Dr. Dawg

On domestic assault, misogyny and xenophobia

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The first-degree murder convictions of three members of the Shafia family brings the number of so-called “honour killings” in Canada to 17 since 2002.

It would seem that most of Canada’s million or so Muslims don’t kill their spouses or daughters. Not that “honour killing” is restricted to Muslims—not by any means.

[A]ccording to human rights lawyer Julie Mertus “in Brazil, until 1991 wife killings were considered to be noncriminal ‘honor killings’; in just one year, nearly eight hundred husbands killed their wives. Similarly, in Colombia, until 1980, a husband legally could kill his wife for committing adultery.”

People should stop imagining that categories like “honour killing” have some kind of objective existence. The issue is patriarchal control of women, and the homicides that result from it come in many different guises. “Crime of passion” is another construct-cum-alibi:

Similar to honor killings, crimes of passion often feature the murder of women by a husband, family member, or boyfriends and the crime is often condoned or sanctioned. In the country of Peru, for example, 70 percent of the murders of women in one year, was committed by a husband, boyfriend or lover, and most often jealousy or suspicions of infidelity are cited as the reasons for the murders.

A Canadian Muslim nails it:

Saleha Khan, board member of the London-based Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration, believe that domestic violence is the issue in this case.

“The essence is that it’s the man’s sense of control,” said Khan. “It’s unfortunately something that could be anywhere,” she said.

“In certain communities, it will be called a crime of passion,” she said, “but for others it will be an honour killing.”

In Canada we tend to prefer the rather more non-emotive “jealousy” to explain many “ordinary” domestic homicides.

Between 2002 and 2010 (2011 figures are not yet available), there have been 5,393 homicides in Canada, of whom 1,526 of the victims were women or girls. Between 2000-2009, about a third of all solved homicides were committed by a family member—1,567. 921 of the victims were female. The ratio increases with spousal homicide: as reported by Statistics Canada, the “spousal homicide rate against women has consistently been three to four times higher than that for males.” There were 733 female spouses killed during that period.

Reportedly 24% of spousal homicide cases in which women are the victims are motivated by jealousy.

But “jealousy,” like “honour” or “passion” in this context, simply describes the male sense that control over the wimminfolk is slipping. Anyone who thinks the latter applies particularly to Muslims just hasn’t been paying attention.

The trial and its outcome, however, have produced vast quantities of fodder for the xenophobes. The dreadful Shafias, off to serve a minimum of 25 years in prison for their crimes, have become synecdochic for Muslims in general, immigrants, even non-whites—that last one from the cranky self-promoter Tarek Fatah, who thinks that “Little Mosque on the Prairie” is an Islamist plot.

None will concede what Toronto Star columnist Rosie diManno knows from experience:

Even by Afghan standards of proprietary attitudes toward females and the tolerance for punishment unto death for wayward daughters, the crime as portrayed by the prosecution in a Kingston courthouse is an inconceivable aberration.

Indeed it is. Just as certain forms of Christianity, tinged with sadism and oftentimes racism, are typical neither of Americans nor Christians.

But tell that to the Crown Attorney who prosecuted the case:

…Gerard Laarhuis suggested the verdict is a reflection of Canadian values and ultimately a rejection of those where freedom is denied.

“This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy,” he said.

And more:

It was, as the shy prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis said outside the lovely old Frontenac County courthouse, “a good day for Canadian justice.”

I wonder if Laarhuis would have said this sort of thing in an “ordinary” domestic homicide case? Would he have directed such comments at the perpetrator of such a killing if the latter had been born and raised here, or were Christian instead of Muslim? Would his conviction be publicly called “a good day for Canadian justice?” A “very clear message about our Canadian values?”

To sum up: so-called “honour killings” are a miniscule percentage of all domestic homicide cases in Canada. Domestic homicide itself is a barometer of the status of women in Canada in general, and an issue that should be addressed regardless of what words the controlling male perpetrators use to describe their motives. The tiny “honour killing” sub-category is singularly unhelpful as an analytical tool—but it does contribute to a much wider xenophobic agenda. Which is, of course, the whole point.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 30, 2012 1:38 PM.

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