(MENAFN - Arab News) A ghastly 10-week trial in Canada of three Afghan immigrants for murdering four family members ended in their conviction but the debate continues in the country about what really happened and why and how to prevent such tragedies.
Canada, despite its low crime rate, is not immune to violence. Women, in particular, are violated and killed. Women's shelters are overflowing. Aboriginal women, in particular, are victimized. Serial killers such as Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo and Col.
Russell Williams, who led a double life as a military officer and a sex murderer, have become household names. But these crimes are produced by lust or a barbaric contempt for human life and dignity. It is "honor killings" that outrage Canadians more.
The prosecution argued that the Mohammed Shafia killings were generated by rage over the behavior of two of Shafia's daughters, while a third daughter and Shafia's first wife were murdered to prevent them from providing evidence to authorities.
Afghan immigrant Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and son Hamed were found guilty in the deaths of Shafia's and Tooba's daughters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13, and Shafia's first wife, Rona Mohammed, whom Shafia brought to Canada pretending she was his cousin and would look after the children as a domestic servant. The bodies were found in a car, which, allegedly, had been pushed into a canal.
Zainab married a Pakistani with her family's grudging approval. But the family pressured her into a divorce the very next day. Her talking to male classmates at school infuriated her father and brother.
Sahar wore short dresses and had a boy friend at school whom she sometimes met in a library or another public place. There was no reliable evidence of their meeting clandestinely.
Geeti liked to dress like Canadian girls and was sent home from school for wearing a skimpy dress. There was no evidence of her meeting boys but she supported her sisters.
The other victim, Rona, wrote in her diary and phoned relatives about being mistreated. But she didn't know English and didn't approach authorities.
Quebec's police, child protection authorities and school administrators knew the girls were mistreated. They saw these as minor family quarrels and took no action. Zainab had fled to a women's shelter but returned. Rona had noted the phone number of the Afghan Women's Organization, a social support group, in her diary. She also wrote about her fears and mistreatment.
Despite extensive coverage the trial didn't fan Islamophobia, partly because such jealousy killings also happen in Christian, Hindu, Sikh and other households. The accused denied the charges and have appealed. Because they are not citizens they will be deported on completing their terms. Their other three children remain in Canada.
Though the Shafia case showed a fractured family that disintegrated, it also illustrates the challenges many citizens face in today's world.
Shafia's family were exiles. They left Afghanistan and lived in three countries for 15 years before entering Canada. This is a welcoming country but its weather and life patterns bewilder and depress some older people and produce a gulf between them and their children. These kids hear about but have not experienced life in their parents' countries. In Canada they see only Canadian ways.
Some parents try to blend the best of the two. Through love, personal example and proper teaching they instill their values in their children while encouraging them to make friends, participate in games and study seriously. Many such children become successful Canadians and excellent showcases of Islamic values.
Other families are not as lucky or wise. They neglect children or try to force them into lifestyles that the children find strange. It is not uncommon for parents and children to become estranged or for the youngsters to drift into crime or violence.
This is particularly the case among families from war-torn societies, like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran.
The Shafias are an example. The father was not loving or close to his children. He lied to Canadian authorities about his first wife. He mistreated her.
The family did not go to mosques, learn Islamic values, mingle with Afghans, or mix with Canadian neighbors to learn about their customs.
There is no evidence either that Shafia or Tooba knew about the Islamic teachings about love, compassion, justice, truth and integrity or that they practiced these in their everyday life. Instead, their focus was on forcing the girls to wear long dresses and avoid boys even though they went to school and shared the same classes.
Compounding the problem is that Muslim organizations have mostly devoted their energies to building mosques. It is only in recent years that they have begun to look after the vulnerable in the Muslim community - youth drifting into violence, drugs or crime and ending up in jail, women victims of domestic violence and other abuse, mentally ill, disabled, ill, senior citizens, refugees, new immigrants, new Muslims, widows and widowers, and single parents.
Muslims have also not been able to create effective provincial or national organizations to work as a productive community and to network with fellow Canadians of other faiths to build a better Canada for all Canadians.
It is a challenge as well as an opportunity for new comers from many lands who come to Canada to build a better life and who, in turn, are this country's hope for a brighter future.
- Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian newspaperman, civil servant and refugee judge.