The father and brother of Aqsa Parvez, a Muslim Canadian teenager who was killed in December 2007, recently confessed to murdering her and were sentenced to life in prison. Canadian media outlets covered this news widely. At the Toronto Star, one of the reporters writing about the case was Noor Javed, who co-wrote one detailed overview of the case (trigger warning: this article includes detailed descriptions of violence and murder) and also authored another article about whether Parvez’s murder was an “honor killing.” Both articles are disturbing to read, but very detailed and obviously the result of some research and reflection.
Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress (who we have written about previously), has written a particularly insulting response the very fact that Javed was writing on this issue. In a June 22 article in the National Post, he said:
One would have expected the media to have some sensitivity towards the murdered Aqsa Parvez; show some respect for the wishes of the dead child. This is why many Muslim Canadians were enraged when they discovered that the Toronto Star had sent a reporter who has for years advocated and celebrated the hijab and niqab, to cover the guilty pleas of the father-son team that killed Aqsa.
When the Star assigned the story to reporter Noor Javed — who is of Pakistani descent, wears the hijab at work, and has written in glowing terms about her own hijab wardrobe — it was a crass act that reflected at best an ignorance about the case. At worst, it cast insult on the memory of a dead child.
In other words, Fatah is basically implying that Javed’s very identity and self-expression are an affront to Parvez’s memory (I’m not sure exactly who these “many Muslim Canadians” are who agree with him).
Fatah conflates wearing hijab with advocating its imposition–a position Javed very obviously rejected in an article she wrote shortly after Parvez’s death (in fact, the same piece carries a rejection of the entire idea of hijab being at all related to greater levels of piety). Yes, Javed has written about her experiences wearing hijab and is supportive of young women who choose to wear it. In no way does this suggest that she is unsupportive of, let alone hostile to, women who don’t wear it. Fatah paints Javed–and, by extension, all women who wear hijab–as somehow necessarily unable to speak or write about Parvez with any kind of compassion or understanding.
Assuming that Javed’s hijab positions her as Parvez’s enemy is problematic in itself. It is additionally inappropriate given that it has never been clearly established that Parvez was killed specifically for her refusal to wear hijab. As Javed’s article about honour killings explains,
At the time of Aqsa’s murder in 2007, it was believed that she had been killed for simply refusing to wear a hijab, as her friends told the media following her death. But the statement of facts read in court shows the situation inside the Parvez household was much more complex. It was never about imposing religious doctrine on Aqsa, it was simply about controlling every aspect of her life.
The same article also lists many other ways in which Parvez defied her father, further complicating the assumption that her refusal to wear hijab was singlehandedly responsible for her death. This makes Fatah’s accusations against Javed, and his reactions to her headscarf in this context, even more absurd.
Fatah also takes Javed to task for not identifying Parvez’s murder as an “honor killing.” He writes:
In her story, Ms. Javed asked the rhetorical question, “Was this the GTA’s first honour killing? Or was Parvez simply a domineering father, who feared losing control of his youngest daughter?” Her dubious conclusion: “Experts say it’s a debate with no resolution.”
He follows this section up by talking about the Star‘s role as “apologist for fundamentalist Islam,” suggesting that to avoid labeling the case as an honor killing is to support religious fundamentalism. If you actually read Javed’s articles, she makes it clear that there are indeed legitimate questions about whether the term “honor killing” applies here. Fatah evidently believes it does, but seems to expect us to accept without question (and even without any need for evidence on his part) that those who think differently are apologists for violence.
We are not going to have the “honor killing” debate here, but it’s a bit much to label people (Javed herself, and the Toronto Star as a whole) as supporters of extremists just because they don’t share your opinion. If Fatah wanted to write an article about why this case should be called an honor killing, he could have done so without the personal attacks.
Overall, Fatah’s article suggests that only those Muslims who support violence and strict enforcement of rulings on hijab would be okay with Javed writing about Parvez’s death. That argument only flies if you let Javed’s hijab be the sole defining factor in her identity (and Parvez’s lack of hijab as the sole defining factor in her death). Javed (who is not the only Star reporter writing about the case) writes with sensitivity and critical reflection on this horrific and devastating story.
Fatah’s headline refers to “A parting insult to Aqsa Parvez,” and he ends by saying that the Star‘s lack of writing by women who call her death an honor killing is “a disgrace to Aqsa Parvez’s legacy.” If we’re talking about what’s insulting and disgraceful, let’s also include the use of this young woman’s body, her life, and her death, to make political points (whether it’s to label entire groups as violent extremists, or to malign the work of a particular Muslim woman). May Aqsa Parvez rest in peace, and may we all come to talk about her with the respect that she deserves.