A teenage Muslim girl: Why was she killed?
It's all about violence against women
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
December 13, 2007 at 4:51 AM EST
Tuesday was a gruesome day for news.
First, there were the heart-wrenching victim impact statements by relatives of
the six women murdered by Robert Pickton.
Next, the jury at an inquest into the murder of Windsor, Ont., nurse Lori Dupont
tabled recommendations for occupational safety. Ms. Dupont was killed in 2005 in
the hospital where she worked, by her former boyfriend (a doctor at the
hospital), who later killed himself. She had repeatedly expressed fears for her
safety to the hospital administration, to no avail.
Finally, there was the killing of the 16-year-old Mississauga student, Aqsa
Parvez, allegedly by her own father. Reports indicate that trouble had been
brewing at home since September. Aqsa did not comply with her family's views of
modest dress. There had been violence. Friends say that she feared her father
and brother, and was about to leave home.
I'm reminded that just last month, an Ottawa mother and her two adult daughters
were killed by her husband in a murder-suicide.
All these cases should give us pause. All these vulnerable women, were killed by
men committing the ultimate abuse of power. We do not know the details of Mr.
Pickton's relationship with his victims. However, we do know that both Ms.
Dupont and Ms. Parvez were struggling to break away from situations each
considered suffocating. It is not easy to do so, especially in a relationship
based on an imbalance of power. The courage mustered to break free is seen as a
mortal threat by those who refuse to let go. In the last decade alone, more than
200 Canadian women have been murdered as a result of domestic abuse. Violence
against women knows no particular ethnicity, religion or class.
We must learn from the circumstances of each of these deaths in order to help
those who face similar vulnerable situations.
The Pickton trial has not yet led to any action plan to address the endemic
poverty and drug abuse of Vancouver's notorious Eastside.
The Dupont inquest jury concluded that workplace law should cover domestic
threats. It also highlighted the necessity for zero tolerance of sexual
harassment in the workplace.
As details of young Aqsa's case evolve, so too will new ideas for guarding the
safety of families caught in intergenerational clashes.
The tension between immigrant families and their Canadian-born children is
nothing new. Parents arrive with hopes, dreams, and an identity rooted in their
own upbringing. Some values are in harmony with the host culture; others may
clash. Often, children are caught in between two worlds - that of their parents,
and that of the wider community. Some kids lead a double life for a while,
ditching their cultural schizophrenia as they mature into adults. For parents,
the idea of "letting go" of their children is equally difficult, especially when
faced with competing aspirations.
Negotiations, sometimes fraught with emotions, are made on a daily basis.
However, what happened to this precious 16-year-old is repulsive and
unacceptable. Religious piety is not defined by a piece of cloth. Nor should it
be imposed by threats or violence. The Koran clearly states: "Let there be no
compulsion in religion."
Since the news of Aqsa's death, national and local Muslim organizations have
unequivocally condemned her murder. A heartfelt vigil in honour of Aqsa is being
planned. In particular, it should be made clear the hijab should never be
imposed. Nor should it be withheld from those who wish to wear it. The key is to
respect the heartfelt choices of young women who are searching to find
themselves in a complex world. We need to hear more of their voices.
Ausma Khan, a Canadian human rights lawyer, now the editor-in-chief of Muslim
Girl Magazine, is a trailblazer in this regard. She believes that Aqsa's death
is an isolated case. On the flip side, some young women who wish to wear the
hijab face tremendous opposition - even violence - from their own families.
Religious community leaders can play an educational role by reminding people
that leniency and mercy were the hallmark of prophetic tradition.
But this is also an opportunity to have an honest conversation about violence
against women perpetrated under the cover of religion. Too often, wife-beating
and the violent suppression of young women's rights are justified by a
particular reading of the Koran.
In the coming days, the Muslim community will once again be put under the
microscope. Some people will shamelessly exploit Aqsa's murder in their
indictment of multiculturalism, reasonable accommodation, Islam, or all three.
This is not only highly offensive, but incorrect. They forget that Canadian
women have been killed as a result of domestic violence unrelated to any of
Instead of pointing fingers, let's join hands and build a safer environment for
all women in our society.