From Bikinis to Hijabs: Using Psychology to Your Advantage

Top image via CNN. Bottom image via IslamOnline.net

Top image via CNN. Bottom image via IslamOnline.net

My eyebrows raised when I read this article on IslamOnline. The article, entitled Study: Men Objectify Scantily Clad Women, used a current study conducted by well-known Princeton psychologist, Dr. Susan Fiske, to promote modest clothing.

I am familiar with Dr. Fiske’s work, and I couldn’t help but question whether IslamOnline was misrepresenting the study in an effort to promote the necessity of hijab. As someone doing her Ph.D. in social psychology, I am familiar with how the results of social psychological studies can be manipulated through the use of language in such a way to support an argument one is trying to make and consequently taking the results out of context. And this is what seems to have happened in this IslamOnline article.

Amel Abdullah, the author of the piece,  begins her article by describing the study and explaining the three main results. She reports that:

  • images of scantily clad women were better remembered by heterosexual male participants
  • when the male participants viewed scantily-clad women, areas of the brain associated with “tool use, hand manipulation, and the urge to take action” were activated
  • men who scored high on hostile sexism thought of these scantily-clad women as less human.

Immediately after presenting these findings, she starts discussing the role of the hijab and how it protects women. She makes a leap from images of women in bikinis to the hijab, which she describes as “religiously mandated modest dress that covers the shape of the body and includes the headscarf or veil.” This leap is highly inappropriate and illogical. Let me explain why.

I was able to obtain a lay summary of the study from Dr. Fiske and after comparing the lay summary to Abdullah’s article, found Abdullah’s work to be biased and her use of the study findings inappropriate.

To begin with, Abdullah’s terminology is very problematic and re-interprets the results to suit her argument. The lay summary for the study, as well as all media outlet reports, are clear that the four types of images used were of fully clothed men and women, and scantily clad men and women. Specifically, the images of scantily clad women were of women in bikinis. If one ignores the way in which Dr. Fiske and her research team operationally defined* “scantily clad” one risks misunderstanding the results. And this is what Abdullah has done.

IslamOnline explains (emphasis mine):

When psychologist Susan Fiske and a team of researchers at Princeton University performed MRI brain scans on heterosexual men who viewed a series of images showing both scantily clad and fully clothed men and women, they found that the men had an unmistakable response to women wearing less clothing.

The less they wore, the more likely it was for the premotor cortex and the posterior middle temporal gyrus to light up. These are the areas of the brain associated with tool use, hand manipulation, and the urge to take action.

It should not be “women wearing less clothing” but rather “women wearing bikinis.” Bikinis is clear. Less clothing is unclear. Less than what? We know that a bikini is a two-piece swimsuit. It usually exposes the midriff, legs, arms, etc. Additionally, saying that “the less they wore triggered these responses” implies that various levels of clothing coverage, or various stages of undress, were presented to the participants in the study.

This wording alters the realities of the study completely. Various stages of undress were not presented to the participants. Only two levels of clothing were presented. There were no measurements of reactions at varying levels of clothing. IslamOnline’s use of the phrase “less clothing” is deceptive and twists the findings of the study, which showed pictures of women in a very specific form of “less clothing” – the bikini.

The Daily Princetonian explains (emphasis mine):

Fiske’s team used an MRI machine to scan the brains of the students while they viewed a series of photographs of men and women, some of whom were fully clothed and others of whom wore only swimsuits.

The pictures of bikini-clad women activated brain regions associated with objects or “things you manipulate with your hands,” Fiske said.

The lay summary states (emphasis mine):

…heterosexual men, in a surprise memory test, were significantly better at recognizing bikini-clad female bodies (with heads removed), than they were at recognising any of the other three types of images or any kind of faces.

