Honour killings, polygamy, and a family wide cover-up. Once upon a time this would have led Canadians to think of far off and exotic places where only such a heinous crime could occur. Distressingly, however, it took place on Canadian soil.
In October 2009, Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya, and their son Hamed, drowned three of the Shafia daughters -- Sahar, Zainab, Geeti -- along with Rona Amir, the concurrent wife of Mohammad and Tooba. It took two and a half years for the Shafias to go to trial. The trial lasted over three months. And after a mere 15 hours of deliberation, the jury had come to the conclusion that Mohammad, Tooba, and Hamed were all guilty of first-degree murder.
The verdict is a cathartic end to a trial that revealed the horrors of living under the tyrannical rule of an abusive, patriarchal household. Yet, as a society, we still take issue with the semantics of the crime. Consequently, we are often uncomfortable labeling premeditated murders such as this one as an honour killing, under the guise of political correctness and multiculturalism.
Honour killing is an accurate term used to describe an atrocious crime, plain and simple. Attempting to change the name of honour killing to a less poignant term would be akin to changing the term female genital mutilation (FGM), to something else. It is what it is; both terms allow for an accurate depiction of what the term is describing. Both practices are disgusting, archaic, and culturally sanctioned. And yet I see no movement to try and call FGM a "culturally-based vaginal reconfiguration" instead. So why all the focus on honour killings?
Last spring, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, saw himself in hot water when he objected to the Conservative government's use of the word barbaric to describe honour killings. After back peddling himself into a brick wall, Mr. Trudeau conceded that honour killings are indeed morally reprehensible and apologized for his comments.
I understand why many white Canadians, including Mr. Trudeau, would tread softly around the subject of honour killings: they do not want to seem racist. Fair enough. Although it must be highlighted that the term honour killing is not racist, nor is it religiously intolerant, since honour killings happen to occur amongst various races and religions. Undeniably, honour killings occur in any culture that is rooted in patriarchy and misogyny, which unfortunately happens to span the globe, and knows no boundaries -- religious, ethnic, or linguistic.
Conversely, I systematically fail to understand when people, especially women, who belong to the cultural groups most at risk for this kind of violence -- South Asian, Middle Eastern, North and Central African -- consistently object to qualifying honour killings as such. Community leaders are doing a disservice to their people by ignoring this profound problem, and instead chalking it up to racist tactics used to further marginalize immigrant communities.
Obviously, there is no ethnic monopoly on domestic violence or murder. Nevertheless, the motive behind honour killings is one that is in diametric opposition to our Canadian ideal of gender equality. Moreover, there is an insidious amount of collusion from other family or community members in honour killings -- including other women -- that is not usually present in other forms of domestic violence.
The trial judge, Hon. Robert Maranger, said it best:
It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honourless crime. The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour...that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.
So let us all take off our multicultural goggles and see honour killings for what they are: culturally motivated, violent crimes that are committed against women and have no place in a civilized society. Surely, that is something all Canadians can agree on.