Same story, different ending - Macleans.ca
 

Same story, different ending

Twenty years before Aqsa Parvez defied her family, I did the same to mine. Why did only one of us survive?


 

NATHAN DENETTE/CP

Three years ago it was 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez who was murdered. Twenty years ago it might have been me. The circumstances were different but we both refused unconditional submission. I survived. Aqsa was killed by her father and brother in a brutal act committed under the guise of family honour.

Aqsa was strangled in 2007 in her family home in Mississauga, Ont. Three years later, in 2010, my husband and I emigrated from Pakistan to Canada. We, too, settled in Mississauga. It was six months after our move, with my daughter just graduating from Grade 8 and looking forward to her first summer in Canada, when I suddenly came upon the terrible story of Aqsa Parvez.

On June 15, 2010, the newspapers and news stations were in a frenzy: Aqsa’s brother and father had changed their pleas to guilty. Aqsa’s mother was grief-stricken; the two men had been sentenced to life in prison. I sat stunned on the couch in our small, newly rented apartment. Everything I thought I had left behind was still with me, in my new country. Even here, I thought. Even in Canada.

In 1989, I was studying at Karachi University. Like Aqsa, I was meeting new people and encountering new ideas. I was changing from a sheltered, repressed girl into an open-minded, inquisitive young woman. My family was noticing these changes. When I brought home books with titles like State and Revolution from the library, my brother looked at them, and me, with increasing suspicion (a harbinger, I know now, of things to come).

And then, I committed the ultimate sin: I met a boy, who, like me, was becoming increasingly skeptical of repression in the name of race, class and religion. My family hated him. He was poor and non-Syed.

My family, according to my parents’ beliefs, are direct descendants of the Prophet’s only child, his daughter Fatima. (Ironically, Muhammad had no son, so it was up to his daughter to carry on the bloodline.) We were brought up to consider ourselves superior. We were not only Shiite Muslims, but Shiite Syed Muslims, holier than most others in our religion, including, of course, the boy I met and fell in love with in my first year of university.

We were neighbours in Karachi. We lived in the same apartment block. Knowing my family and fearing their reaction, I didn’t disclose our relationship. But within a year, they found out. Being neighbours, our families used to meet sometimes. During one encounter, his sisters told my elder sister what was going on. My sister was shocked—especially because there were already several other “correct” marriages being proposed to my family at that time. She immediately reported back to my mother.

Suddenly, I had two options. I could give in to family pressure and sacrifice love for the sake of family “honour,” or risk everything by marrying a man deemed unsuitable for me.
I don’t use the word “everything” facetiously. If I dared go against the family, I ran the very real risk of being killed. Aqsa Parvez’s death may have been big news in Canada, but in Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East, such honour killings are a regular occurrence—as pervasive when I was a young woman 20 years ago as they are today. According to the Aurat Foundation, a non-profit organization that tracks the status of women in Pakistan, in 2009 604 women were killed in the name of “honour.”

So when my mother and brother confronted me, I knew what was at stake. As soon as I looked in my brother’s eyes, I began to shake. My father died when I was in Grade 10. My brother, only three years older than me, had since assumed the role of the family head. On that day, he did the talking. He told me I was doing something very dangerous. He asked if I knew what the punishment might be. He wasn’t talking about the punishment I would get, but the punishment someone like him, a man who did what he had to do in the name of preserving family honour, might receive.

I knew what the penalty was. It was common knowledge. If my brother was to murder me, he would probably spend six months in jail, at most. That’s the way it was in our country: police and lawmakers sympathized with the murderer.

The victim deserved what she got.

Terrified, but resolved not to give in, that night I snuck out of my parents’ home. The next day, I married my boyfriend in a civil ceremony. I was frightened they would come after me and kill both of us. So we went into hiding. We stayed at his cousin’s house. My family searched for us but could only get in touch with my in-laws. They demanded that I be returned. My in-laws, too, were not so happy with this marriage, but since my new husband was the eldest male in his family, his will was honoured. At our request, they pretended they had no idea where their son had gone.

After hours of intense discussion between the families, a decision was finally reached: the two families agreed on our marriage. But there was a catch. My brother insisted that first I had to return to the family home, so that my marriage could be properly arranged before neighbours and relatives found out about my elopement. My brother asked my in-laws to bring me to their apartment, where he would come and take me home.

I knew it was a trap. This was a common ruse by disgraced families. They would pretend to agree to the marriage provided it was done by traditional custom. If I had returned home, my brother would have killed me with the blessing of the rest of the family.

