Monday, January 30, 2012

Shafia Becomes An Excuse For Anti-Muslim Racism

Of course the horror of the multiple murders of three young girls and their mother by the father, son and second wife ought to be condemned. It ought to be the focus for a public discussion about the plight of women who are too often the focus for familial violence.

But that is not what is happening with this trial. Instead the trial is being used to blame immigrants in general and Muslims in particular for violence against women and children. It's posed as "honour" killings, using a symbology that has already been constructed as distinctly foreign and Islamic.

However, while it is certainly the truth that some murderers of women will use Islam to justify their acts, others will use whatever ideology is at hand - Christianity, male supremacy - or none at all. Violence against women is a social, not an Islamic, problem. By deflecting the blame onto the "Muslim community" not only is it deepening the idea that somehow Muslims are preternaturally more likely to harm and oppress women but also that it is a problem confined to that community. The rest of us can rest safe and feel no need to look more deeply at the root causes of violence.

Yet, what is certain is that Robert Picton, who systematically slaughtered dozens of sex trade workers from the streets of Vancouver was not a Muslim. Nor was Paul Bernardo, who raped and murdered numbers of women.

More mundanely, as the statistics demonstrate, large numbers of women across the country face abuse at the hands of spouses as a matter of course. In 1997-98 there 90,792 admitted to the 413 battered women's shelters across Canada. In 2001 69 men were accused of killing their wife or ex-wife. And there were 183 family related homicides in 2001. While the ethnicity and religion of the victims and culprits is not available in these statistics, it is almost certain that the vast majority of family killings were of white, Christian men killing white, Christian women.

And, yet, there is no call for the "Christian community" to wake up and deal with the issue of Christian violence. Even after we have seen repeatedly the scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing children there was no outrage about the complacency of the Catholic community. There is, in fact, a double standard rooted in racism and the justification necessary for the ongoing war in Afghanistan and for beating the war drums about Iran and, previously, Iraq.

Instead of blaming Muslims for this heinous crime, the conversation ought to be about eliminating the real source of oppression of women. It ought to be about addressing lack of funding for social services that make women dependent upon men - like lack of daycare or attacks on women's right to abortion. It ought to address the fact that women are still paid less than men, which is a concrete manifestation of the belief that women are of less value than men. The list could go on.

But, of course, that won't happen. The federal, provincial and municipal governments are all on an austerity binge and, inevitably, the people who suffer the most are those who are already vulnerable - women, immigrants, the poor. Then, when the insurmountable pressure of cuts and demonization leads to acts of interpersonal violence or eliminates escape routes for women, the demonization is simply further ramped up. It means that the tragedy of these murders will not end with the deaths of four women - it will be doubled and trebled by ignorance and misdirection.


Shafia trial a wake-up call for Canadian Muslims - The Globe and Mail:

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