Normalizing the Kingston Honor Killings

Just another Canadian murder case?

Last month, after the Costa Concordia fiasco in Livorno, Gregoria De Falco – the port official who ordered the cartoonishly cowardly captain, Francesco Schettino, to get back on his ship and aid in the rescue effort – became an instant hero.  But De Falco's wife dissented, saying it was “ridiculous” to call her husband a hero.  “The worrying thing,” she said, “is that people like my husband who simply do their duty every day, immediately become idols, personalities, heroes in this country. That is not normal.”

Wise lady.  But it's not only in Italy, these days, that some people are awed when others simply do their duty.  Take last Sunday's guilty verdicts in the Kingston, Ontario, honor-killing case.  On June 30, 2009, as Stephen Brown recounted here the other day, three teenage sisters and their father's first wife were found dead in a car in the Rideau Canal.  Three weeks later, police arrested the girls' father, Afghani-born real-estate tycoon Mohammad Shafia, their mother, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their brother, Hamed.  All three have now been handed 25-year prison sentences for first-degree murder.

You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to crack this case.  Far from it.  The perpetrators' alibis were monumentally feeble, the motives transparent, the evidence ludicrously incriminating.  On the family computer, someone had Googled “where to commit a murder” and “Can a prisoner have control over his real estate.” On wiretaps recorded after the murders, the father was heard boasting of his sense of honor, calling his dead daughters “filthy and rotten children” and saying “may the devil shit on their graves.”

Yet after the verdict, commentaries hailed the judge and jurors as courageous.  How depressing that it should be considered courageous to send such people to prison!  “Experts in so-called honour killings,” wrote Monique Muise in the Montreal Gazette, “heralded the verdict as a step forward; a clear message that neither Canada’s courts nor its people will tolerate this type of crime.” How depressing that a free country needs to send a message that it's unacceptable to kill your children!

There are other depressing aspects to the case.  Even to breathe the words “honor killing” in connection with such a crime nowadays is to invite a lecture by multiculturalists to the effect that the very term is racist.  “Murder is murder,” they'll insist; “non-Muslims kill their loved ones, too.” Readers of an article on the CBC website about the Shafia case felt compelled to protest that “we [Canadians are not] superior to any culture when it comes to how we treat children” and that “we shouldn't make negative comments about immigrant's [sic] practices when domestic violence is rampant amongst those who are Canadian born.”

This was basically the line Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, fed to Muise.  “I’m frustrated and fed up with the kind of emphasis and time that’s been spent calling it an honour killing,” Hogben said.  “The media attention in particular has been very much on this being something exotic, something foreign, as opposed to the fact that this was the murder of four women in Canada,” she said. “I think it was because that separated us from them. People want to believe it’s other people doing this. Canadians don’t do this.”

In other words: let's pretend this is just another murder.  Let's pretend it's not a lesson in the terrifying power of Islamic ideology – its ability to trump with ease that supposedly most powerful of emotions, parental love.  Let's pretend that cases like this don't represent a warning to civilized democratic countries that we've allowed into our midst a way of thinking that's as potentially deadly as any poison.

Then, of course, there's the inevitable hand-wringing over anti-Muslim “backlash.”  Michelle McQuigge provided a fine example of this in a whiplash-inducing article headlined “Shafia murder trial casts shadow over Canada's Islamic community.” Muslims, she wrote, “blanch at the term 'honour killing,' believing it to be a misrepresentation of the faith they practice.” She then admitted that there is a serious problem with “honour-based violence” in the Muslim community.  But having acknowledged this, she immediately assured readers that “the call for gender equality” is “at the heart of” Islam," that “'honour killings' are explicitly condemned in the Qur'an,” and that such actions are the result of misinterpretation of scripture by uneducated people from rural parts of the Muslim world.

Who was her authority for these claims?  None other than Imam Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, whom McQuigge quoted at length.  Apparently embracing Soharwardy's spin on the Kingston killings, McQuigge characterized them as “[t]he actions of one misguided family” who “single-handedly revived stereotypes of violence and intolerance that have dogged the [Muslim] community since 911.” And she conveyed, without any hint of disagreement, Soharwardy's claim that domestic violence isn't a widespread problem in the Muslim community and his lament that an event like the Kingston murders “provides opportunities to Islamophobes to reignite hate against Muslims and badmouth our religion.”

Throughout her article, McQuigge presented Soharwardy as an implicitly educated, sophisticated, benign, modern guy – a Muslim believer, in short, whose understanding of Islam is the very antithesis of Shafia's.  Apparently McQuigge didn't care to remind her readers that when the Danish Muhammed cartoons were reprinted in the Canadian magazine the Western Standard, it was Soharwardy who called the cops and insisted they arrest its editor, Ezra Levant.  When they refused, it was Soharwardy who hauled Levant before the Alberta Human Rights Commission and ended up costing him over $100,000 in expenses.  Nor does McQuigge care to mention (or does she not even know?) that Soharwardy – for all his efforts to leave the impression that he (and most other Canadian Muslims) take a less literal, more Westernized approach to the Koran than Shafia does – is on the record as insisting that sharia law is “universal” and “divine” and “cannot be customized for specific countries.”

Indeed, gratifying though the Kingston verdict is, there would appear to be a general reluctance in the Canadian media to recognize its larger lessons.  Yes, there's been plenty of talk about the need for Canadians to stand up to “patriarchal” conduct and to “culture-based” violence and misogyny in “immigrant communities.” But in these disquisitions the word "Islam" is often conspicuous by its absence – except, of course, when commentators make a point of insisting that these atrocities have nothing do with “true Islam.”

Only the gutsiest of Canadian columnists seem willing to draw a clear line between these murders and their explicit ideological roots in sharia law.  Which is a terrible pity – for if there's any plus side to the cold-blooded executions of Rona Amir Mohammed and Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti Shafia, it's that, if properly understood, they provide a blindingly clear lesson in the difference between the pretty multicultural lies about Islam and the grim, intractable truth.

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