adaptation to his new home, that his sisters so readily embraced. DiManno discusses it further in January 30, 2012 issue of Toronto Star. A word of caution: Be careful when you click the links to the related articles. The story gets more and more disgusting.
I am reminded of Khaled Hosseini‘s second book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” a story about women and their plight in Afghan Society. When I read the book a few years ago, when it first came out, I could not put it down, no matter how distressing the stories of these women unfolded. The depictions of Afghan society, in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation, the effects of the Taliban’s oppressive and violent control, and many aspects of human rights violations inherent in the culture, were so vivid.
I think about these young girls and how they were most likely nothing more than typical North American teens embracing the society they grew up in. How, among adolescents, the desire to fit in, blend in, be accepted is so important. How exploration of who you are and what you are is in full swing. How people in their lives move in and out of their circles as the circles morph to many shapes, sizes, and dimensions.
You don’t need to have a PhD in Psychology nor a specialty in Adolescent Medicine to understand this. You can be a parent, with enough mindfulness and an awareness beyond the tip of your nose to see this. Obviously, this father was all about himself and his so-called honor. Well, he’s certainly dishonored his entire family now! Or has he, in his eyes?
There have also been many efforts to help these women. Some organizations have been reported to have safe houses for battered wives, previously kidnapped girls in danger of being murdered, etc., strewn in various parts of the country. Here, they are prepared for the opportunity to take them out of the country to start fresh somewhere else. Praises and blessings for these unsung heroes!
It is appalling to read that the relatives of the murdered women who live in Kabul approved of the murders. This sense of honor must be so deeply ingrained in their society it’s justifiable in everyone’s thinking. I looked at some sources to help explain this and here’s what I found:
A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society. .. What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honour killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What’s behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power. —Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University
Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, an anthropology professor at Rhode Island College, explains how honor killings can be viewed in cultural relativist terms. She writes that the act, or even alleged act, of any female sexual misconduct, upsets moral order for the culture of interest and bloodshed is the only way to remove any shame brought upon by the actions and restore social equilibrium. –Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban. “Cultural Relativism and Universal Rights”. 2011-12-2.
What happens when an Afghan family has an intelligent, sensible, and capable daughter? Do these not count? Is she forever worth only her intact vagina? What of these mothers and aunts who perpetuate this behavior in their families? Have they been so demeaned and beaten for so long that the only recourse is to make their daughters live their nightmare lives? What about the young girls kidnapped for ransom, eventually returned to their families and then murdered by their own fathers and brothers for the sheer possibility that they may have been “touched, molested, or even raped.”
For those of you who are parents, you might be able to relate to this: I am a peace-loving person by nature. I have always believed that talking things out is always the best way to settle differences. However, the day I became a mother was the day I saw something else stir in me that I never thought I could be capable of. As I was breastfeeding my newborn in my arms, I realized that for this child, I would be capable of killing. Even with my bare hands. I would be capable of doing this violence to protect this child from harm, not for anyone or anything else. This is how intensely bonded a parent becomes with an offspring. One only has to look at an animal tending to its young offspring, whether domestic or in the wild, to see the same thing.
And yet, these parents were willing to sacrifice the lives of their children for their foolish honor? I fail to understand this sick belief. I refuse to accept it as something to acquiesce to for the sake of getting along with this group of people, the same way I refuse to accept justifications about polygamy or female circumcisions, to name a few.
I refuse to accept also that this has to do with the practice of Islam. There is nothing in the Koran that sanctions honor killings. These are arbitrary practices that have evolved from largely cultural, ethnic and class attitudes and religion is used to legitimize them. Shame on these so-called ultra-religious who will hide behind the banner of their religion to justify their acts. When you look at the history of honor killings, you will see that the practice predates religion and it has been practiced by various ethnic groups all over the world at some point in their history. Yes, including the United States! Only it’s sometimes termed loosely as “domestic violence.”
- What are Honor Killings: 5 Things to Know (ibtimes.com)
- Honor Killings: Guilty Afghan-Canadian Family Will Keep its Millions (ibtimes.com)
- Afghan Family Found Guilty in Honor Killings (time.com)
- Guilty: Muslim Family in Canada Convicted in Honor Killings (pjmedia.com)
- Honour murders – what they are, what they aren’t, and what we must do. (wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com)
- Closing arguments conclude in honor killing trial (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Were Shafia murders ‘honour killings’ or domestic violence? (thestar.com)
- Quebec child-abuse registry came too late to help Shafia victims (news.nationalpost.com)
- Shafia deaths ‘unforgiveable,’ says family imam – CTV.ca (montreal.ctv.ca)
- Relatives who testified against Shafia say they were threatened, shunned (canada.com)
- Mohammad Shafia was ‘so obsessed, so closed-minded’ (fullcomment.nationalpost.com)
- Canada looks for ways to prevent honour killings in wake of Shafia trial (theglobeandmail.com)
- Shafia trial: Six perspectives on ‘honour’ killings in Canada (news.nationalpost.com)
- What does the Shafia guilty verdict mean for Canada’s legal system? (news.nationalpost.com)
- Perpetrators perceive honour ‘in a faulty way’ (ctv.ca)
- The history of ‘honour killings’ (cbc.ca)
- When the Killer Is a Mother (thedailybeast.com)