The researchers’ operational definition* of “fully clothed” was not provided. However, in my personal correspondence with Dr. Fiske, she mentioned that the effects of objectifying women were not seen for women in traditional Western attire. Therefore, my assumption is that “fully clothed” for this study was a woman wearing Western clothing, which is not the full hijab. Therefore, women who dress like the average North American/Westerner were not objectified by the male participants.

IslamOnline continues:

According to a lay summary of Fiske’s study provided to IslamOnline.net, when a man’s mentalizing network shuts down, this means he views sexualized women as “less human.”

The lay summary states:

As predicted, hostile sexism predicted less activation of otherwise reliable social cognition networks…in response to looking at bikini-clad women. This implicates more hostile attitudes in predicting deactivation of the mentalizing network, consistent with viewing sexualized women as less human.

Mentalizing is defined as “considering other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Therefore, men who held stronger hostile sexist** attitudes toward women were more likely to think of bikini-clad women as less human. Not all men and all women in any type of clothing.

Abdullah also speaks of Dr. Peter Glick’s study, in which he found that women in positions of power who wear provocative clothes at work may be less respected. However, within an American context, within which this study was conducted, what is provocative? What may be provocative in reference to full hijab is not going to be provocative in the average American context.

Top image via National Geographic News. Bottom image via IslamOnline.net

Top image via National Geographic News. Bottom image via IslamOnline.net

Abdullah then continues the rest of the article, describing the protective and mandatory nature of the hijab. Stating that the hijab protects women from unwanted sexual attention by using this study as proof is a stretch. Unfortunately, I think we all know women in full hijab who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted. Using this study to prove its protective capabilities is deceptive. The current study found that images of women in bikinis were objectified, not images of women in pant suits, jeans and tank tops, professional skirts and blazers, and so on and so on. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, average, non-hijab, Western-attired women were not objectified. Therefore, one need not wear full hijab to not be objectified.

Now, to be very clear, I am not arguing against the hijab. I am saying that using this psychological study to imply that any clothing short of the full hijab makes one vulnerable to being objectified is nonsensical. This study does not prove that. No psychological study ever proves anything (but that’s scientific debate for another time). What this study implies is that heterosexual men are somehow hard-wired to objectify women in bikinis. That’s it.

In her article, Abdullah takes this study and the women involved completely out of their cultural contexts. Dr. Fiske’s study looked at images of women in average American attire and bikinis. To use this study to “prove” that full hijab will thus protect women from objectification assumes that if women are not in full hijab, then they may as well be wearing bikinis, because they’ll be objectified the same. And this of course is highly offensive to women who do not wear full hijab. We are then assumed to be fair game for objectification. And I’m not even going to get into the possible moral implications involved.

If one wants to use psychological studies to prove one’s point, then one should at least choose a study that actually does prove the point. Adullah’s use of early stage psychological studies, which the researchers have acknowledged require further investigation, only misuses and misrepresents findings which could have real and serious relevancies for other situations.

*An operational definition is defining a research concept, often a variable being measured, in such a way so as to enable others to independently measure the variable. This would mean one would have to define it in such as way to allow readers to understand exactly what the researcher means when she measures that variable. In this case “scantily clad” was defined as “bikini” so that we know exactly what was measured.

** Hostile sexism is a form of sexism conceptualized by Drs. Fiske and Glick. It is one of two forms sexism can take, with the other being benevolent sexism. Together the two concepts make up Ambivalent Sexism. Hostile sexism is the type of sexism most of us are familiar with – “Women are trying to get ahead of men,” “Women are trying to take our rights away,” etc. It’s usually hateful. Benevolent sexism sounds positive in tone but can also be seen to hold women back. “Only women have the special abilities to care for chidren therefore they must stay at home to take care of them,” “Women are too pure to be dealing with all those men out there so should stay inside the home.” etc. It usually places women on a pedestal.

The Other Half of the Sky: Inheritance in a Tunisian Film

Bornaz. Image via The Daily Star.

Bornaz. Image via The Daily Star.

