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No More Harems: The Hidden History of Muslim and Ex-Muslim Feminism

Canada — the country which prides itself on its “multiculturalism” -- is, therefore, also the country in which honor-related violence (normalized daughter and wife beating, forced veiling, forced arranged marriage, serious punishment for “westernizing”) also exists. Honor killings — cold-blooded family executions, mainly of young daughters, but also of wives and sisters -- flourish in Canada. True, the perpetrator is tried and often convicted. His accessories rarely are. And the cultures which mandate such crimes continue. Their victims are all Canadian citizens who were born in Canada but to immigrant parents.

For example, in the last twelve years, Canada has had more than twelve high-profile honor killing victims: Farah Khan (1999), Jaswinder Kaur (2000), Amandeep Singh Atwal (2003), Khatera Sidiqui and Feroz Mangal (2006), Aqsa Parvez (2006), Rona Amir Mohammed, Geeti, Sahar, and Zainab Shafi (2009)  Shaher Bano Shahdady (2011), Ravinder Bhangu (2011). The perpetrators are mainly Pakistanis but they are also Afghans.Two cases were Sikh-on-Sikh crimes, the rest (80%) were Muslim-on-Muslim crimes.

According to Iranian-Canadian lawyer Homa Arjomand (who led the fight against the imposition of Shari’a law in Canada’s Ontario province but who was unable to speak at the 9/19 conference in Toronto), Canada’s “multi-culturalist” policies are endangering Canadian female citizens who are Muslims or whose parents came from countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan.

For example, Arjomand describes one of her current cases, that of “Farideh,” a Pakistani-Canadian who was born and who grew up in Canada, but who was never allowed to have a non-Muslim friend, even though she attended public school as well as an Islamic school. Farideh “never participated in any of the school’s activities, never attended any field trip, never went to a movie theatre, never wore pink, red, or purple colored clothes even though those were her favorite colors.” Her family did not allow her to finish the eighth grade. Her Pakistani-Canadian family sent their daughter back to Pakistan in an arranged, polygamous marriage. Farideh was the second wife.

Farideh described being “pushed, pulled, grabbed, slapped, punched, kicked [and] having objects thrown at her” by her husband on a daily basis. While she was breastfeeding, her husband chained her to the ground, without food and water, for long hours. In addition, her husband brutally and repeatedly raped her, knocked out two of her front teeth, and broke her nose. Nine years later, Farideh was allowed to return to Canada to see her dying mother. Despite enormous obstacles and great danger (her own family will probably honor kill her, she will probably lose custody of her Pakistani-born children), Farideh, now in her mid-twenties, refuses to return to her abuser. And she refuses to sign off on the paperwork that would allow him to join her in Canada, probably along with his first wife and their children.

According to Arjomand, there is precious little Canadian law can do to help Farideh retain custody of her children who were born in Pakistan and who are seen as the property of their father and his family. Canadian law did not prevent her parents from forcing her into a polygamous marriage when she was still a child. Finally, Canada may not have the resources to protect Farideh from her “honor” avenging family by placing her within a surrogate extended family; nothing less will do.