Male authoritarianism and control are deeply embedded in many cultures. A close study of Canada’s South Asian communities will reveal that male authoritarian inclinations are hidden deep beneath the displays of higher education and affluence. The greatest facilitators of this control are women themselves, who are coerced into silent acceptance. The convictions in the Shafia trial present an opportunity to lead the examination to the correct place.
As Sunday’s conviction spread around the country, it released a gamut of emotional responses. Vilification, affirmation of human rights, grief for three beautiful teenagers and a spurned first wife. Justice had to be meted out and so it was. Meanwhile, the ready acceptance that this murder came from the mind of an Afghan patriarch gave air to a fabricated concept that the act was linked to a light-filled term called “honour.”
Honour is associated with acts of chivalry, gallantry and a nebulous adherence to something old-world. One thinks of a jousting match in medieval era, a mounted knight tying a lady’s scarf to his lance. He must win because he has been favoured with the lady’s token. Brought into this century, it can be equated to self-image or self-worth.
There is no “honour” concept in Muslim communities, but there is a long-standing belief that a family’s reputation is dependent on the behaviour of all its family members. (This is never articulated openly; the subject is taboo.) A large number of people belonging to South Asian communities in Canada believe that women of Judeo-Christian cultures are the worst role models. They have sexual freedom, they wear indecent clothing, they have children as single mothers, they demand equality in every aspect of life – this is not what these communities desire for their daughters. The rise of South Asian matrimonial dating and marriage websites in the West is not as innocent as it may appear. It all has to do with choosing one kind of woman over another.
Domestic violence notwithstanding, there is little Canada can do about this deeply concealed attitude reflected privately by such immigrants. Judicial, correctional and educational institutions are incapable of influencing these views.
In these communities, gays hide their orientation, young women hide their sexual activity and all young adults hide alcohol consumption from their families. “If my parents knew, they would kill me,” is a phrase that has tripped from the mouths of many of them during the university years.
In Afghanistan, Mr. Shafia could have easily locked his daughters at home if they disobeyed him. In Canada, the solution was to kill. This is nothing to do with any arcane etiquette that Canadians must grasp and accept – it is a simple, repugnant example of social hypocrisy, the exercise of control through misogyny, culminating in a crime. Instead of wasting time and words talking about “honour killing,” such crimes should be dealt with swiftly, backed by the full weight of the justice system. No translators or culture experts are required.
The father who feels let down, even inferior because his pretty young daughters have boyfriends, wear makeup and may not bag the right Afghan husband should emigrate not to Canada but to some backward country that can offer him face-saving solutions. Mr. Shafia should have stayed in Dubai, his previous home, and Canadian immigration authorities should have examined the family’s financially leveraged entry criteria more thoroughly.
Nazneen Sheikh’s latest book is Moon Over Marrakech, a memoir.