Dear Ms. Fulford.
I am a writer and parent based in Sudbury, Ontario. I am writing to express my concern over your recent article about the murder of Aqsa Parvez. I agree that it is an important issue and am happy that you saw it as important enough to cover. However, I feel that choices made by your publication in covering this issue have reproduced some common stereotypes and in so doing have obscured rather than clarified the real issues around violence against women, racism, and Islamophobia in Canada.
For one thing, I was shocked that despite the rich detail provided in setting out the context for Parvez's murder, your article says practically nothing about the realities of violence against women in Canada as a whole. Yes, different women experience this reality in specific ways, but the tragic truth is that women being murdered by male partners, fathers, brothers, friends -- including for reasons that have to do with controlling their behaviour -- is as Canadian as maple syrup and hockey, not some anomaly that can be attributed solely to Muslims or South Asians. By framing Parvez's murder nearly exclusively as an "honour killing" rather than as yet another instance of violence against women in Canada, you are invoking stereotypes of South Asian Muslim families that contribute to racism they experience, and you are effectively suggesting that domestic violence is not occurring at alarming rates all across Canada. The implication in your article that Muslim religiosity in Canada leads to family violence is also completely unfounded.
The attempt to lay this at the foot of "multiculturalism," and to frame the issue as some sort of essential tension between multiculturalism and gender equity, is misguided and completely misunderstands the issue. It creates a binary in which "we" are enlightened and tolerant and "they" are oppressive and violent. A thorough examination of how different kinds of violence is organized into people's lives, who is responsible, and who benefits, leads to a much different picture. In reality, women throughout Canadian society experience gendered violence and women and men of colour experience pervasive racism, among other things. The frame of an enlightened "we" and an oppressive "them" exaggerates one specific site for violence and oppression and mischaracterizes the causes, while it also hides from view the many other axes for violence and oppression that are just as central for shaping the experiences of all people in Canada, white women and racialized women in particular. Your magazine's extremely distorted description of the issues would lead to approaches to creating change that are not only unlikely to do anything useful but that are likely to make things worse for many people.
I would suggest that you, your reporter, and members of your staff spend some time reading about some of these issues. On multiculturalism and gender in Canada, I would recommend Himani Bannerji and Sunera Thobani. On violence against women, particularly racialized women, I would recommend Bannerji, Andrea Smith, Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, Sherene Razack, and Leti Volpp. Razack's most recent work is also useful for learning about the experiences of Muslims in Canada and the impossible bind that analysis such as that in your article imposes on Muslim women and other immigrant women of colour. And of course the voices of activists on the front lines of dealing with these issues in Toronto and across Canada are the most important resource for the rest of us to understand the kinds of social change we need to be working towards.
I am extremely disappointed in your publication's sensational and misleading treatment of this issue. It diverts attention from the urgent issue of violence against women across Canada and fails to deal with the ongoing realities of racism and Islamophobia. I hope that in the future your publication will deal in a more serious and responsible way with some of these issues.
EDIT: At the suggestion of a commenter, here are links to reviews I've done of some of the books I refer to up above.
- Thinking Through: Essays on Feminism, Marxism, and Anti-Racism by Himani Bannerji
- The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender by Himani Bannerji
- the particular essay on violence against women of colour by Bannerji that I'm thinking of is printed in one of the above (I forget which) as well as in Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-racist Feminist Thought edited by Enakshi Dua and Angela Robertson, which also has lots of other interesting stuff in it
- Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada by Sunera Thobani
- Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide by Andrea Smith
- Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence...I don't actually like my own review so much any more, though the book is amazing...the review in this publication is great, but it's not actually online yet
- the most relevant by Sherene Razack are Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms and Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law & Politics