I stalled as long as possible, and then, suddenly, it was too late. In the two tense days since I had left home, the news had spread. Everybody who mattered now knew. Nothing could be done to reverse it. My family informed my in-laws they didn’t want me back after all. I had shamed them. They would abandon me forever. They considered me as dead.

But I wasn’t dead. I had managed to escape with my life. Poor Aqsa was not as lucky. She allowed herself to be lured back to her house. Her brother and father did to her what my brother and mother hoped to do to me 20 years ago.

What happened to Aqsa haunts me in ways I cannot express. Over the last few months, reading about the cold-blooded murder of this 16-year-old girl, the scar over my own ordeal has become raw again. Even as I watch proudly as my own teenage children establish themselves in a country that offers them more opportunity than I could ever have hoped for, Aqsa haunts my dreams for them. Poor Aqsa, whose parents came to Canada but could never relinquish their so-called ideals. If only they could have been more patient, could have seen that Aqsa’s desire to wear Western outfits and refuse the hijab did not mean that she was an apostate who mocked their values and culture. If only they had decided to disown her as my family did me. As the years went by, they may have eventually come to see the world differently.

Four years after vowing to never speak with me again, my family relented. My mother and brother have now fully accepted my husband. He is their son and brother-in-law, and my children are the family’s beloved grandkids and nieces and nephews.

Today, when we visit, the family, including my brother and mother, shower my children, the half-Syeds, with affection and presents. But I know that they will never forget what I did to them. And, even thousands of miles away from them in this new country, neither, apparently, will I.

Originally from Karachi, Anila Batool has worked as a journalist in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.


 

Same story, different ending

  1. I'm glad that this writter has come to Canada and is willing to give up her previous way of life to be Canadian. It is unfortunate that some immigrants would rather we change to be more like the country they fled in fear than to embrace the freedoms we offer.

    I hope she wears western clothes and isn't afraid of showing her face.

  2. To hear of the trials like this that people go through, that people could be so ashamed that they would kill their own family to preserve honour seems so foreign, and yet it has happened not more than two hours away from my home.

    Anila, your story is frightening and yet it makes me glad to hear that people can escape such terrible fates. I hope that awareness of the barbarian nature of such practises can continue to be spread.

  3. What a powerful story. Thank you for writing and sharing your own experiences with us.

    I'm so glad you are happy in Canada, and have a loving husband and family. What a brave young woman you were; your own children will be all the stronger for your courage and philosophical way of thinking.

  4. As always, these stories make me thankful to have had the privilege of being born in Canada instead of a country where these barbaric practices continue.

    • Except that's the whole thing about her story — it IS happening in Canada because the customs and social mores follow the people!

      • I guess you missed the differences? In Pakistan, the penalty for honour killings is ~ 6 months; in Canada, the penalty for honour killings is ~ life in prison. And that while honour killings in Pakistan are a common practice, they are nowhere near as common in Canada. That isn't to say that they don't occur – and they probably occur more often than we know – but the extent to which they occur is not comparable.

        From the article, it took 20 years for something to occur in Canada that triggered Ms. Batool's memories.

        • Even if the killer gets "life in prison" aka 5 years if he behaves well… the victim is still dead !!! (and the "honour" is saved) LOL!!

          The extent of these events goes with the % of the population of radical ?!%$!… now… wait a few years and we'll see how the trend goes !

          • While, technically, life sentence has a minimum of 7 years before probation eligibility, the Parole Board says that of the people who have been released on parole (some die in prison), the average time served before their first release on parole is approximately 17 years.
            http://www.npb-cnlc.gc.ca/rprts/pls_2002-eng.shtm

        • "In Pakistan, the penalty for honour killings is ~ 6 months; in Canada, the penalty for honour killings is ~ life in prison."

          Really? Are you sure about that?
          http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/07/16/ba
          "Let it be noted, before going any further into this story, that to kill a healthy human being by strangulation, you have to cut off their air supply for 2.5 to 3 minutes. They lose consciousness and go limp long before they are at risk of dying. So you really can't argue that you have strangled someone in self-defence or by accident or in a moment's confusion or loss of control. If a person dies after you have had your way with a scarf around her neck, you can be sure the intention behind the attack was not benign.

          And now to the sentencing of Aset Magomadova. Calgary Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sal LoVecchio convicted the mother of manslaughter, acquitting her on the original charge of second-degree murder, and pronounced a sentence of…probation. No jail time. Dead daughter. Mother killed her. No jail time."

          • From the article your referenced:

            Well, the Magomadova case is going to the Court of Appeal. Let us keep a careful eye on their appraisal of Judge LoVecchio's multicultural approach to justice. And if it should go to the Supreme Court, even more so.