Tunisian filmmaker Kalthoum Bornaz’s film Shtar M’Haba (The Other Half of the Sky) was recently discussed in Lebanon’s The Daily Star. As it turns out, Bornaz was the only female director to enter the official competition at Ouagadougou’s Pan-African Film and Television Festival earlier this month. The Daily Star tells us that she was not successful, but the message of her film has resonated with audiences.

As The Daily Star points out, the “movie tackles the sensitive subject of what women can – or more pointedly cannot – inherit.”

The film tells the story of fraternal twins Selim and Selima who have a difficult relationship with their widowed father. Ali, a lawyer, blames his children for the death of their mother who died in childbirth.

In carefully crafted dialogue, Bornaz documents the degrading family relations when Selim goes to study abroad and Selima is left to care for their father after he has an accident.

One day Selima learns that girls only inherit half of the part that their brothers get. For Selima, this would mean only one-third of her father’s assets while her brother would get two-thirds. In one critical scene, she asks her father, “Is it because fathers love their daughters only half as much?”

The film sounds quite interesting, mainly because of the topic it touches on. Although many Muslims are weary of films and books, and rightly so, made in the West by non-Muslim filmmakers depicting the stereotypically oppressive and supposedly restrictive situations of Muslim women, there are times and places when depicting the struggles that Muslim women face is necessary. We cannot, after all, ignore the social problems in our communities for fear of what others will think. We cannot at the same time demonize all our Muslim communities while dealing with these issues. A fine balance must be met. And addressing the issue within Muslim communities is a great place to start.

The Tunisian director was also quick to say she does not like the kinds of films in vogue in Europe focussing [sic] solely on the difficult position of Muslim women. “We Tunisian women have even more rights than you European women in certain respects,” she said, “except for this question of inheritance.

“Still, I told myself, if they want a film about the problems of Arab Muslim women, I’ll give them a film about the problem of Muslim women!”

Shtar M’Haba is a film by a Muslim woman addressing an issue, the effects of which are often detrimental for many Muslim women, and which is rarely addressed. As Bornaz says, this is a problem many Muslim women face.The Daily Star includes in their report her own experiences.

The filmmaker, who lives and works in Tunis, was quick to reassure the press that her films are never autobiographical but that she had witnessed dramatic consequences of the law first-hand with friends, cousins and neighbours. Committed to making a film on the theme, she said she researched for a year, speaking with lawyers, religious scholars and sociologist about inheritance before even starting to write the scenario.

Regardless of what the laws may say, what the interpretations are, or how people think they should be implemented or not, the fact remains that many Muslim women around the world do end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to inheritance, and films such as Shtar M’Haba demonstrate the human aspect and the real effects of such laws. I bring this up not to discuss the theology behind it, but rather simply to point out that the today’s impact of such laws can be very complex and often deprive women, as a result of the modern day realities Muslim women face. Though I do think theologians and Islamic scholars need to be thinking about this topic while considering these modern day realities that Muslim women experience.

I have not seen this film, therefore cannot critique the way in which this issue has been handled. However, it does seem to me that showing such realities are necessary for Muslims to consider and discuss.

Journalist Missing the Mission: Sally Armstrong and Afghan Women

The following has been cross posted at Muslim Lookout.

For a while now Sally Armstrong has been documenting the situation of women in Afghanistan through her books and documentary. She recently spoke at the University of Guelph fundraising breakfast and Guelph, Ontario’s Guelph Mercury covered the talk given by Armstrong  – a journalist, it seems, on a mission.

Sally Armstrong. Image via Guelph Mercury

Sally Armstrong. Image via Guelph Mercury

Now anytime the idea of a non-Afghan, Western/Northern person trying to save Afghan women is presented, I can’t help but wonder if  long lasting solutions are being sought, and usually they are not. The micro-level problems are highlighted at the expense of another culture and/or religion, while the macro-level causes of the problems are completely ignored and those who are at fault at the macro-level are rarely held accountable. Unfortunately, this is how this Guelph Mercury piece read. The Guelph Mercury reports that Armstrong is

swinging against the international political correctness that is keeping Afghan women under lock and key.

