Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parvez Murder Becomes a Battleground for Multiculturalism

Barbara Kay suggests Aqsa Parvez case a black eye for Multiculturalism

In the wake of the murder of Aqsa Pervez, a 16-year-old Muslim girl who was strangled by her father for refusing to wear a Hijab, many commentators have pointed the finger of blame at Multiculturalism, and, more specifically, Islam.

Her 26-year-old brother has also been charged with obstruction of justice.

In a National Post Full Comment op/ed piece, Barbara Kay argues that Parvez's murder is proof of the failings of Multiculturalism and Feminism, as demands that we respect cultural differences force people to bend over backward in order to accomodate the most brutal practices of other cultures.

"...The alliance of feminism with multiculturalism has created a two-tier sisterhood.

The top tier, western women, have achieved full equality rights. Any and all male aggression against a top tier woman triggers a public outcry and a million lit candles. The second tier women — those from other cultures — are not so fortunate. Feminists exploit multiculturalism to justify their moral abandonment of the women who most need them: girl victims of dysfunctional or socially unevolved cultures.

Partially, Barbara Kay has it right. Certainly, there are some people who have become so enamoured with Multiculturalism that they have allowed various groups a "free pass", even within the borders of our own country, to do as their culture would allow, regardless of whether or not it violates the rules and laws of Canadian society.

This, however, is not a failing of Multiculturalism in and of itself. Rather, it's a failing of Multiculturalism as a political ideology. The use of Multiculturalism as a political ideology demands that it be rigid and uncompromising. It's under conditions such as this that the detail that a crime has been committed can easily be swept under a rug and forgotten.

Multiculturalism should not be so highly enshrined in the Canadian identity that it can allow for cultural values to be used as an excuse for murder.

To people such as Kay, however, the Parvez case has become more than merely a question of whether or not Multiculturalism should allow "honour killings" to be tolerated in Canadian society (although the answer to that question is obvious). They want to treat the Parvez case as a trial for the Hijab itself:

"Sixteen-year old Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez died on Tuesday of wounds suffered in an attack on her Monday — allegedly by her father. (A brother is also charged with the crime of obstruction.) Friends of Aqsa painted a picture of a young girl eager to integrate into Canadian society, in ongoing conflict with her conservative Pakistani father who insisted she wear the hijab, the Muslim symbol of sexual modesty.

Multiculturalists would have us believe that the hijab is merely a religious symbol, like the Sikh kirpan or the Christian cross, freely embraced by the girls wearing them. It isn’t, as many Muslim commentators, including Tarek Fatah in these pages yesterday, have frequently explained. The hijab is rather a public sign of supervised sexual modesty, and marks those wearing it as chattel, leashed to their fathers and brothers as surely as if they were wearing a dog collar.

But you’ll never hear a feminist murmur a word of complaint about these girls’ lack of autonomy, for the same reasons the judge in Australia couldn’t imagine that an aboriginal girl should be treated with the same dignity and respect as her own daughter.

I have argued before in these pages that the hijab, however benign-seeming, is still one end of a female-submissive spectrum that ends in the burqa, a garment virtually all Canadians find antithetical to our values. If public schools, which are supposedly secular, had banned hijabs as France did, along with all other religious paraphernalia, in order to create a level social Canadian playing field, Aqsa would have had Canada on her side.

To many Canadians, Kay's remarks would seem spot-on. Ignoring for a few moments that the Burqa holds different meanings for differing groups of Muslims (some of whom reject the practice altogether), many see the Burqa as an example of suppression of women at worst, and female submissiveness at best. Under either condition, they argue, the Burqa should be seen as anathema to Canadian values.

At first glimpse, they'd seem to be correct.

Yet the fact is that, at the end of the day, Canada is either a free society or it is not.

Anti-Hijab and anti-Burqa activists need to come to grips with the fact that religious freedom must also entail the right for Muslim women to choose either of these garments, if they do so of their own accord. However, Canadian Muslims, if they expect to benefit from the freedom of religion Canada offers, must also accept those freedoms will apply to their wives and daughters as well. Honour killings will absolutely not be tolerated.

Muhammad Parvez should be made an example of what the Canadian justice system holds in store for those who commit such foul acts.

However, banning all religious paraphenalia from schools, as Barbara Kay suggests, would only entrench religious intolerance in Canada, as the increasing fervour surrounding secularism and its religious counterpart, atheism, begins to demand that all religions be suppressed in the public eye.

Whether or not France (time and time again proven to be less tolerant than they pretend to be) has done this is immaterial. People used to agree that religious intolerance is bad, and in the wake of Aqsa Parvez's "honour killing" -- arguably a result of religious intolerance within her own home, as her father refused to respect her differing beliefs -- what is needed is more religious tolerance, not less.

We don't have to respect cultural values that allow for "honour killings". We do, however, have to respect that cultural values may lead people to dress differently than we may otherwise like them to.

To refuse to do so is nothing short of intolerance. We used to agree that was a bad thing.


  1. Distilled to its essence, what it seems to come down to is do you believe in universal human rights, or do you believe in some kind of two-tier system? I happen to believe in the former. To me, it's a no brainer.

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    "Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

  2. Anonymous10:58 PM

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  3. Anonymous11:03 PM

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  4. "Distilled to its essence, what it seems to come down to is do you believe in universal human rights, or do you believe in some kind of two-tier system? I happen to believe in the former. To me, it's a no brainer."

