First published in The Silhouette on December 1st, 2011

My soul cringes with disgust every time details of the Shafia murders are revealed. So much so that I have difficulty finishing the articles detailing accounts of what the Shafia sisters were going through. But unlike most people following the trial, my disgust and anger is twice that of anyone else – partly as a human, and partly as a Muslim.

Every now and then we hear of people committing unspeakable crimes. Here in Canada, the most recent one was that of Russell Williams. While public outrage and anger was directed at Williams alone during his trial, this certainly is not the case for the Shafia trial. Afghan Muslim immigrants have allegedly committed the Shafia murders. The blame in this case has been relegated to everything but the accused, it seems. Different groups are now using this unfortunate tragedy as an opportunity to advance their respective agendas.

Right-wing media outlets have already started using the incident to attack multiculturalism and its failure in Canada. They argue that it is political correctness and accommodation of immigrants that doomed the four women. Being overly sensitive towards Muslims is what caused the authorities to overlook the ‘honour killing’ that was about to take place. How these people mix-up religious accommodation with abuse towards women is beyond me. Even the most extreme interpretations of multiculturalism don’t call for accommodation of moral vices.

The Islamophobes are using it to warn us of the impinging threat that Muslims pose to this nation. The Shafia sisters, along with Aqsa Pervez, will now become the poster children of their movement. They will use this incident to further their case that Islam is, in fact, what inspired this crime. Statements from Quran establishing the sanctity of human life, the prohibition of such despicable acts and the commandment for the good treatment of women by the Prophet Muhammad are meaningless for this group.

The secularists are using it to prove the evils associated with religion, and the misogyny that they claim to be inherent in it. Their belief that Muslim women are forced to wear headscarves is further strengthened and their mission to liberate the ‘poor Muslim woman’ has gained more momentum. Their inability to differentiate patriarchal tribal customs from the normative practices of Islam is unfortunate, to say the least. These uninformed superficial attempts only end up inflicting more harm upon Muslim women, who, for the record, are quite capable of speaking for themselves.

Since the label of an ‘honour killing’ has sensationalized the murder and has sparked a series of unnecessary debates, I for one will attempt to set the record straight. Mohammed Shafia, if you are in fact guilty, then you are a sick man. Killing your own kin is one of the most despicable acts humanly possible; doing so in the name of preserving honour is even more perverted. The dysfunctional family you fostered was your own doing. Now you’ve punished your daughters for your poor parenting.

You’ve dishonoured not only yourself but your co-religionists too. Average Canadian Muslims like me will bear the brunt of your misdeeds. We will spend the coming ages explaining to people that our faith condemns, in the strongest terms, the heinous act you committed. We will have to go the extra mile to convince people that Muslim women observe their faith out of their own free will, and not under the Nazi-style hegemony you had imposed on your family. Freedom was all your family yearned for, but you deprived them of it. I hope you too are treated in a similar fashion, with your freedom restricted behind bars for good.

The National Post reported two cases of murder which it alleges are honour killings. Their coverage of these murders and the editorial written supporting the use of the term ‘honour killing’ are perfect examples of why this term is problematic and should be avoided in journalism unless necessary.

The Post alleges that these murders are honour killings based solely on the fact that they were committed by South Asian men. No statement from police investigations reported this and neither have the perpetrators of this heinous crime made remarks alluding to such an intent.  For all we know at this point , these two murders could have driven by jealousy, anger or revenge. Also interesting to note is that the National Post, to my knowledge, is the only major Canadian newspaper to have reported this story in such light. Perhaps the others ones decided to be a little more cautious before passing judgment.

The problem with the term ‘honour killing’ is that it stereotypes the ethnic background and religious beliefs of the perpetrators . Usage of this term sensationalizes the murder and redirects the anger from the killer to the ethnic or religious community to which they belong. It takes away the real debate, which is on a form of domestic violence, to unnecessary debates on immigration, multiculturalism and religion; none of which are issues at stake. Crimes will take place as long as there are humans in Canada; they might be committed by ethnic immigrants or natives like Karla Hamolka or Russell Williams. Murders motivated by jealousy aren’t labelled ‘jealousy killings’; the same should be applied to other crimes.

Aqsa Parvez’s story is prime example of this phenomenon . She has now become the poster child for groups that attack Islam and demonize Muslims.  Her story is frequently quoted to demonstrate how barbaric Islam is and how backwards its adherents are. This has gotten to the point where many people sincerely believe that Islam endorses or even condones such odious crimes. People fail to see that honour killings are medieval forms of domestic violence and are endorsed by no one. Members of the Sikh community have also committed these crimes in Canada; it obviously doesn’t mean their faith calls for it.

Should we not have an open debate on honour killings if it is a problem in our community? People could also make the argument that generalizations are fair if its reoccurring from a particular group of people. Statistics however point otherwise. Out of  around 5500 homicides committed in the past 9 years,  13 have been honour killings. This is about .23% of all homicides; hardly enough data to make such vast generalizations. At this point, its more important for us to have debates on other forms of domestic violence.

Barbara Kay’s suggestion to introduce specific legislation for honour killings is even more absurd.  She argues that famliy members often aid the father, who usually carries out the killing, and they too should be automatically charged. Again, this generalization is based on the 13 cases in Canada? Such legislation would only be harmful as it would automatically cause innocent family members to become suspects. It would also cause investigators to make assumptions about the crime without evidence to support it and would compromise its validity.  For example, they might throw the book at the father automatically while it might have actually been the mother who was responsible.

This suggestion was rightfully turned down by the courts who said that a murder is a murder, regardless of motive. Just like we don’t have specific legislation for crimes of passion and jealousy, we shouldn’t have one for honour killings. Each crime is to be treated by on a case by case basis . We ought to trust the justice system to be competent enough to identify the criminals and exact on the them the punishment they deserve.