Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Who Killed Aqsa Parvez?

2008

By the complete failure of the West to understand Islam and its secular prophets who evict Christianity from the academy, we are gambling away our own destiny. If this trend continues the survival of our cultural context will become “merely academic.”

(Ravi Zacharias, RZIM newsletter, vol.11, Fall 2007)

 The murder of Aqsa Parvez and of countless other women among Muslims will continue not merely because Muslims cower in silence in their fear of radical Islamists, but also for the apathy of the Western public and politicians  supinely appeasing and accommodating  Muslim organizations such as the CIC.

(Salim Mansur, “Bigotry, Terror Masked as Faith,” Toronto Sun, December 15, 2007)  

When the news broke in Mississauga, Ontario on Monday, December 10, that the father of 16-year old  Aqsa Parvez had been charged with murdering her, it was greeted with a mixture of shock and utter disbelief.  

 More details revealed that this tragic event was the outcome of a conflict between  a strict  Muslim father and his teenage daughter who longed for the freedom she saw all around her. This conflict came to a head when the daughter left home and refused to continue wearing the headscarf that marked her as a Muslim believer. Attempts by others to mediate were futile, her life was cut short, a family cruelly ripped apart and cast into the depth of sadness and despair. 

Nagging Questions

Far be it from us to coldly sit in judgment, while ignoring that here is a family that must be going through the depth of remorse, loss, and confusion. But the nagging questions will not go away, and we should seek some answers. What is it that makes a parent suppress every spark of natural tenderness and love toward  his own offspring? What kind of compulsion drives a person to kill his own daughter and thereby bring utter ruination to his own household? 

The overriding question is of course: Was this murder an instance of the horribly misnamed honour killings that occur in certain Muslim communities where  fathers exercise absolute authority in the family? In such settings women are treated as objects who are required to live within a strictly prescribed set of moral restraints, governing every aspect of their lives, especially their relationship to members of the opposite sex. 

A subservient wife and daughter bring honour to the father of the household. But the opposite is also true. When a wife or daughter seeks to escape his authority that is seen as a shameful failure. There have been all too many cases where the father and/or other male members of the family have killed women and girls who have tried to escape their bondage. Most of these killings occur in Muslim countries. But such crimes are perpetrated even in the free West, where authorities sometimes turn a blind eye.  

Though the details of the circumstances surrounding the death of the young, headstrong Aqsa Parvez, are not known, we can all be sure and agree on one thing: Nothing justifies such an evil deed. Everyone is in full agreement, but there ensued  a vigorous debate among Muslims and others about the deeper motivations behind this murder.  

Denial

There were those who thought that this was just another unfortunate but typical family quarrel  between a first and second generation of immigrants. The first generation, not well adjusted and suspicious about their new environment, wants to jealously protect their children against what they perceive to be  an alien way of life. This sort of conflict between two generations of newcomers, especially those arriving from non-Western countries, happen all the time, so the argument went. 

The National Post published an editorial, “The Meaning of Aqsa Parvez,” on December 12 in which it tried to put to rest the notion that her death might signal that “the loathsome and barbaric practice of Muslim ‘honour killings’ is making its way from South Asia and the Middle East to Canada.”  

The Post editor observed  that this tragic death shows that the assimilation process of some  families can be so rapid and wrenching that a parent can be driven to kill his own child. The editorial concluded with this soothing reassurance: “But it is rare enough that we may at least view it as an isolated criminal act, not part of a larger epidemic.” 

The murdered girl’s brother Mohammad Shan Parvez told a reporter that his family is sick with grief but that what happened is not about culture. Others were all too ready to chime in.  A Newmarket mosque sent a news release that called Aqsa’s death “a tragedy beyond reason.”  

Sameer Zuberi is a spokesperson for the Canadian branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - CAIR-CAN- an organization that is quick to report real or imagined instances of discrimination against Muslims in Canada and the U.S. He stated: “Teen rebellion is something that exists in all households in Canada and is not unique to any culture or background. Domestic violence is also not unique to Muslims.” 

Shahina Siddique, president of the Islamic Social Services, agreed that the death of this young girl  was the result of domestic violence, a problem that cuts across Canadian society and is blind to color or creed.” Twenty Muslim organizations sent an open letter to the prosecutors asking for the strongest possible punishment for her killer, and “zero tolerance for violence of any kind against women or girls.” 

Telling it as it is

But others were not convinced by the argument that this was just another case of teenage rebellion. Interestingly, some of the doubters were Muslims. Tarek Fatah (author of a forthcoming book, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State) and  Farzana Hassan, both members of the  Muslim Canadian Congress, published an article in the National Post of  December 12, under the heading “The Deadly Face of Muslim Extremism.”  

The two authors write that Canadians are justified in wondering whether the death of this young woman  is “a sign of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.”  They explain that radical Muslim men consider themselves  responsible for the conduct of their girls and women. But this is an outlook “rooted in a medieval ethos that treats women as nonpersons ….If their conduct is seen as contravening this austere religious outlook, they are invariably subjected to abuse.” 

