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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 these issues.

Instead of pointing fingers, let's join hands and build a safer environment for all women in our society.

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