Getting the story straight and the art of misdirection

I thought I would juxtapose these two editorial pieces to illustrate how the intentional misuse of the words racism, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination have become useful distractions from the truth in any matter pertaining to Muslim violence. This is a deliberate strategy by Islamists and sadly by extension, some thoughtful but misguided people trapped in the relativist rabbit hole to avoid any and all legitimate reporting on Islamic extremism. It would appear that they would rather hide behind terms that were once reserved for real, not mythical instances of cruelty leveled at innocents by ignorant, bigoted thugs than confront the obvious hate crimes played out most often against each other, within their own communities.

The first is written by Dolores Chew and Farha Najah Hussain published in the Montreal Gazette. Both women are members of the Montreal based South Asian Women’s Community Centre. Let me say that I understand their call to end violence against all women, but to insist that honour killings have no connection to Islam is false. Worse, to label the media as a bunch of rabble-rousing racists for reporting such tragedies with obligatory honesty is simply wrong.

The second piece written by Leonard Stern in the Ottawa Citizen directly confronts the issue displayed in the first. So, not only does the media have to cover such violence, but too often have to write a story about the story, explaining the necessity for well, writing the first story with the inclusion of the facts.


Patriarchy and violence against women exist in all societies

Media are wrong to focus on ‘honour killing’ as reason for violence

By DOLORES CHEW and FARHA NAJAH HUSSAIN, The GazetteJuly 28, 2009

Immigrant and Muslim women are often put in a paralyzing position when violence occurs against such women in Canada.

This position is a result of the media’s misunderstanding of how patriarchy manifests itself in societies around the world, including North America. This misunderstand forces us and our communities to fight the racism in media reports and readers’ commentaries when we should otherwise be facing the challenge of eliminating all forms of control and violence against women and children.

First, we would like to extend our sympathies to those who are grieving the loss of their friends, family and community members – Zainab Shafia, Sahari Shafia, Geeti Shafia and Rona Amir Mohammad.

And although Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mohammad Yahya and Hamed Shafia have been charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder, they have been convicted of nothing, so it is important to speak generally about the issue of violence against women and children.

Gender violence must be analyzed comprehensively, not viewed as a “cultural problem” among certain communities. If a white man kills his partner and/or children, he is seen as a murderer and a “bad apple.” But when non-whites and non-Christians kill, the crime is often called an “honour killing” and entire communities and cultures are labelled as “backward.”

We agree with the statement of Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women: “Violence against women is endemic in societies where men wield control over women’s lives” and that patriarchal thinking is not limited to the Middle East and Asia. Indeed, as Adeema Niazi of the Toronto-based Afghan Women’s Organization states: “Violence against women exists everywhere.”

This violence includes the actions by partners or family members who think they can control the lives of women and children.

We would like to address the false premise in the Canwest News Service article. “Western freedoms a source of family conflict,” (Gazette, July 24). The article quotes Dianna Nammi saying that children of immigrants who grow up in Western nations take certain freedoms for granted, and this can lead to conflict with their parents.

Nammi states that when moving to another country, parents bring with them culture, traditions and religion and they “are choosing to show the worst part of that, and the worst and criminal part of that is controlling women.”

As an immigrant and a child of immigrants, we feel this assumes that women in other parts of the world are merely victims, not three-dimensional humans fighting to live dignified lives based on justice. Women all over the world are struggling against patriarchal violence.

In Canada, for example, aboriginal women continue to demand justice for more than 500 missing native women. In Afghanistan, women are fighting gender violence within family and local political structures as well as fighting against the violence caused by a foreign invasion.

It is wrong to think that the clash between parents and children is a simple matter of Western-influenced immigrant children vs. their backward parents. Inter-generational differences and conflict are not confined to any region or culture. Around the world, youths are in conflict with their parents about how to live their lives. This is nothing new.

As members of the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, we are no strangers to violence against women. The SAWCC, family and friends have been demanding justice for Milia, a young woman of Bangladeshi origin, who was murdered in Angrignon Park more than 10 years ago. The murder has never been solved. SAWCC has also held commemoration events for the Polytechnique women murdered by Marc Lépine as well as participated in countless campaigns demanding an end to violence against women and children.

It is important that the media stop resorting to stereotypes and clichés. Instead, they should analyze gender violence from an anti-racist and anti-patriarchal perspective to contribute effectively to discussions concerning patriarchal violence.