Together, Armstrong and the Guelph Mercury paint a bleak picture of the condition of women in Afghanistan.

Of the Taleban, Armstrong says

“They murder them [women] in public, in front of their children, by shooting them in the face”

Of the situation of women in Afghanistan the Guelph Mercury says:

And though there is a small but growing group of Afghan women who are working to improve conditions, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Eight years after the Taliban was brought down, women are still being kept behind walls, kept out of schools, kept in purdah and kept out of civil life, she said.

and:

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where the suicide rate is higher for women than it is for men.

About 85 per cent of the women are illiterate, a state they equate with blindness.

Though schools for girls have now opened, they receive no funding from the Afghan government

I do not doubt that situation for women in Afghanistan is dire. I do doubt, however, that the problem is as simplistic and black and white as is depicted by this oh-so-common narrative.

As much as I dislike the Taleban, and as much as I despise their view of women, I also recognize that even they are not the monolithic entity Western media depicts them as. To assume all Taleban members would do such horrendous things as shoot women in the face denies the possibility in our mindset and discourse that perhaps dialogue and educational  opportunities could arise with at least some of them. It also is only one step away from generalizing about all Afghan, and even all Muslim, men.

Additionally, the men who make up the Afghan Taleban are Afghan men. The men who make up the Taleban are their men. They are the brothers, fathers, sons, cousins, etc., of the same women so many here in the West want to “save.” How will painting these men as monsters actually help Afghan women? Simply criticizing the Taleban’s actions with one sweep of the criticism brush does not help Afghan women at all and further alienates the men in their lives. We are not recognizing the relationships, as well as possible dependencies, Afghan women have with Afghan men. We are refusing to recognize that Afghan women may have male allies in their midst, or that some Afghan women may support the Taleban.

A better way to address the issue would be a less patronizing and more nuanced way. Understanding not only their cultural and religious context, as well as how they ended up as they are – a.k.a. colonization – would be necessary. The British (who created Afghanistan’s borders) forced opposing ethnic groups to live in one country, resulting in years of civil war and the subsequent devastation of the economy and education of the country. Russia’s and the U.S.’s imperialist invasions, and now the U.S.’s “war on terror”, have all had devastating effects on Afghanistan and its people. They have created situations and realities that make resources that we take for granted very difficult to attain in Afghanistan. As a result of such devastation, the women have suffered most, as is what usually happens.

If women in the West do want to help Afghan women, they would be better off questioning the tactics and purpose of their governments’ current “war on terror”, one of the effects of which has been the further radicalization of many young Muslim men who have felt targeted and victimized by this war. A war in which we too, as Canadians, are involved. To deny the role this war has played in worsening the situation of women in Afghanistan would be the real injustice. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, understanding the effects of this war on the people of Afghanistan, including on the situations and motives of the men of Afghanistan, is necessary in changing the situation. Since you criticize international political correctness, I would say that challenging your own government’s role in the perpetuation of these dire situations for Afghan women may be the truly non-politically correct thing to do, Ms. Armstrong.

Culture and patriarchy do indeed play a role, and they should be challenged as well. However, they are being challenged and resisted by the women of Afghanistan. The Guelph Mercury says that

…though there is a small but growing group of Afghan women who are working to improve conditions, there is still a lot of work to be done.

The work of these women should not be discounted. Organizations like RAWA have been working for Afghan women for decades. Additionally, if the country were not in a war with Western forces, then there would most likely be more such groups. However, years of civil war and foreign invaders and occupiers have made this difficult.

