Last week the Post published excerpts from the new guidebook issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. I was asked by a radio talk show host what difference the guidebook would make in terms of my own writing on issues the new text raised, especially the section on gender relations, one of my niche topics. I replied that I would still be saying exactly what I have always said, but now that the government’s official position is the same as mine, I won’t have to feel defensive anymore. I was thinking specifically of the passage in the section “The Equality of Women and Men” (note the word order) where the guidebook says: “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’... or other gender-based violence.”
Barbaric? Barbaric? That’s a judgment — a negative judgment — of other people’s cultural practices. We may have arrived at a watershed moment in the history of multiculturalism. Indeed, this may be our official policy of multiculturalism’s “tear-down-this-wall” moment. It may even soon be possible to say that multiculturalism has failed as a national policy without being labelled a racist.
Good on Jason Kenney for pointing out this particular naked emperor. For too long violence in the West directed against girls and women from honour/shame societies by their male relatives, often with the complicity of their female relatives, has been reflexively lumped in with all domestic violence (DV). The refusal to distinguish between the two types of violence is championed by gender ideologues who can’t bear the idea that some forms of violence against women are a culturally imposed pathology and not, as they would prefer, a tragic but predictable example of the inherently misogynistic and controlling instincts of all men.
Ideologues are abetted in this wilful sabotage of common sense by ethnic associations who at best ignore the abuse and at worst deflect criticism from their cultural “values” by insisting such abuse is normative.
When 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez was allegedly murdered by her father in Mississauga, Ont., reportedly in part for not wearing a hijab, Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress brushed off the tragedy with a stunningly cynical dumbing-down of its horror: “I don’t want the public to think that this is an Islamic issue or an immigrant issue. It is a teenager issue.”
But Elmasry is right about one thing: Honour killing is largely (about 90%), but not solely, a practice of Muslim societies. Amandeep Atwal, 17, of British Columbia, was stabbed 11 times by her father, Rajinder Singh Atwal, for refusing to end a relationship with a non-Sikh boyfriend. Hindus and even Christians coming from South Asian cultures kill girls and women for reasons of family or community “honour.” It’s difficult to ascertain numbers: Many honour killings are passed off by the victims’ families to authorities as suicide or accidents.
While honour killings are a minority of all domestic killings, they are also a distinct phenomenon. Lenore Walker, author of The Battered Woman Syndrome (2000), notes the difference between the victim-perpetrator in honour killings and those in Western society: “In ordinary domestic violence involving Westerners, it is rare for brothers to kill sisters or for male cousins to kill female cousins. And while child abuse occurs in which fathers may kill infants and children, it is very rare for Western fathers to kill teenage daughters.”
In the West it is far more typical for fathers who disapprove of their daughters’ lifestyle or behaviour to shun them or disassociate from them. There are a whole slew of differences besides these between honour killing and normative domestic violence. Honour killings target mostly daughters; normative DV is bilateral between intimate adult partners. Honour killings are carefully planned; DV is spontaneous. Honour killings involve complicity with other family members; DV is a private affair. Honour killing is motivated by perceived family humiliation; DV is not about honour: DV springs from personal psychological problems. Honour killings are perpetrated with extreme ferocity (rape, burning, stoning, hacking, even burying alive); DV is simply and hastily executed — usually by gun, knife or blunt object. Most important of all: Honour killings elicit approval in their communities; DV elicits disgust.
Perhaps now that the government has “outed” the obvious fact that systemic, socially approved male violence against women is not a genetic but a cultural pathology, we can begin to address it seriously and help the thousands of immigrant women who are kept in ignorance of their rights and the thousands of immigrant men who are oblivious of their culpability.
But we must do more than educate them. Because even when these brainwashed women become aware they have rights, they are usually too frightened of retribution for their perceived rebelliousness — and justifiably so — to challenge the collective dogmas of their kinship groups.
This guidebook is a great first step. The next step should be to extend meaningful outreach and protection to women inside these communities. I would hope that feminists would applaud Jason Kenney’s courage in admitting an unpleasant truth, and support him loudly and clearly. If they don’t, they can hardly call themselves feminists.