The authors claim that Muslims steeped in this version of Islam are ignoring the Koranic exhortations for compassion and tolerance. They take issue with those imams in Canadian mosques who preach Islamic fundamentalism  and warn girls that by taking off their hijabs they would cease to be Muslims. Fatah and Hassan leave no doubt about their total rejection of radical Islam: 

Muslims need to stand up to this sort of emotional and religious blackmail by imams who spread the competing agendas of Saudi Arabia and Iran into Canada. Young Aqsa Parvez’s death cannot be reversed. But in her memory, we can at least challenge those whose message leads to rage and madness. 

Another  prominent and courageous Canadian Muslim critic of radical Islam is  Salim Mansur, political science professor at Western  University. In his December 15 column in the Toronto Sun he writes that this murder “was prompted by an ideology of bigotry and terror masked as a faith-tradition – an ideology  of radical Islamism at war with the modern world of freedom and democracy.” 

Mansur predicts that Muslim apologists in Canada will do their best to characterize  the murder of Aqsa Pervaz  ”like  any other crime that cuts across ethnic and faith  boundaries.’ He warns against Muslim organizations  - “such as the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC)  in free societies such as Canada” which serve as “front organizations for global radical Islamism making apologies for their ideological brethren, and directing polemics against the West for victimizing Muslims  and undermining Islam.” 

This is exactly what some Muslim apologists attempted to do in connection with the death of Aqsa Pervaz. Here are two examples of this attempt to shift blame for this horrendous act. 

More Denial

Haroon Siddiqui, started his December 16 Toronto Star column: “No sooner had the news of the Aqsa Parvez murder filtered out than cultural warfare broke out.” I gleaned from that opening and what followed that he is of the opinion that what Mansur, Fatah, Hassan and other likeminded critics are saying amounts to a form of “mob mentality.”  He also referred to this as “block thinking.”  He ridiculed those who view this murder in the context of  Islamic fundamentalism. 

In contrast  to Siddiqui’s  blunderbuss approach,  assistant professor Anver Emon, who teaches Islamic law at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, used a far more subtle argument. Nonetheless, he makes the same point, if I understand his tortuous arguments correctly, that the murder of this young Muslim girl cannot be attributed to Islam. In doing so he uses a flood of academic jargon that may baffle the uninitiated. 

For example, in a brief statement published in the National Post on December 12, he framed this murder as a criminal justice case, and as a matter involving the principle of multiculturalism that cuts both ways – “i.e. how do ‘we’ Canada accommodate the ‘other,’ and how does the ‘other’ accommodate ‘our’ Canadian values.” This, he writes, implies a multi-layered dialogue in which the question who gets to speak for the “us” and the “them” is going to be a “highly political contest that we may or may not be able to engage.”  He continues: 

Third, implicit in the multi-layered dialogue is a need for education , a curricular response that can foster greater understanding so that the lines that demarcate  the “us” and the “them” do not become essentialized as to be obstacles to building  a Canadian community  that is authentically committed to its principles of multiculturalism. 

“Education and a curricular response”? That would require more Muslim teachers of Islamic law and customs, would it? 

In another article published in the National Post of December 14, Emon agonized about the death of Aqsa Parvez by reflecting on the way he teaches his students by shifting back and forth from common law reasoning to Islamic doctrines. He is convinced that Islamic tradition does not condone the crime Ms. Parvez’s father is alleged to have committed. Yet he wonders: “But is it possible that there is something in his Muslim faith that influenced him to act so outrageously?” 

His answer seems to be a hesitant yes, for he writes that in some Islamic cultures, including Pakistan, women are seen as “symbols of a family’s honour and virtue.” That’s why when Ms. Parvez decided to stop wearing the hijab, family members would see this act as “defying the social order that undergirds her community’s distinctive development and identity.” 

Emon concludes this article with trying to do justice to both sides, but he again does so by raising a number of questions.  So he asks what it is that members of a traditional community fear to lose when they move to a country with a different culture. But the final sentence is directed at us non-Muslims who are shocked by a father’s alleged murder of his daughter for removing her veil.  He writes: “(H)ow might we create a climate where newcomers can openly participate in our society and culture with limited angst, while we celebrate together in what all of us bring to our shores.”  

The Elephant in the Room

How evenhanded. And how utterly beside the point. There is a complete unwillingness to confront the reality mentioned by Mansur and others, including countless people who have firsthand experience of the suffocating tyranny and violence spread in the name of radical Islam, reaching even into the Western democracies. 

Who are you going to believe, the learned professor who speaks in riddles, or those who tell it as it is? Let me conclude with this blunt statement from John Oakley, Toronto radio host, who commented on the murder of Aqsa Parvez as follows: 

No one is on a witch hunt here trying to demonize an entire faith, but rather to get to the bottom of what seems to be a nasty little secret within a certain segment of the community; women are treated as second-class citizens. If that is, in fact, at the root of violence and abuse meted out by some Muslim men, it’s high time to take ownership and confront the elephant in the room…. Denial is not an option.”