Although Armstrong, and people like her, may have good intentions, their approach comes across as insulting. Helping is not a bad thing. But it should not be done with the assumption that there is something wrong with the people one is helping. Both the assumption that the women one is helping just aren’t capable of helping themselves (instead of criticizing and trying to change the macro-level forces which may hinder them) and the assumption the men of that culture are all oppressive monsters taint any altruism with self-righteousness and condescention. And that doesn’t help anyone. To have real change macro-level factors, which hold back entire nations, need to be challenged, questioned, and changed. Otherwise, all other solutions will be temporary, as the people will still be facing macro-level oppressions.

There’s Not Much Desi About Desi Dolls

Image via The Telegraph

Image via The Telegraph

A few weeks ago, we featured a story in our Friday links about the introduction of Muslim dolls in the U.K., created to teach Muslim children about Islam. Sounds like a great idea at first, until I saw what this picture of the dolls and realized the disturbing  racial implications.

The main problem comes in the name of these dolls. The dolls are called Desi Dolls. “Desi” is the term used to refer to anyone of South Asian descent - Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, etc. Therefore, this includes Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Zoroastrians, Jews, etc. Desi is definitely not exclusive to Muslims. It is an ethnic term, not a religious one. If these dolls were for Muslims, they should have been called Muslim dolls.

However, even then, the physical form of these could not remain the same. The dolls are fair skinned – very fair skinned. In fact, very suspiciously either White or West Asian fair-skinned. Yes, among South Asians we have fair skinned people. We also have very dark skinned people and every colour in between. But these dolls depict only a small percentage of my ethnic group. A small but revered percentage.

Yes, revered. In South Asian culture, fair is the ideal skin colour. Women and men (but especially women) go to extreme lengths to make their skin fairer. Skin lightening cremes are one of the most popular skin care products. Women and men with fair skin are considered beautiful solely based on their fair skin. Children with fair skin are considered cuter than darker skinned children. Girls with darker skin can sometimes be passed over as prospective marriage partners if a lighter skinned girl comes along.

There is a great deal of pressure to be light skinned. Much of this can be traced to colonization, but I will not get into that discussion here. At this point, the focus is these dolls, which perpetuate this preference for fair skin. If these are dolls meant to appeal to desi children, as the article states, then their skin colour should at least reflect an average skin colour of most South Asians. Instead, these dolls just further perpetuate a preference for lighter skin amongst an ethnic group which has serious issues regarding skin colour.

Additionally, the Desi Doll girl, or Aamina, is wearing a headscarf. This style of headscarf is not South Asian attire. Putting aside for a moment the debate over whether or not its mandatory to cover one’s head, I think we can agree that the hijab that is on this doll has nothing to do with desi culture. This is an Arab form of clothing that has been introduced into South Asian culture. Then why in the world is this girl wearing a hijab? If one wants to promote the head cover as something that is mandatory, then why not a dupatta or chadar to cover her head? That would be more culturally appropriate. And I just hope the hijab is removable for those parents who believe the hijab is not mandatory.

Additionally, why aren’t these dolls wearing traditional desi clothes, too? Shalwar kameez would be nice. Maybe they need to come with an extra shalwar kameez suit. Although the children buying these dolls are in the U.K., they most likely still have an awareness of their traditional clothing. I know as a child, I would have loved to own a doll wearing shalwar kameezes like the ones I wore (and still wear every now and then).

Finally, I can’t help but wonder what kind of Arabic the dolls speak when you squeeze them. Are they saying Qur’anic phrases with the desi accent, English accent, or the Arabic accent? I have a suspicion that they will be recited with an Arabic accent, teaching the children tajweed, an essentially racist concept assuming that non-Arabs have to pronounce Qur’anic Arabic with an Arabic accent to “improve” their pronunciation of the verses of the Qur’an. As if saying an Arabic word with a South Asian accent distorts the meaning. If this is the case with these dolls, then they are essentially teaching the children that to pronounce Arabic with any other accent somehow denotes inferiority in the Muslim world.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder what kind of Arabic the dolls speak when you squeeze them. Are they saying Qur’anic phrases with the desi accent, English accent, or the Arabic accent? I have a suspicion that they will be recited with an Arabic accent – a racist idea in my opinion. Considering in the Muslim world many South Asians face a great deal of racism from many Arabs to the point that South Asians are lower on the Muslim hierarchy, such insistence on pronouncing “Muslim words” in an Arabic accent, whatever that accent may be, aids to only further ingrain this supposedly inferior position. Within this particular context, such insistence is problematic. If this is the case with these dolls, then they are essentially teaching the children that to pronounce Arabic with any other accent somehow denotes inferiority in the Muslim world.

