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Q&A: How to prevent another Shafia tragedy

Sheema Khan answers Globe readers' questions on the Shafia tragedy, and whether we can prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

  • Sheema, your column highlights many of the resources available to victims of domestic violence, as well as the efforts of many Muslim organizations to combat it. Has the coverage of this trial been fair to Muslims in general?
  • For those of you who want more background on the trial and the verdict, here's a link to our main story.
  • I'm afraid Sheema is having some technical difficulties. But she's still online.
  • Hi Massimo. Thanks. The coverage has been very balanced and fair, avoiding generalizations and judgements of Muslims and Islam. Court testimony has been reported, without editorial comment in most cases. Let's hope that continues post verdict, with the opportunity to ask difficult, yet relevant questions.
  • As a temporary fix, you'll recognize Sheema by the id facebook@globeandmail.com.
  • On CBC Radio today, a caller-in to a discussion about the Shafia case said, as a Muslim, he could not condone the murders. He said that nowhere is it allowed to murder for 'honour'. When the moderator asked what he would do if one of his own daughters dated or married outside the faith, he said if members of his community criticized him for allowing it, he would simply disown the daughter and cut off any contact with her. This is not encouraging, but is it the best we can hope for?
  • I heard the same conversation David. It's a little disappointing to hear that. The caller seemed to emphasize the importance of Islamic teachings, yet failed to remember the prohibition of cutting off family ties. Family conflicts are complex, and should be handled with care, in a comprehensive manner. Cutting of contact with one's own children is an unfortunate path taken by some - Muslim or otherwise.
  • Why do you think the accussed are still holding on to their innocence, ie. appeal. With all the condemming evidence against them, do you think, they don't take our legal system seriously?
  • I can't speak to what they are thinking. However, it is clear they did not accept the verdict. Their lawyer will apprise them that an appeal is possible on a point of law, and not out of disappointment with the verdict.
  • That raises an interesting point: How would such a crime have been investigated in Afghanistan? Do you think that contributed to the Shafias' apparent arrogance throughout the trial?
  • Excellent question. In all honesty, I don't know how such crimes are investigated in Afghanistan. I do know that in neighbouring Pakistan, such crimes are not investigated as thoroughly as ought to, or in parts of India as well. During the interrogation with the Farsi-speaking police agent, he (the agent) commented to Shafia that this was not Afghanistan, and that law officials would examine the case in-depth. Arrogance has many roots, including a sense of entitlement and infallibility. We've seen it in many court cases.
  • How can we assist those organizations already trying to prevent these crimes?
  • Many are operating on shoestring budgets. They have staff who are passionate about the work they do, but they lack resources to further their work on a larger scale. First recommendation is for government agencies to bring in the various groups, pool the knowledge, and provide funding in a cost-effective manner. These organizations know where the greatest needs are, and can advised governments accordingly. It is also important to learn from the knowledge they have gleaned, in order to understand the dynamics and complexity of the issues faced by immigrant families. Such information should also be shared with schools, police services, and wider social services agencies. It is a long haul, but, if done properly, a difference can be made, and lives can be improved
  • This is far too common and of course there are many other girls and women out there suffering, probably suffering especially today, after this verdict. Of course we need to get teachers and principals to look out for girls in their schools who they think may have a similar home situation. In this case they tried to get help, they told many people, including going to a shelter, and nothing helped. This is not acceptable to me. But the problem is, even if we educate the teachers and principals and students and shelter workers, these fathers and sons and even mothers with their warped idea of honour don't care ... they think it's worth it regardless. I have no tolerance for their beliefs and no hope that this is going to stop ... studies will be done, task forces will be set up, meanwhile, girls are being abused right now. We shouldn't allow anyone who believes in this to live in Canada.
    by Lynn 1:45 PM
  • As a follow to Lynn's comment, if a teacher or guidance counsellor is concerned about a student or sees risk for honour-based violence, how can he or she intervene in a way that is culturally sensitive?
  • I'd just like to go back to David's posting. A key point brought forth is the issue of reputation (or "honour"). We all value our reputation. No one wants to have it dragged through the mud. However, one of the goals in the "Honouring Families" project in London, is to redefine the meaning of "honour", so that it is a noble concept that entails the care and compassion of one's family foremost.
  • Hi Lynn. That's the million dollar question. We don't have "thought" police in this country. However, we do have certain "red lines" that cannot, and must not, be crossed. We, as Canadians, have to make these crystal clear to all members of society, and to potential new members of our society. Gender equality is one such value. And, I think it was right of the Conservative government to spell this out clearly in the revised citizenship guide, along with the clear statement that honour killing is barbaric and has no place here. The jury verdict, along with the Judge's final remarks, and the Crown's unequivocal statements are part of the strong messaging that is required to make it clear that such actions, and the attitudes that come with them, won't be tolerated. We need to repeat it over and over again, so that those individuals who may think about pursuing this path, will think twice.
  • Massimo - this is where members from the affected community, who are experienced in dealing with family crises, should be consulted immediately to formulate an appropriate intervention. The Muslim Resource Centre in London found in its research that when police and/or child protection services were called in, and their response was culturally insensitive, the child would often retract allegations for fear of getting their parents in trouble. So, it is imperative to build partnerships with experienced Muslim (or other ethnic/religious groups) professionals who have a wealth of expertise.
  • In response to David's posting as well - I am a Muslim woman who dated and married outside of my "culture," but within my religion. My husband is Muslim also but comes from another part of the world. My father and family did cut me off as a means of saving their "honour." It's definitely a twisted sense of honour.
  • Sheema, is there anything you would like to add before we wrap up?
  • Thank you for having the courage to share your difficult situation. Like you, I married within the faith, but outside my Indo-Pakistani culture. It was difficult for my parents to accept at first, but they came around, and they never threatened to cut me off. But, it was difficult for them, because of a) what their peers might say; and b) they cared about my future, and knew very little about my husband's culture - so fear of the unknown. I think we really have to work on redefining honour - a wholesale change in mindset. It can be done, but it will take the efforts of people like you, me and others, to start the process.
  • Thanks, Sheema. Thanks, everyone. for your thoughtful questions and comments.
  • And a final word from Sheema: "Well, this trial has been emotionally exhausting, and thankfully, the verdict was swift. Like many, I take my hats off to the justice system, for the integrity displayed throughout. And finally, let us remember the four women who died, and honour their memories. Let their deaths not be in vain, but rather, an impetus to stop this barbaric practice, and give dignity to all women and men."
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