            Considering that in the Latimer case – referenced as a comparison – the exact same thing happened, I'm not seeing your point. Judges make mistakes; that's why we have superior court judges. Presumably, Ms. Magomadova, like Mr. Latimer before her, will receive a corrected sentence from the Appeals Court.

  5. In the past, many countries in Europe is the same thing, women do not have voices. It took courageous women (like this author) to slowly change society's attitude. I strongly believe that the secret to change the Middle East's and South Asia's men and their violent tendencies, is through their women. The sad thing is that many Feminists organizations have lost their purpose and their ways, and at this time are not much help to those who most need it. Hopefully, there will be more women and men, like this author who will find their courage to speak out.

  6. Sadly knowing what goes on in Peel Region has been been hidden from many htere by Metroland & it takes a magazine such as yours to show an Uzi in the trunk of a car many years ago to bring out just a part of the truth of what's really going on there. As a Halton Region resident living on the border in Norval we know much more of what is going on there & are ashamed & unfortunately were correct in our guess that it was an honour killing when many couldn't believe that could be the case. The sword fight @ the temple in Malton is another suppressed example we've monitored as some of their people have business's nearby & have to be aware of what shoes to not step on or a Mayfield road subdivision murder might happen to us

  7. Having lived in the Middle East for the past two years I have my doubts about the veracity of this story. While I am no expert on the cultural norms or tendencies of the region I have had enough exposure to know that where a family's honor is concerned there is no forgiveness once it has been tarnished. In many cases the woman is killed or disowned for the rest of her life.

    Looking at her background as a journalist in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, while also knowing the high levels of censorship that is prevalent in each country, it seems to me that this article might be a devise to establish a readership base more than something that is based on the reality of the region.

  8. Fantastic read, thank you for this Ms. Batool. Now, if you are shocked that honour killings happen in Canada as well as in Pakistan, I suspect you'll be even more shocked to see how the self-styled "progressives" in Canada treat honour killings with kids gloves in the name of political correctness.

    • Examples, please. Please provide even one link to a case where a so-called "progressive" has defended an honour killing. Me thinks your assertion is BS.

      • I didnt say a progressive has defended honour killings, I said they treat it with kid's gloves. CBC's the Current, interviewing some feminist after the Aqsa Pervez affair, I remember distinctly the feminist downplaying the event as "just another form of domestic violence".

  9. This story is indeed horrible and the fact that we have advanced so much as humans but still have to deal with ‘honor killings’ is an absolutely grotesque tragedy.
    There are, however, two things in your article that I find, in some ways, even more frightening:

    1: the fact that you now bring you children to your murderous mother and brother, the very people who were ready to KILL you (and in fact, in cold blood, had premeditated and actually arranged the details of your murder) leaves me shivering in horror;

    2: the fact that in the whole article you barely mention the real motivations behind these horrible and barbaric acts, and don’t seem to openly recognize and sufficiently condemn the elephant in the room: religion.

    For the first point, of course the choice of ‘forgiving’ is yours (though, if wanting to murder you does not do it, one might wonder what it would take to convince you that someone is probably not a very good person, or at least not someone you would want to be close to…).
    What leaves me incredulous though is the fact that you allow these people to come close to your children at all: what ‘values’ and ‘ideals’, after all, do you think these people will be able to teach your children? What positive influence could they ever possibly have on them? What lessons
    about life, or the relationships between men and women could they ever give them?
    I realize we are talking about your very own mother and brother here, and I cannot even begin to imagine what it might feel like to know that, had they had it their way and had you not been smart and lucky enough to escape their murderous plot, they would have deliberately killed you…
    But that’s the very crucial point here: even if they once were ‘family’, how can you still consider them as such, after what they tried to do to you?
     
    The second point is even more troubling I believe, as you seem to talk about wrong ‘ideals and values’, but fail to mention (and condemn) the unambiguous source of such beliefs: religion and, in particular, Islam.

