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The Deadly Mindset Behind "Honour Killings"

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Mohammad Shafia (centre), Hamed Shafia and Tooba Mohammad Yahya, behind police officers to the left, arrive at the Frontenac Court courthouse in Kingston Ontario on Friday, October 21, 2011.

"And when the girl-child buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed. (Quran 81:8)"

This verse from the Quran seems to be the most appropriate for this story. A man, along with his (second) wife and son, stands accused of orchestrating the murders of his three daughters and a first wife (who could not bear children, hence the second wife).

In the early hours of June 30, 2009, a woman of Afghan background dared to do the unthinkable: learn how to drive. You know what I'm talking about: the moment for most young people when they finally get to be in control of something that's for all intents and purposes a big deal, for once in their life.

This is not a story from Kabul, Afghanistan where the family originates. This is a story from Kingston, Ontario -- home to the Royal Military College campus, Canadian Forces Base Kingston and even the Kingston Penitentiary that may well become the new home of the family members accused in this alleged case of honour killings in Canada.

Evidence in this case is still emerging as the trial continues, but quite a bit of information (not evidence) is already available through the initial coverage of this case in mid 2009. The Crown's allegation is that the father had begun to perceive the liberal attitudes taken by four women constituted an egregious display of immorality and as such, warranted their death. Keep in mind, he had been in Canada for a whole two years, having come from a place, which is for all intents and purposes, a failing state.

Recently, we have heard allegations in court that the father, in collaboration and conspiracy with the mother and son, orchestrated this killing to reclaim this supposed lost honour by having young girls who might have become rebellious.

"What will people say" is another major problem in such a mindset: If someone in the community just whispers that the girls have done something wrong (to us it would be small, to this mindset, anything is a trigger: Facebook, text messaging, you name it), they are guilty until proven innocent. Was this proof for the father that the girls had been corrupted by the West? Generally speaking, learning to drive would only give them the opportunity to have free sex, which surely would be the next step (is how the thinking goes in this Old World mentality). This is why women are practically locked up so as to "save" them from themselves (yes, it's always her fault).

Honour killings are not exclusive to Muslims; hardline Sikhs, Hindus and Christian Arabs are notorious for them also for not cooperating with arranged marriages or otherwise exerting inklings of feminine self. The overwhelming majority of honour killings and FGM that occur in Muslim societies do so in the harsh and austere environments, which constitutes much of the geography of places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East and North Africa. This if of course, not to say, "the desert made 'em do it" but to note the environment in which the Quranic verse was first revealed and the kind of mindsets it tries to correct.

Girls being buried alive still happens in India (mostly Hindus) due to male gender preference (to do the farming of course) and modern female infanticide is manifested by using ultrasound to find out gender early so that if it's a girl, the fetus can be aborted (China). I would qualify this as another form of "honour killing" not because I believe conception equals life (I do not), but ending the life of a female child because of gender or imagined immorality that supposedly comes with it.

This anti-female child attitude is condemned in another verse also:

When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on? (16:57-58)

In the end, child or adult femalicide (yes, it's a real word) is among the pre-Islamic practices that are expressly prohibited, lacking honour completely and subject to findings of guilt by God. As for judgement in a court of law, well -- the case continues...

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