28 July 2009

Rideau Canal, Kingston: Four members of the Shafia family found dead

In the Globe and Mail recently, an article by Christie Blatchford appeared about Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammed Yahya, and their 18-year-old son, Hamed, who have been arrested for the murder of three of the couple's children as well as Shafia's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammed. The four women were discovered on June 30, 2009, in the family car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal at Kingston, Ontario. The title of Blatchford's column was 'It's no accident that victims were all female,' a reminder to me of the knee-jerk reactions by feminists to the killings committed by Marc Lepine back in 1989 - feminists who could never let anyone forget that it was women he killed, and only women. The public was never given a chance to get rid of these first impressions, which tended to gather more support as time went on, particularly as opposing voices never had much of a chance to get heard. It's always a rousing opportunity, when something can be explained simply, such as in terms of an 'honour killing,' to gain support for a social cause. But even if the death of the eldest teenage victim could be included under this label, 'honour killing,' it is more likely that the circumstances were far more complex than that, and attempting to explain it away by the claim that they were all female is a bit farfetched.

As ordinary members of the public we don't have access to all the details, but fragments that have emerged in the media indicate that this is a genuine piece of multiculturalism at work - two cultures, at least. If the first wife of Mohammad Shafia had wanted a divorce, as reported by Paul Schliesmann (July 24), that could create a dilemma, and not only because the marriage between them had not been acknowledged legally in this country. When she died last month, at midlife, Rona Amir Mohammed might have been looking forward to a new life apart from her family. Rona had served her purpose, for more than 20 years raising the 7 children that Shafia's second wife, Tooba Mohammed Yahya, had given birth to, and might have thought it was time for a change. But how does one accomplish that, when honour, a clash of cultures, and legal problems lead to further difficulties - seemingly impossible difficulties to reconcile in this new country?

Referring to this as an 'honour killing' surely misses out on the complexity of the circumstances, including the part each of the accused had in the planning and carrying out of the deed. I wonder, aside from that, about the role that Sharia's second wife played in the marriage, especially as it turned out the children she and her husband had together were being cared for by his first wife, who lived with them but who in public was known as their cousin. How shocked would we be if it came out that the girls' biological mother knew beforehand that they were to have their lives ended while on their family holiday? Should we be looking at this as a gender issue, as male against female, to the extent that, if any woman got caught up in the middle of it that there was necessarily a good reason, such as her husband sneaking off to have sex with wife number one, as Blatchford suggests might be a plausible reason for discontent? The family was Muslim, as was Marc Lepine, as it happens, although how much traditional Muslim norms influenced this set of circumstances is questionable. Blatchford writes, "what seems to underlie these murders, what appears to be the real bottom-line context, is the belief that men are superior to women," but I don't believe men see themselves as superior in general, any more than women do when they are trying to maintain control of the little worlds they create. Men may see themselves as having the right to take appropriate steps to resolve difficulties within the family, and their rights are often upheld by female members of the family. This tragedy is an indication of the compexity of gendered relations, of the never-to-be-equal aspects of marriage and parenthood, and the generations of family that follow. Besides that, the differences in cultures may unwittingly have contributed towards the family's having arrived at a point of non-resolution, requiring a solution not able to be accounted for in Canadian multicultural values, norms, or through our laws, leaving us no choice but to acknowledge that our world is not as rational as we like to think it is. Once a mistake has been made, or a straying from accepted norms, perhaps it can simply be too difficult to bring things back to normal.

At the close of Christie Blatchford's column, a note was added: "Comments have been disabled. Editor's Note: We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. We appreciate your understanding." Another piece in the G&M, by Jill Colvin, was open for comments, but why Christie Blatchford was allowed to write from her own narrow-minded perspective and not be open for comments from readers is unexplainable. She added this, about men's superiority: "Canadians don't believe that, do not accept the core belief of many ethnic groups that women aren't equal to men and are less valuable a creature." But Christie, don't you see that people in Canada often show no respect for women unless they're 'like' men - working alongside them, doing things men do, doing it their way, making money, and being as ruthless. They are not above treating with disrespect women who don't fit in with these feminist norms.

It's no accident that victims were all female
Christie Blatchford
Opinions, Globe and Mail
Friday, Jul. 24, 2009
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/columnists/christie-blatchford/its-no-accident-that-victims-were-all-female/article1229548/   or http://SAMcPherson.homestead.com/files/Miscellaneous/2009_Christie_Blatchford_Its_no_accident.doc

Family held in canal deaths
Andrew Chung Toronto Star
Thursday, Jul 23, 2009

Parents charged with murder
By Jill Colvin
Globe and MailFriday, Jul. 24, 2009
Direct link to article no longer available

Were deaths of 4 women a matter of 'honour'?
Andrew Chung In Kingston, Ont.
Daniel Dale In Toronto
Toronto Star
Jul 24, 2009 04:30 AM

Parents, son charged in canal deaths
By Paul Schliesmann, Sun Media
Canoe News
July 24, 2009
or http://habsrus.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=NonHockey&action=print&thread=14328

Links updated Apr 12, 2012

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