These dolls may be causing more damage than good among the children they are hoping to help. The underlying racism may go undetected at the superficial level, but my fear is that these young South Asian children will nonetheless receive the subconscious message that  the ideal desi Muslim girl or boy is light skinned, wears the hijab (or cap for boys), doesn’t wear traditional desi clothes, and speaks Arabic with an Arabic accent, not a South Asian or English one. I worry that the message being perpetuated by these Desi Dolls is that to be a better Muslim, one should try to be more Arab and less desi.

Editor’s note: At Sobia’s request, the post has been edited. I have kept the original paragraph in for transparency, but no more comments referring to the original paragraph will be published.

Life Lost: the Tragic Case of Sahar Daftary

On December 20th, 23-year-old model Sahar Daftary died as a result of a fall from the 12th story of an apartment building in Greater Manchester (inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji’un). May Allah have mercy on her soul. The death of this former Face of Asia has spurred many speculations in British media as to the cause of her death – was it suicide, or an accident?

Sahar Daftary

Sahar Daftary.

Media reports inform us that Daftary was believed to have committed suicide as a result of splitting up with husband Rashid Jamil. However, her family has stated that Daftary would never commit suicide and thus have introduced suspicions of an accident.

According to news reports, Daftary met Jamil at a fashion show. They later married. However, the marriage was limited to a religious ceremony and was never registered in the U.K., thus leaving the marriage unrecognized under British law. Eventually, Daftary discovered that her husband had actually been married three times before and was still married to his third wife. This left Daftary extremely upset. In fact, it seems that she had been pregnant and had a miscarriage as a result of the revelation. This is being presented as the reason for Daftary’s supposed suicide.

Overall, the many pieces written about the tragedy seem to depict the story of a young beautiful Muslim woman victimized by a cruel, controlling Muslim man. Now, don’t get me wrong. From all accounts Jamil seems like an unsavoury and skeezy character. From the Mail Online:

Sahar’s family, originally from Afghanistan, but now based in Brentford, West London, describe him as a ‘controlling’ figure, who was unable to get over Sahar after she left him.

Additionally, this from his ex-wife:

My marriage to him was like a roller-coaster ride. I was constantly under pressure. I was constantly unhappy.

‘He didn’t want responsibility, he just wanted to be carefree. He wanted the “chase” and once he’d finished the chase, he’d move on to the next woman. He was on a power trip.

‘He always had two women on the go. Two girls turned up at my house, knocking on the door claiming they were pregnant. They said he’d promised to marry them, to divorce and leave me.

‘He would cover his tracks by saying there was nothing going on and that they were lying. I believed him, but I stopped believing him when Narhisa had her son. He supported her and left us for her.’

So, yes, I cannot sympathize with the man. However, I also cannot ignore the underlying discourse: helpless Muslim woman the victim of polygamous Muslim man. The constant references to the couple’s Muslim ceremony, as well as Jamil’s former Muslim ceremony marriages, place the blame for Daftary’s death on Jamil’s polygamy and bring Islam into the picture. In fact, this Times Online article makes the link between Muslim marriages laws in the U.K. and this particular tragedy.

[Read more...]

