Most Torontonians, and many Canadians, will remember the tragic murder of young Aqsa Parvez. Toronto Life magazine has written a story that asks some pretty creepy questions:
Over the fall of 2007, Aqsa Parvez shuttled between friends’ houses and youth shelters. She was afraid to go home. Her father, Muhammad, was enraged because she refused to obey his rules. He swore he would kill her.
On the morning of December 10, Aqsa huddled in a Mississauga bus shelter with another Grade 11 student, a girl she had been staying with for the past couple of days. They had plenty of time to make it to their first class at Applewood Heights Secondary School. As they waited, Aqsa’s 26-year-old brother Waqas, a tow-truck driver, showed up at the bus stop. He said that she should come home and get a fresh change of clothes if she was going to be staying elsewhere. Aqsa hesitated, then got into his car.
Less than an hour later, Muhammad Parvez phoned 911 and told the dispatcher that he had killed his daughter. Within minutes, police and paramedics arrived at 5363 Longhorn Trail, a winding suburban street near Eglinton and Hurontario, and found Aqsa unconscious in her bedroom. The 16-year-old wasn’t breathing. The paramedics started CPR, found a faint pulse, and rushed her to Credit Valley Hospital, 10 minutes west. A few hours later, she was transferred to SickKids and put on life support. She died just after 10 that evening. The official cause was “neck compression”—strangulation.
In the days following her death, Aqsa’s story was widely reported in the Canadian media as well as on CNN and the BBC. Was her murder an honour killing or simply a gruesome case of domestic violence? Worldwide, an estimated 5,000 women die every year in honour killings—murders deemed excusable to protect a family’s reputation—many of them in Pakistan, where the Parvez family had emigrated from.
Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism and, to varying degrees of success, condemns institutionalized patriarchy. But there is growing concern that recent waves of Muslim immigrants aren’t integrating, or embracing our liberal values. Aqsa’s death—coming in the wake of debates about the acceptability of sharia law, disputes over young girls wearing hijabs at soccer games, and the arrest of the Toronto 18—stoked fears about religious zealotry in our midst. Is it possible that Toronto has become too tolerant of cultural differences?
Hate crimes against women, crimes resulting from men attempting to enforcing the masculinist code of patriarchy, are a curse upon womanhood and we ought to do everything we can to change the world so that women aren’t deprived of their lives in this way. But “spousal” assault and femicide are crimes that cut across cultures and all socio-economic groups. While there may well be cases where certain cultural or religious beliefs increase the danger to women, broaden the gender “crimes” for which they are maimed and killed, or restrict the lives of women more than others, it makes no sense at all to suggest that crimes against women are increasing in Toronto or in Canada because of multiculturalism and people not integrating into “our” way of life.
It would be constructive to look specifically at the lives of some women to see how we can reach into their families to help them. To blame their “culture” is to miss the point. It further isolates these women and their communities. It’s racist and ethnocentric. And it lets “Canadian-born” men off the damned hook!
In response to this irresponsible piece of reporting, the Toronto Urban Alliance on Race Relations has posted the following “call to action” on Facebook:
On Tuesday November 11th, join us in a “Don’t’ Believe the Hype” Campaign! We are asking you to raise your voice on the important issue of violence against women, racism, and Islamophobia.
Get Involved in Three Ways!!
1) EMAIL or PHONE Toronto Life Editor in Chief, Sarah Fulford. Once you do that, call up five of your friends and get them to do the same. You can reach Ms. Fulford at 416-364-3333 ext 3063, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
WHEN? Between 9am – 9pm on Tuesday November 11th (If that doesn’t work for you, anytime is better than never!)
WHY? Violence against women, racism, and Islamophobia are issues that affect all of us in diverse and important ways. Join us in voicing your concerns and helping to call attention to misrepresentations that are all too common in our media
WHAT TO EXPECT? This number 416-364-3333 ext 3063 will take you directly to Sarah Fulford’s office, where her assistant will either pick up, or you will be put through to her assistant’s voicemail. You can leave a personal message or voicemail recording for her assistant to pass on to Ms. Fulford.
WHAT TO SAY? Identify who you are and where you are from. State that you are leaving a message for the Sarah Fulford, Editor In Chief and express your dismay with the article on Aqsa Parvez. Bonus Points: Talk about a personal experience that proves to you why addressing this issue is so important and urgent.
Here are a couple of talking points about the article that may help. Feel free to use them directly or make up your own:
1) Aqsa’s murder must be looked at through the larger context of violence against women in Canada. The problem is not limited to any one community or religious faith.
2) The article calls Aqsa’s murder “Toronto’s first honour killing”. Approximately 25 women a year are murdered in incidents of domestic violence. The use of the term “honour killing” is an attempt to sensationalize the situation by invoking common stereotypes about the prevalence of “honour killings” among South Asian Muslim families, thereby suggesting that domestic violence is not occurring at alarming rates across Canada. Instead, we should be working to end violence against all women.
3) The article associates Muslim religiousity with a tendency towards violence. In other words, the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely s/he is to engage in this type of violence. This is false and based on Islamophobic stereotyping.
4) The question, “Has multiculturalism gone too far?” suggests that Muslims and immigrants are threats to Canadian society, rather than contributing members to Canadian society. The idea that “our” tolerance or respect for cultural diversity has let “them” continue their oppressive and dangerous behaviours is not only based on racist and Islamophobic stereotyping of diverse Muslim and immigrant communities, but also ignores the ongoing racism that exists in Canada despite our public commitment to multiculturalism.
5) The focus should be on violence against women, not hijab. The article sets up a false dichotomy between Muslim women who wear the hijab as oppressed and Muslim women who do not wear the hijab as liberated. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that all young girls want the same things, completely ignoring the diversity and richness of Muslim women’s voices and lived experiences.
2) COME TO THE SPEAK OUT AND PRESS CONFERENCE on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 10:30 AM at YWCA located at 80 Woodlawn Avenue East, Main Lounge. Panelists include representatives of: Muslim Young Women, Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children, Urban Alliance on Race Relations. For more information contact
416-703-6607 x 3
3) SUBMIT TO THE AQSA ZINE # 1. It is a grassroots zine that is open to all 13-35 year old young women who self-identify as Muslim. This issue’s theme is self-defense and resistance. It is a creative avenue for us to express ourselves, share our own experiences, and connect with others. Submissions deadline is December 1, 2008. firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: aqsazine.blogspot.com