A first-degree murder conviction was handed down Sunday to the Afghan-Canadians Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed for the killing of four female members of the family. In their opinion, the victims had strayed from the traditional values of their society.
No Canadian court could accept the defence that a clash between Afghan and Canadian cultures would excuse the crimes. Therefore, it seemed superfluous to claim with patronizing righteousness, as some media did, that the verdict was a triumph of the rule of law. Triumph over what?
There was unanimous agreement that the guilty verdict was just. It was important to learn from authoritative commentaries in the press that the concept of honour killing is condemned in Islamic societies as firmly as it is in Western societies.
Nothing can excuse the barbarity of the cold-blooded murders, the misogyny and the medieval despotism and cunning of the tyrannical father. There was never any danger that tolerant Canada would condone them. This, however, should not preclude the possibility that, in future when sentencing, judges should be allowed to take such a culture clash into consideration. In this case, because of the extensive publicity, the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole may have a deterring effect. But one wishes that, in addition to some punishment in Canada, a procedure for deportation was available.
The concept of honour in this connection is, of course, confusing. “Murders in Defence of Patriarchal Tyranny” would be a more accurate description.
“What is honour? A word,” says Falstaff in Henry IV, Part One. “What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ’Tis insensible, then…. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so ends my catechism.”
Some good may come out of the case.
Dr. Amin Muhammad, professor of psychiatry at Memorial University in Newfoundland, was quoted in the National Post (January 30) as saying that honour killings have been on the rise in Canada over the past decade. There have been more than a dozen cases since 2002, which is actually very little compared to the United States and the United Kingdom, which have seen hundreds of such killings since then. He hopes the outcome of the Shafia case will make people more vigilant now. “So many people approach for help and intervention in the past were not taken seriously, even those potential victims that don’t have the courage to come and speak openly about it,” he says. “Now at least it will give them a little courage.”