How to Use a Murder Victim: The Exploitation of the Aqsa Parvez Tragedy

A recent Toronto Life magazine article regarding Toronto teenager Aqsa Parvez’s murder, entitled Girl, Interrupted, has sparked outrage in many circles in Toronto and beyond. And for very good reason. Journalist Mary Rogan has simply perpetuated stereotypes about Muslims, South Asian culture, and immigrant communities.

toronto-life-december-20081The disrespectful treatment begins with the front cover, where you see a full page picture of Aqsa’s face, posing seductively with only a hint of a strap on her bare shoulder. Now call me picky or cynical, but I find it hard to believe that this could have been unintentional. Aqsa Parvez has become famous for being murdered by her father for not dressing conservatively enough and the photo used for the cover is arguably not very conservative. The juxtaposition is no coincidence. But what does it say? Both South Asian culture (to which Aqsa belonged) and Islam encourage and value modesty in dress. Using Aqsa’s private picture, never intended for such public display, not only seems a violation of her privacy, but also a purposeful taunt to the Muslim and South Asian communities.

Rogan begins by recounting the events leading up to Aqsa’s murder. Her fear of her father who had sworn to kill her, her brother luring her home on other pretexts, and finally her father strangling her to death and then calling the 911 to confess his crime. It doesn’t take long for Rogan to throw in the phrase “honour killing.”

Was her murder an honour killing or simply a gruesome case of domestic violence? Worldwide, an estimated 5,000 women die every year in honour killings—murders deemed excusable to protect a family’s reputation—many of them in Pakistan, where the Parvez family had emigrated from.

Rogan uses a tactic used many times – point out violence against women in other cultures without acknowledging the extent of the problem within one’s own culture.* In the Western** context the killing of women by relatives and partners may not be termed “honour killings” but that does not mean women are not killed by those they love. The reasons provided may be different, but the underlying ideology – patriarchy – is the same. And patriarchy, which places women in a position of subordination and inferiority, exists in Western cultures as well. Even if one argues that the effects of patriarchy are greater in non-Western cultures, one cannot blame the culture itself but must rather look at the issue within post-colonial analyses. What effect has the racist and misogynist ideology of European colonization had on the culture in question? How has this colonization of the not-so-distant past impacted patriarchy of today? Because you can be sure it has. See here for an explanation of feminism and post-colonialism,

Rogan’s depiction of multiculturalism and immigrants as problematic within the Canadian context is an offensive and not to mention dangerous one. Throughout her piece Rogan repeatedly portrays immigrants, specifically South Asian and Muslim immigrants as threats to Canada.

But there is growing concern that recent waves of Muslim immigrants aren’t integrating, or embracing our liberal values. Aqsa’s death—coming in the wake of debates about the acceptability of sharia law, disputes over young girls wearing hijabs at soccer games, and the arrest of the Toronto 18—stoked fears about religious zealotry in our midst. Is it possible that Toronto has become too tolerant of cultural differences?

Rogan uses three examples to show that Muslims are not integrating. Three examples would hardly meet any empirical criteria. Honour killings, as Rogan calls them, are so rare in Canadian society that they warrant media attention when they do occur. Parent/child conflicts are common in immigrant families just as they are in non-immigrant families. If honour killings really were a part of South Asian/Muslim culture then many more than one would be occurring. One incident is hardly an epidemic to indicate lack of integration. The example of women wanting to wear hijab at soccer games does not indicate lack of integration in the least. If anything, the opposite would be true as it demonstrates a young Muslim girl’s ability to integrate her religion and her Western environment. Finally, the Toronto 18, which is now the Toronto 11, is again just one example of extremist thinking. What about the approximately 250,000*** other Torontonian Muslims who would never engage in such thinking? Three inadequate examples do not suggest that Toronto has become “too tolerant of cultural differences.” Three inadequate examples do not mean that non-Muslims and non-immigrant Canadians should fear all Muslim immigrants.