Dolores Chew is a founding member and Farha Najah Hussain is a member of the Montreal based South Asian Women’s Community Centre.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Politically incorrect, but honest

By Leonard Stern, The Ottawa CitizenAugust 1, 2009 5:04 AM

Muslim leaders have long cried foul when the media highlight the religious affiliation of suicide terrorists. Murders of all kinds happen every day and news reports don’t note which perpetrators attended a Methodist church or which were baptized Catholic. Why the double standard for Muslims?

The religion of those such as the 9/11 hijackers was — is — relevant because, in their minds, the crimes were religious acts. It’s impossible to ignore the Islamic dimension of crimes that are executed in the name of Islam. To pretend that the shared religious identity of al-Qaeda operatives is coincidence would be absurd.

Now it’s fair to ask the media at least to make clear that while terrorists see themselves as holy warriors, they might not represent true Islam. But that’s not what some Muslim leaders are asking. The Islamic Society of North America wants to abandon altogether any mention of the Muslim aspect. “We should just call them criminals,” said Muneer Fareed, the Islamic Society’s spokesman. The Canadian Islamic Congress has likewise referred to the “myth of ‘Islamic’ Terrorism.”

The legitimacy of the term “Islamic terrorism,” to denote terrorism committed in the name of Islam, is easy to defend. But in other criminal cases, it’s trickier to explore the relevance of culture, race, religion or national origin.

This is an issue journalists, police and politicians struggle with all the time. Much of the gun violence in Toronto, for example, is apparently connected to the black community, often Jamaican-Canadian, whose members comprise a disproportionate number of both victims and assailants. But for a long time you wouldn’t have known this from any public discussion about crime in Toronto.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente broke the taboo after the 2005 Boxing Day shooting death of Jane Creba, the 15-year-old who got caught in the crossfire between warring gangs. Wente said it was ridiculous that amid all the handwringing over Toronto’s unsafe streets, “the word ‘Jamaica’ can’t be found … even though police will tell you off the record that 80 per cent or more of the city’s gun crime is Jamaican-related.”

The downside of acknowledging these cultural connections is that doing so can unfairly tar an entire community and perpetuate stereotypes. I’m sure Wente got grief for her column.

But covering them up also incurs costs. First, it’s dishonest. Politicians and social activists who pretend that these shootings are just expressions of generic “youth violence,” when everyone knows otherwise, lose credibility. Secondly, it’s impossible to fix a problem when you deny it exists.

Resources are finite, and need to be directed where most needed. A Caribbean-Canadian growing up at Jane and Finch in Toronto is more vulnerable to gang influences, and therefore in greater need of interventions, than a Korean-Canadian teenager in Markham. A young Muslim in Mississauga is more likely to encounter images of militant Islam than his Italian-Canadian counterpart living around Dufferin Street.

Of course bad people can incubate in any community, but cultural or ethnic groups have particular vulnerabilities. It shouldn’t be forbidden to say so. As one who has always emphasized the Islamic dimension of suicide terrorism, I recently received a gloating letter from someone hoping to catch me in an inconsistency. The writer was under the impression that I would naturally object to news reports mentioning the Jewishness of Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street swindler.

Actually, if I had been the reporter to break the Madoff story, I’d have not only highlighted the Jewish connection, I’d have put it in the lead. Heck, I’d make it the headline. Sure it’s a little different from the issue of Islam and terrorism — Madoff wasn’t expressing an article of religious faith in defrauding people. But Madoff operated within a defined ethnic network, the monied Jewish community of New York, which is why police classified his escapade as a crime of “affinity.”

The crime was made possible because Madoff exploited his position as a big shot — a macher — in that network. I mentioned earlier that we shouldn’t be afraid to say that ethno-cultural groups have particular vulnerabilities. Madoff was as sleazy as they come but his perceived ability to make money conferred on him much status in the Jewish world, which he took advantage of.

Although financial misbehaviour is an equal opportunity vice, rabbis and others who teach Jewish ethics are not out of line to worry that the accumulation of Ivan Boeskys, Michael Milkens and Bernie Madoffs eventually points to misplaced values in some corners of the Jewish community.

Right now there’s a debate whether to situate honour killings in a Muslim context. Some people want simply to place these murders in the catch-all category of “domestic violence.” I suppose that it would be politically convenient for multiculturalists to de-Islamicize honour killings, but it sure won’t do much towards actually stopping them.

Leonard Stern is the Citizen’s editorial pages editor.


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