Guilty verdict a victory against domestic abuse, not Muslims
//Lindsay Flynn, writer

Last week Mohammad Shafia and his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, along with their 21-year-old son, Hamed, were found guilty of murdering their daughters Zainab (19), Sahar (17), and Geeti (13). There was overwhelming evidence to convict the three family members of the premeditated murder of the three girls, along with their stepmother, Mohammad's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad (50).

The four women were found dead in their new Nissan Sentra at the bottom of the Kingston Mills lock in Kingston, Ontario upon returning from a family vacation in 2009. The girls were seen as “too promiscuous” and “rebellious” in their behaviour by their patriarchal father. The Shafia family was originally from Afghanistan, but Mohammad made his fortune in United Arab Emirates.

The media coverage around the trial provided ample opportunity for news outlets to perpetuate the stereotype of the extremist Muslim, one who can't be reasoned with and doesn't understand Western values. While the details of a crime's history are important in authentic reporting, the fixation of the media on the notion of the Muslim as an irrational extremist comes from a desire to sell papers.

When a crime like the Shafia case happens, the Canadian Muslim community are forced into a position of having to defend their faith. Some might argue that this is a good thing: where are the moderate Muslims, one might ask? Why aren't they speaking out? They do, but those people's stories don't sell papers.

Domestic violence, while present in the Muslim community, is not exclusive to it. It is almost painful to see the Muslim community here in Canada scramble in the wake of the Shafia verdict to speak publicly condemning violence against women. On Feb. 4, 2012, imams in Mississauga met to publicly denounce honour killings, domestic violence, and misogyny as un-Islamic. Additionally, there is an ongoing “White Ribbon Campaign” to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls being run by the Islamic Institute of Toronto.

The problem is that violence against women in not specific to the Muslim community, nor does an act on the scale of the Shafia murder reflect the majority of Muslims interpretation of their religion. Muslim leaders are clear: killing is forbidden.

Mohammad Shafia displayed abhorrent sociopathic behaviour a la any serial killer. He is a sick man. The murder of his three daughters is not a religious issue, it is an issue of overt hatred. It is an issue of a man's pride, an issue of control. Here is a man who wanted to control the lives of everyone around him, and felt it was his right to do so. To attempt to paint his behaviour as an extension of his Islamic background reveals a sad tendency toward red-neck bias we can have here in Canada, the evidence of which is clear in the online reader comments on articles from Sun News to the Globe and Mail. I have to argue, remember Robert Picton? Not a Muslim. Paul Bernardo? Again, not a Muslim.

The fact is that in many patriarchal societies women are seen as property of their father or husband; again, it is not a cultural norm exclusive to the Muslim community. In the wake of this trial I know that Canadians are looking to improve the police force and child service's approach to similar situations where respect for cultural differences and the potential offending of adults involved cannot take precedence over protecting a child's safety. But a growing desire to lay total blame with social services for their failure to connect two separate incidences where the Shafia daughters contacted them for help, is the desire of the Canadian public to lay blame with an individual body and ignore the larger systemic problems at play – a system that left no checks and balances for Mohammad Shafia's behaviour until it was too late.

An exceptionally successful business man, Mohammad Shafia and his wealth were embraced by our government, the same government which now holds him, his wife, and his son in jail. In a system that champions economic growth as our national raison d'etre, is it any wonder that a man like Shafia could become a Canadian?

Painting premeditated murder on this scale as a Muslim issue is a tactic by the media, and the most overtly racist thing of all. Of course Muslim leaders have to speak out condoning violence in the aftermath, but what a horrible position to be in. The Western world, including Canada, gives Muslims little choice in this post 9/11 world where the political zeitgeist says to the Muslim citizen not, “you have done a bad thing,” but “you are bad.”

//Lindsay Flynn, writer

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