When Women Are Abused For Cultural Reasons, Should The State Step In?

Mannequin doll head with a black hijab headsca...
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Interesting op-ed this week in the Vancouver Sun:

Back in June, in an “honour-killing” murder trial now known across Canada, Muhammad Parvez and Waqas Parvez pleaded guilty to the 2007 murder of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez (their daughter/sister respectively). According to media reports, not one of the 12 people present in the house could — or would — bear witness to the crime.

Regrettably, unless attitudes in some immigrant communities change, this may not be the last time Canadians hear of such tragedies. The same day the Parvez men pleaded guilty to murdering Aqsa for “dishonouring” their family, I happened to conduct a workshop in an elementary school for South Asian women in Toronto. I asked the participants why the boys and girls were segregated on the playground and learned that about 75 per cent of the children in this school are from one region of South Asia, the same one Aqsa Parvez came from.

While segregation of children by gender is not the school policy, the volunteer parents who monitor the playground and speak their language instruct the children in appropriate, culturally accepted behaviours. For example, a majority of the boys and girls wore native outfits and few spoke English, and the consensus among the 19 mothers in the workshop was that if Aqsa had obeyed her parents, she would still be alive today.

All these mothers were resistant to the notion their children should adopt western values — the problem for Aqsa Parvez.

Reported the CBC:

Aqsa Parvez wanted to get a part-time job and be allowed to dress and act like other teenage girls in her neighbourhood, but those desires led to a deadly conflict with her family that ended with her being strangled.

The Parvez family had moved from Pakistan to Ontario. Aqsa was 11 years old when she arrived — the youngest of eight children.

The statement of facts released in court about the December 2007 death revealed that when she entered her teen years Aqsa began rebelling against her father’s strict rules.

“[S]he was experiencing conflict at home over cultural differences between living in Canada and back [in Pakistan],” the statement said.

Aqsa was in almost constant disagreement with her father and her siblings.

She told her father she did not wish to wear the hijab any longer. She wanted to dress in Western clothes and have the same freedoms as the other girls in her high school.

The statement revealed that Aqsa “did not have a door on her bedroom, her freedom to talk on the phone with friends was restricted, she was required to come straight home from school and expected to spend her evenings and weekends at home as well.”

It’s the third rail of politics for any country that has relied heavily on immigration from countries or regions whose cultural norms toward women (or children) vary widely from those of the nation to which they choose to move, live in, work and pay taxes to. I grew up in Canada and saw it there. I see it less in the U.S.

In Holland and France, the growing divide between what these democracies view as basic human rights and those of their newer residents, often Muslim, is creating growing friction.

The putative appeal of Western democracies such as those of Canada and Europe is their willingness to embrace and accept difference and diversity. But there are limits, and setting them an almost impossible challenge — before a woman is killed.


Faisal Shahzad's Protective 'Normalcy' — An American Wife, Kids, U.S. Passport

I find this ironic.

Much has been made of the fact that this man — who allegedly parked a truck in Times Square and hoped to blow it up — is a U.S. citizen, someone who obtained both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the United States. His wife is a U.S. citizen and he has two kids — all of whom now live in Pakistan.

He had hit all the middle-class, conventional metrics that typically reassure Americans someone really is an OK guy: marriage, parenthood, home ownership, undergrad and graduate degrees (an MBA, even) from American colleges. And naturalization.

Americans are very big on legal aliens —  those of us who legally work and live here and pay full taxes and follow American laws and customs — becoming citizens. The very word “naturalized’ — no matter how its inherent patriotism quickens the heartbeat for some — is deeply offensive to me. It suggests we “aliens” (love that word, too) are somehow “less than” because we can’t step into a voting booth and won’t be called to jury duty. That’s about it, except for all the goverment jobs (even Census work) and grants and fellowships we are denied access to without citizenship.

But simply acquiring a U.S. passport, clearly, is no guarantee you’ve just handed the keys to the kingdom, as it’s viewed, to the people you really most want as your permanent neighbors.

So much for that.

Writes conservative columnist, Michelle Malkin:

America’s homeland-security amnesia never ceases to amaze. In the aftermath of the botched Times Square terror attack, Pakistani-born bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad’s US citizenship status caused a bit of shock and awe. The Atlantic magazine writer Jeffrey Goldberg’s response was typical: “I am struck by the fact that he is a naturalized American citizen, not a recent or temporary visitor.” Well, wake up and smell the deadly deception.

Shahzad’s path to American citizenship — he reportedly married an American woman, Huma Mian, in 2008 after spending a decade in the country on foreign student and employment visas — is a tried-and-true terror formula. Jihadists have been gaming the sham-marriage racket for years. And immigration-benefit fraud has provided invaluable cover and aid for US-based Islamic plotters, including many planning attacks on New York City. As I’ve reported previously:

* El Sayyid A. Nosair wed Karen Ann Mills Sweeney to avoid deportation for overstaying his visa. He acquired US citizenship, allowing him to remain in the country, and was later convicted for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that claimed six lives.

* Ali Mohamed became a US citizen after marrying a woman he met on a plane trip from Egypt to New York. He became a top aide to Osama bin Laden and was later convicted for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa that killed 12 Americans and more than 200 others.

* Embassy-bombing plotter Khalid Abu al Dahab obtained citizenship after marrying three different American women.

She goes on to name many others.

Now that the state of Arizona is stopping anyone who looks Hispanic to prove their legal right to remain in the U.S., maybe people are looking in all the wrong places.

Shahzad, as the BBC and this Pakistani newspaper have reported, comes from an educated family, his father a retired Air Force officer.

It is comforting, and apparently falsely so, to believe that would-be terrorists are only found barefoot and economically desperate in dusty foreign villages. If the charges prove to be true — and even if this one is not — they may well be sitting next to you at your kids’ soccer match or at the playground or sitting in the same college classroom.