    A rather unfortunate reality regarding human rights is that we must recognize two things:

    First, that there very are different standards for what passes for human rights in foreign cultures, and what passes for human rights in our own.

    Secondly, that we have very little control over what passes for human rights in foreign countries.

    However, we do have control over what passes for human rights within our own country, and that makes how we approach this particular case very important.

    Muhammad Parvez should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law: we need to show any like him who may happen to reside within our borders (I think we must expect that there are more) that we will not tolerate honour killings. This will also send a strong message to foreign countries that do tolerate honour killings: "we do not share your values."

    We must, however, accept the limitations of our ability to affect the standard of human rights in foreign countries. We can condemn them, we could even decline to trade with them, but we can't enforce our standard of human rights globally. It simply isn't possible.

    And, as it regards Anisa's comments:

    I empathize with the situation you're in. However, I would like to note that there is a huge difference between treating women as sex objects and strangling them to death because they won't submit to wearing religious headgear.

    It's as broad as night and day. Although gender equality in Canada obviously isn't perfect, at least our women have freedom.

  5. Anonymous11:17 PM

    I am a pakistani woman in my early 20's. I have been brought up in Saudi Arabia and Canada, and have seen/experienced both cultures to say the following:

    Without a doubt, what happened to Aqsa is WRONG, and horrid.

    However I disagree with Barbara saying that western women are " top-tier", and "fortunate". DONT think so.
    In the mainstream western culture, women are shown as mere sex objects. Referred to - and please excuse my language -as "bitches", "hoes" "broads" commonly by most guys who are teens or in their 20's (from what I've seen). Another example is the mainstream music. Just listen to a song by Ying yang twins, or some other mainstream rapper. I'm sure you'll hear the word "bitch" or "hoe" several times.
    Also,with the continuing rise of binge drinking so popular at most universities, rape and sexual harrasement is not unusual.
    Women still get paid less then men, statistically.
    Women still find themselves listening to obnoxious sexually charged "jokes" at male dominated workplaces. They still experience SYSTEMATIC discrimination and a POISON work environment.
    And what is worse, is that young women in countries such as Canada, or United States "put up with" or even endorse this type of horrible treatment.

    Basically, there are alot of women's rights violations in this world, INCLUDING the western countries.
    Just wanted to point this out, because I think its unfair to just think that women's violations only exist in *those other* parts of the world,and that we're so fortunate to not have that here!

    Chivalry exists even in "those" countries, and women are socially respected. Islam tells men to protect their women: emotionally, financially, and physically.

    Islam is about peace and NOT honour killings.

    Just want to make it clear.

    Barbara needs to get her facts straight.
    Women's violations exist everywhere. In all shape, and form.

  6. Anonymous12:06 AM

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  7. Anonymous12:11 AM

    Patrick, I stay well informed about my suroundings and spot degrating remarks/actions towards women alot. I dont tolerate any males talking "down" to me, so my situation is exactly what I want it to be. Thank you for empathizing nonetheles, I suppose.

    My Pakistani and Islamic upbringing has taught me that respect means alot. Honour killings are frowned upon in my culture and religion YET there are people who defy the norms of society or as peaceful as a religon, that Islam really is.

    Unfortunetly we cannot control other people's actions.

    However, these type of people who have such low regards for human life should NOT be the sole image of "multi-culturalism" OR Islam.

    Canada is NOT bending backwards, because the father is in custody.

    I love this country, and acknowledge the canadian charter of rights and freedom.

    I also love my pakistani culture and my religion, and I have travelled since I was a baby.

    Cultural differences will be there,
    but killing someone in the name of anything is horrid and insane - it is as broad as night and day!

    Simply blaming Islam or other people's cultures is ignorant.

  8. Annie, we've all heard countless ruminations regarding the differing cultural norms amongst different sects within Islam.

    Certainly, you and yours frown upon mercy killings. Excellent to hear. But sadly, not all Muslims interpret Islam the same way you do, just as not all Christians interpret Christianity the same way as do I.

    I condemn abortion clinic bombings. But I don't deny that the people who perpetrate them are doing so because of what they consider their religious values.

    Is Christianity the issue here? No. It's an extremist breed of Christianity, just as in the Parvez case: the issue is not Islam per se, but rather the extremist breed of Islam Muhammad Parvez believed in.

    I will agree with you that it's unfair to blame Islam (I was going to touch on this in my post, but in retrospect, I don't think I did a good enough job of doing so), but I certainly feel it is fair to blame the religious beliefs of Muhammad Parvez.

    It would seem that your religious beliefs are different from Parvez's and I applaud you for that. I also encourage you to speak openly about those beliefs, and from a soapbox more prominent than my humble blog (although I certainly don't want to discourage you from reading it or commenting here).

  9. Patrick, in reality, yes, each country seems to have its own view of what constitutes human rights.

    But are you aware that many, many of the countries where "honor" killings occur have signed U.N. and other international agreements and convenants dealing with human and women's rights? One of them is called the universal declaration of human rights (or something close to that). Jordan is in violation of 17 of these international agreements on "honor" killings alone.

    So these countries have already agreed to what constitutes basic human rights, they've signed on to them. . .why is there no enforcement or withholding of aid pending improvements in the status quo? This is what puzzles me. I think it shows how utterly ineffective the U.N. has become.



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