    A very important note is necessary here.  Though Islam has proved to be, at this time in
    history, the most prolific religion when it comes to directly instigating, condoning and celebrating hideous crimes of this kind (those who would deny this just need to look at the fully Islamic state of Iran, where stoning of adulteresses was made into a state law, directly inspired by – actually entirely copied from – the Quran itself, including details about burying up the adulteress to her
    chest before stoning her to death…. No ‘cultural/tribal’ alibi here: a clear and direct religious precept is transparently and deliberately turned into civic law), I have no intention to single Islam out as the ‘only bad religion’ or anything of the sort: I find other and similar religious beliefs equally horrifying and full of grotesque bigotry and ignorance (parents who call themselves ‘Christians’,
    for example, and have not killed their own children in the –rather likely – event that they ever ‘talked back’ at them, should realize that they are actually not real Christians, since that is in
    fact exactly – and with no chance of ambiguity – what the bible directly prescribes…
    Hence they either chose to be the murderers of their own kids when they talk back at them – and, thus, be good Christians – or they chose to be sane parents who are not Christians after all…). The difference between Muslims and, for example, most Christians, is simply that most Christians have, more or less deliberately, left aside and are currently ignoring most of what they are
    supposed to hold as the most important ‘values’ in their lives, and are thus living in a tragically hypocritical state of constant battle between what they realize is common sense and the abundance of nonsense that they find in their ‘holy’ book (or that they would find anyway, if they actually ever read the one book they claim to be authored by no less than the almighty himself…).
    Most Muslims have not made this separation, and they live and act in accordance to what they believe.
    Hopefully this will stop the waves of ‘cultural/religious racism’ accusations as it should be clear I am equally troubled by all irrationality and the violence it instigates, wherever it may come from.

    Back to your article. I am particularly shocked by a couple of your statements, such as:

    i) …my brother and mother, shower my children, the half-Syeds, with affection and
    presents. But I know that they will never forget what I did to them. And, even thousands of miles away from them in this new country, neither, apparently, will I.
    ii) If only they could have been more patient, could have seen that Aqsa’s desire to wear
    Western outfits and refuse the hijab did not mean that she was an apostate who mocked
    their values and culture.
    iii)  If only they had decided to disown her as my family did me.

    For the first: how can you be concerned about them ‘getting over’ what you did to them??  What, after all, did you do to them?? The answer is simple, if we think rationally: nothing at all. If we ‘think’ in religious terms, however, yes, your offence was unforgivably grave and deserved death (which IS, in whatever terms we think, what they had in store for you!!)
    And how do you even think that you can forget, on the other hand, what they were very ready to actually do to you?? Kill you, that is… Your statement seems all too balanced in distributing blame, guilt and ‘offence’.

    The second point is really what dropped my jaw to the floor though: “did not mean that she was an apostate who mocked their values and culture”…
    It just begs the question: well, what if it actually did mean all that?? What IF Aqsa was indeed an apostate? What IF, as a young woman, she finally had the courage to think for herself and found the beliefs of their “values and culture” (once again, a more honest statement would have been: “their religion”, as you implicitly prove yourself by having these ‘values and culture’
    preceded by the use of the word “apostate”…) to be complete and utter nonsense?? Why can
    we use satire and ‘mocking’ in politics, economics, sports or anything in life but religion???
    What IF she had indeed decided to mock those beliefs?? Would she then be at fault in ANY WAY, even partially?? The answer of course should be a clear, solid, irrevocable NO!: she had no fault. But your statement seems to lack all that, and it actually almost seems to suggest that the only fault Aqsa’s family can be blamed for is ‘misunderstanding’ her intentions.
    And I find this suggestion to be incredibly horrendous and bone chilling, because the natural consequence of this is inevitably that, if that was indeed what she was up to, then the crime was somewhat less hideous or even somewhat ‘deserved’ and the blame to be somehow shared…
    Whatever they might have thought she did to them, in their minds poisoned by religious dogma, the very tangible reality of what they actually did do to her is insane and simply unjustifiable.

    Which leads to point iii) : what your family barely failed to do to you (again, not for a sudden change of intentions on their part: you escaped their plot, but they would have killed you otherwise!!!) was equally insane and non-justifiable (other than, of course, in religious terms: then it is a simple matter of cause and consequence). And the fact that they disowned you is in
    itself utter insanity: what did you do, after all, to deserve being disowned?
    You went against one of their irrational and hate-instigating religious believes, of course.
    If we forget the murderous intentions for a second (and, unlike you, I would not be able to do it for any longer than that…), we still have to deal with a very radical and dramatic decision (that of not
    wanting to see one’s own daughter ever again) based on absolutely nothing more than bronze-age superstition… This, in itself, is incredibly cruel, ignorant and truly horrible.

    I am obviously glad you escaped such horrible fate and I do agree with others here on the fact that you prove that there is indeed hope to leave barbaric horrors and primitive irrational ideas behind.
    I do, however, strongly feel that this hope can be solid and true only if we really and honestly recognize the very roots of such horrors, and only if we have the courage to face the real foundations of belief systems that are at the very core of these acts and treat them for what they are (i.e. irrational, unfounded and very dangerous claims about the world we live in and the one that some of us imagine awaits us).
    If we fail to do that, we will keep talking in horror about this, but we will not ever eradicate it.