Is Afghanistan Winnable? Two Veteran Foreign Correspondents Weigh In

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Christina Lamb, a 43-year-old veteran correspondent who last month became the U.S., D.C.-based correspondent, for the Sunday Times of London, is finally getting to know some of the American officials making policy in Afghanistan, a country she knows well, having covered it for years. “When were you last there?”, she asked one. “Oh, I’ve never been there,” he replied.

Lamb, who has worked as a journalist in Pakistan and was the West’s first correspondent to cover the rise of the Taliban, joined fellow veteran correspondent David Loyn, Developing World Correspondent, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism last night to discuss what they’ve seen, and covered, in Afghanistan. Between them, they offered more than 30 years’ experience in the region.

The event attracted a crowd of about 100, including professors, fellow journalists, a New York Times and Time freelance photographer who has worked in Afghanistan, a UNICEF worker and SIPA and Columbia J-students.

Loyn, who was last in-country two weeks ago, compared Afghanistan to Moscow in 1987: “They have the same set of options in a country long known as the graveyard of empire. This is a country in which war aims always end up altered.” He reiterated what a hostile terrain soldiers, and journalists, face there: ” a country of deserts and mountains, only five percent irrigable and arable. The mountains are 400 miles long and 200 miles wide, with only three passes. It’s natural guerilla territory.” Anyone hoping for good news in Afghanistan faces what he called “the two F’s — frontier and fundamentalism. What the U.S. forgot is that these were people who did not share American values.”

Loyn feels the war is “still absolutely winnable” although “defeat and victory are starting to look similar.” American aid “has been wasted, however noble.” He derided the creation of an “aid juggernaut” that enriches aid workers while leaving Afghans weak, unemployed and disorganized. “Not only is that aid ineffective, it’s destructive. There’s been great progress in primary education for girls — but what about secondary education? What about employment for men?” The challenges are daunting: 60 percent of police in Helmand province are addicted to heroin; 90 percent of police are illiterate and 1.5 million Afghans gave fled to Pakistan, the journalists said. Police corruption is so endemic, Loyn said, that a new form of banking — using mobile phones — is being tested, now used by 53 policemen, whereby any family member can access the funds using their cellphone.

Loyn deplored the recent firing of Peter Galbraith, the top American official at the U.N. mission in Kabul, who denounced election fraud. “His firing sends all the wrong signals. (Here’s an excerpt from Galbraith’s letter. Interviewed today on BBC World News, Galbraith said he strongly favors the idea of a run-off election. “That would be an extremely good thing.”) Loyn reminded the audience, as did Galbraith today, of one of the many issues in the disputed election, “ghost polling stations” — which reported results even though they never even opened.

Lamb thinks that adding more troops is no longer the answer. “I used to argue passionately, everywhere, that we should send more troops, until September 2008 when I went back. The situation had got much, much worse. I could now travel to many fewer places. Even traveling 90 minutes outside Kabul has become too dangerous. Sending 20,000 or 40,000 more troops will just cause more casualties.”

The war, she said, “is not winnable. We’ve lost the consent of the Afghan people and it’s almost impossible to get back.” Western troops have also lost Afghans’ confidence through repeated, grave cultural faux pas — from male soldiers entering women’s quarters, sending dogs (considered unclean) into homes, even firing upon Afghan wedding parties where firing into the air is a joyful, honored tradition — souring goodwill toward foreign troops, Lamb said. “It’s normal at a wedding to fire gunshots, but people were killed by soldiers in retaliation.” There’s little chance of forgiveness for such errors, she said. “In Afghanistan, revenge is a very important part of life.”

She described visiting a town in Helmand province heavily guarded by 9,000 British soldiers and 11,000 Americans. “There are no people there! They’ve all fled. The only people left there are Taliban, so there is no one to protect. Why are troops there?”

Loyn disagrees, but thinks 300,000 to 400,000 troops are needed to get the job done. “We’re a long way from an effective force.” Germany and France will be pressured by NATO to add more troops, he said. Lamb thinks Obama will have a tough time arguing for additional forces. “His administration doesn’t have a narrative for sending troops into Afghanistan. The unspoken issue is Pakistan, but it’s easier to focus on Afghanistan when the real situation is over the border,” she said. She was last there in June 2009, in Peshawar, and while she clearly loves the country, admitted, “I was scared.”

The one success story both writers agreed on? The growing strength and work of independent Afghan media. Loyn praised them for “trying to hold their government to account,” especially television reporters. “It’s difficult for women journalsts,” said Lamb. “They’ve had lots of threats. Television has been the biggest success.”

Five Children In a Hole: Pakistan's Female Refugees Speak Out

It’s easy to tune out one more depressing story about refugees halfway across the world. Don’t.

Instead, read award-winning Canadian reporter Stephanie Nolen’s recent story about what life is like for Pakistan’s female refugees http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/pakistans-female-refugees-live-between-freedom-and-fear/article1206168/. Imagine living a life so constrained you are not allowed to speak to a man outside your family — manageable in your own home, village and region. Impossible when you and your children are living for months in a refugee camp  run largely by strange men.

It took Mosarrat Qadeem, a Pashtun feminist who runs a women’s group called Paiman, to consider a basic fact of female life — menstruation — and to bring in hundreds of sanitary supplies to the refugees, who were otherwise unable to ask for them on their own, Nolen writes. She interviewed one female refugee who, in desperation, hid her five children in a hole in her yard, a makeshift foxhole, while under attack.

My friend, Zohaib, who works in IT in Karachi, sent me to The News, an English-language newspaper and website, where I found this story http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=177068 and editorial, lhttp://www.thenews.com.pk/editorial_detail.asp?id=137040.