On the morning of June 30, 2009 a quadruple-murder case rocked the city of Kingston in Ontario, Canada. Four women were found dead, submerged in the Rideau Canal, in their Nissan Sentra. At first it seemed as though boaters had come across a teenage prank gone awry or the victims of a horrific car accident.
However, as the bodies were identified as Zainab Shafia, age 19, Sahar Shafia, age 17, Geeti Shafia, age 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, age 50, a grim and heartbreaking story began to emerge.
The three teenage girls were the biological daughters of Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Yahya, while Rona Mohammad was Mohammad Shafia’s first wife in a polygamous marriage. Shafia, whose family is originally from Afghanistan, reported his daughters missing to Kingston police that same morning. Less than a month later, on July 23rd, Shafia, his second wife, Tooba, and their 18-year-old son, Hamed, were charged with four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of conspiracy to commit murder.
The trial, which began just last month, has spawned fierce cultural and religious criticism from local media outlets. The culprit here is jejunely labeled Islamic values, and the motive dubbed “honor killing,” with prosecutors strategically using the concept of honor killings and positing Afghan culture—used synonymously with Muslim culture here—against “Western” culture. The result is a media debacle affirmed by the use of provocative and stereotypical verbiage in reporting on the trial.
In a statement exemplary of the types of sweeping strokes used to paint Afghan and Muslim culture throughout the trial—by the prosecution, defense, and local media—the Toronto Star’s columnist, Rosie DiManno undeniably ostracizes immigrant members of the Canadian Afghan community saying,
There’s a reason why the Justice Lady is blindfolded. It depicts objectivity—fairness and equality for all before the law. A disregarded concept in Afghanistan; a core value in the Canadian court system. Let us state the obvious: Canada isn’t Afghanistan. That culture is not our culture and their attitudes towards females are totally alien to ours.