Rogan continues the story by talking with Aqsa’s friends at her school who tell the reader about Aqsa, what she was like, what she liked to do, who she was to them. They also give their reason for Aqsa’s murder – that she didn’t want to wear the hijab. At this point what one needs to remember, or be reminded of perhaps, is that Aqsa’s friends are young teenage girls. Although from their standpoint this may have been the reason and as such cannot be faulted for saying as such, Rogan, being a journalist, has done a great disservice to her readers by misrepresenting the opposing viewpoint – that the issue was not hijab but rather cultural conflicts and patriarchy. She briefly explains

The majority of Muslim leaders, however, insisted that Aqsa’s murder was not an honour killing. Mohamed Elmasry, who heads the Cana­dian Islamic Congress, and Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, described the death as a teen issue and a case of domestic abuse.

To present a balanced view, it would have been helpful to present the side of the friends of Aqsa who felt that the hijab was not the reason but rather cultural clashes.

Aqsa’s friends describe, what appears to be a cultural conflict in Aqsa’s life. Conflicts between parents and teens are common. Add in the conflict of having to deal with two different cultures and inevitably problems will get amplified. I do not wish to trivialize the tensions and problems which arise as a result of biculturalism. However, Rogan does not paint Aqsa as a young girl who was trying to simply balance between two cultures. Rather Aqsa is shown as someone who was trying to shed her “oppressive” South Asian Muslim culture and embrace a “liberating” Western one. It is this juxtaposition which is problematic, offensive, and not to mention inaccurate. Patriarchy and misogyny exist in all cultures. To assume that one is not ignores the experiences of oppression faced by women in the Western context.

However, Rogan successfully paints South Asian culture and Islam as the problem. She quotes Aqsa’s friends as saying “She didn’t turn her back on her culture…She just wanted to have freedom; that’s all she wanted” suggesting that adhering to South Asian cultural practices would have meant lack of freedom.

This article also suggests that the more religious a Muslim is the more they will condone, or even engage in, violence against women.

Some progressive Muslims, such as Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress, saw her murder as evidence of rising Islamic fundamentalism in Canada.

Again, one isolated case cannot determine anything substantial. It is an unfortunate tragedy but hardly a case of rising fundamentalism.

Aqsa Parvez lived in two worlds. Devout Muslims reject any division of life into the religious and the secular. By the time she was killed, she knew her father was never going to accept her decision to travel back and forth across the two.

This suggests that to mix religious and secular life, at a personal level, is problematic, when the truth is that many Muslims can do so very successfully. This statement simply demonizes those Muslims who place an importance on their religion. Being devout does not mean, as seems to be suggested here, that Muslims cannot integrate into Canadian society.

Rogan relates a Muslim sociologist’s view on the issue:

…when a Muslim child disobeys her parents, the emotional stakes are higher than for other kids. “It’s a religious issue. You’re not just violating your parents’ rules; you’re violating God’s rules. This will affect you in the hereafter.”

This explanantion still does not explain killing one’s child. As mentioned before, many Muslim and immigrant children and parents experience conflicts but never before this have we heard of such a case. If Muslim parents really feared this retribution from God, would we not see such horrific acts occuring more often? The connection is faulty at best and fear-mongering at worst.

The broad generalizations and dangerous stereotypes perpetuated through this article takes the attention away from the very serious problem of violence against women. Additionally, this story ignores the diversity of Muslim women, all of whom want different things and live their lives in different ways. The story creates a xenophobic and Islamophobic atmosphere that does nothing to bring justice to Aqsa Parvez, but rather simplifies the complexity of her life.

Here is another interesting analysis of the story.

*In Canada every week one to two women are murdered by a current or former partner. That’s 52 to 104 each year in Canada alone. And how many women are victims of attempted murders? One could argue that all women who are physically abused could potentially be killed by that violence.

** I use this term in referring to the non-immigrant Western culture.

*** This is as of the 2001 census. Most likely the number has increased greatly since then.