Make Friends not Generalisations (2011)

images(Published in Guelph Mercury 2011)

In the last six weeks a ‘Trial by media’ besides the official trial in the court of justice can be seen happening over a tragedy that has befallen a Montreal based Afghani origin family.

Three girls and their step mother are gone forever and their parents Mohammad Shafia and Tooba and their eldest brother Hamid are accused for carrying out their murder. Based  on the crown evidences being presented as yet, media led by a Toronto based journalist, has already pronounced them guilty.

If the journalist is right as is most likely, this writer condones the act as no person has the right to take other person’s life whatever the justification one may feel.  May the departed souls rest in peace and whosoever carried out the act, repent it and learn from the private hell of their own creation.

However I have serious disagreements to the generalisations being derived for the whole community and the attempts being made to show inferiority of other cultures over Western culture.

Statements like ‘honour killing’ is a way of life, that women are second rated citizens, that arranged, read ‘forced’ marriages are common, that all this and much more happens in ‘that’ part of the world, are being thrown about in abundance. It is also being generalised that when such people from South Asian region are allowed in Canada, the culture shock that they get completely enamours them and leads to intense family conflicts especially when they see the ‘superior’ ways in which women are treated in the West.

Unfortunately mostly from the South Asian region, only the negative stories come out, as they make news in Western media. In reality, the tremendous respect, clout and prestige women command in South Asia today is not even a story any more, but a way of life. For every Pakistani lady who is tortured in tribal areas where illiteracy still rules, there are hundreds of thousands if not more, who live a fully normal life and in fact outshine men in all walks of life. And the same change is happening in Afghanistan today after the departure of Taliban. Not to talk of India where women are even worshipped as Goddesses.

Yes the cultures are different.

It is still considered the parents responsibility to pay and provide for the children’ education including for the university and even for their marriages, which mostly parents end up arranging themselves. Still almost always, the girl and the boy have the opportunity to accept or reject their parents’ choice. Such marriages happen with sometimes just one or two meetings between individuals before the actual marriage and the success rate for such marriages is still ninety nine percent plus.

While women may not move around there freely in most areas with bare minimum clothing, does the empowerment come just by shedding clothes? Beauty in their culture does not need to bare, as is true perhaps everywhere else. You can walk on the beach, see men and women in various stages of undress with no emotions and can still be enamoured with a smile or even eyes of a fully covered person in a religious place and feel aroused.

And when these people immigrate, one cannot expect them to leave their past behind. While going through the immigration process, I did not see a single requirement which said that I need to shed my culture, traditions, language, food habits, when I arrive in Canada. Not one question. Then why are people expected to change overnight when they arrive.

Surely they assimilate, wear new clothing, adapt to new surroundings, languages. Some fast, some slowly. Some completely, some in bits and pieces.

That is what human nature is about. And if out of a wide churning, in isolation, some poison comes out, is it justified to poison our minds and start looking down upon entire communities and cultures.

Let us not see Mohammad Shafia in all Mohammad’s that we meet nor treat any South Asian lady as backward just because she covers herself fully.

While we arrive here and try and create wealth for the nation and ourselves by our skills and hard work, which is why we were accepted as immigrants, we may also like to retain part of our heritage and culture that we are proud of, that is built in our ethos while adding our spice to the melting pot of Canada.

Thank God the ‘Shafia murder trial’ is over.

With that culminates into its logical end the path to justice with the declaration of guilt for Mohammad Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed Shafia for killing their four family members , Shafia’s three teenage daughters and his first wife in the name of protecting his concocted sense of family honour.

The crime was unacceptable in any society anywhere in the world and justice has been delivered.

Much has been written in print media about the case and neither do I have the desire to add to the coverage of the case, nor do I feel the need to do it.

But I still would like to thank God that this trial is over.

Since now the media hype or rather the media circus created with the trial and the ‘sensational’ coverage and ‘comments’ made on this senseless crime by one Toronto Star columnist is also over.

Before you start crucifying me too as an entire community and region was crucified by the journalist  as if humans and human society laws do not exist there, let  two things be clear- I fully agree with the justice delivered and also that I do not belong to the community or the religion of Shafia. In fact I have long back denounced all religious boundaries as they seem to bring only hate in this world and make people forget the true religion of humanity.

However I have serious objections to the way the Canadian media covered the entire story with the Toronto Star columnist providing a ring side view of the drama while commenting generously on how the Afghan society and the people in the region treat their womenfolk and how Canada is superior to them. In one of the articles, she even added the entire South Asian community as guilty of treating their girls and womenfolk wrongly.

True there are inequalities and problems which exist in societies world over  and Afghanistan or South Asia have are no exceptions to the same.  But to generalise that ALL womenfolk are treated badly is an extreme and false view.

Just because one Shafia or maybe a few other Shafias out there get mixed up with their own perception of honour or religion, does that mean that the entire Afghan community or South Asian community feels the same way.  Or needs to be generalised  upon.

Just because one Canadian born Colonel Russel William or some other Western born sexual predators carry out heinous acts in the West and even in distant places like Thailand, India where they visit, should all the Westerns be classified as same.

No, generalisations are the best recipe for hatred and mistrust to build in communities.

Shaifa’s  was an isolated case, a personal Shakespearian tragedy and should have been treated as one rather than trying to prove the superiority of one country or one community over another.

There was no need to get the comments of just  Muslim leaders over the story as if the Muslims need to prove to the world that they do not feel like Shaifa.

The Toronto Star editorial was right in defining the crime as a tragedy and accepting that violence against women is not restricted to a religious or social community and is spread all over including in Canada.

If at all we need to use this case to ponder inside on whether we are allowing any Shaifa’s to breed inside us who are intolerant to the way the others think or act. And if we find his traces inside, are we not guilty who are not punished since we are not caught as yet.

It was also sad to read the elation shown by the Toronto columnist in the final judgement by using the same words which the murderer had used to condemn his daughters.  While there were many,  I would just quote one example.

“And may the Devil s—t on their graves.” It was as if by repeating the same words to condemn the three killers, justice was being delivered in her own way by the journalist sitting in the judge’ chair. And I would not use the word media as I do not wish to generalise like her.

The religion of humanity that I understand states that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind and it hurts when civilised people stoop down to the same levels of people like Shafia over whom they wish to proclaim their superiority of thought and action.

Canada I accept and respect your justice and the system that brings it.

The Toronto Star columnist and journalists like her who would like the beast inside to roar and celebrate than accepting the sadness and pathos human follies bring, it’s time you understand the meaning of Canadian values rather than proclaiming them. 

 Appeared in Guelph Mercury – December 12th 2011

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