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The Honourable Voices of Four Women Killed In Kingston

Stories that need to be told

by Arash Azizi

This photo from Sahar's cellphone, which was recovered from the crime scene. shows Rona Mohammad Amir and Sahar Shafia.
This photo from Sahar's cellphone, which was recovered from the crime scene. shows Rona Mohammad Amir and Sahar Shafia.

Somewhere in the calm setting of an Islamic cemetery in Laval, Quebec lie four headstones belonging to four women, all members of a single family. Neatly arranged next to each other, they share color, style and design. A Farsi gender-specific religious title for deceased (Marhoome) is prefixed to their names. One verse of Koran, in Arabic, decorates all four gravestones: “Yea, enter thou My Heaven!” But it was their mortal lives, the very hellish existence that they had to endure, which is more telling. Who were these people? And how did they, all originally from Afghanistan, end up buried, thousands of kilometers away, in the serene surroundings of a town in Quebec?

The primary details of the case were always clear from the outset. In Summer 2009, three sisters aged 13, 17, 19, and their 52-year old stepmother, were found drowned in a car in the depths of the Rideau Canal. It was always unlikely that it was an accident that had led them.

Now, we know much more. The police investigation led to the largest trial in Kingston's history; it took over three months, was conducted in English, French and Persian, and involved summoning 58 witnesses. The accused were the parents and brother of the three murdered sisters. Over the course of the trial, those in the courtoom were able to form a picture not only of the gruesome murder but of the real lives of Geeti, Sahar, Zainab and Rona.

In the last days of January 2012, the jury returned a guilty verdict for all three accused on four counts of first-degree murder. Police uncovered damning statements, primarily from  Mohammad Shafia, the patriarch and murderer-in-chief of this plot, which recorded no sorrow.

But as Shafia’s statements fill the newspapers, what we don't hear is the story of the four victims. Shafia said that they had to be murdered because of their "treason" in supposedly violating his "honour" and that of Islam. What he saw as betrayal, however, was a brilliant story of resistance and expression.

A breath-taking exhibit in this trial was a journal kept by Rona Mohammad Amir, 52, the first wife of Shafia, who was discarded for her infertility and later murdered along with the three children of the second wife. Written in a beautiful Persian prose, it describes an educated woman, who was just 20 when the 1979 revolution signaled an era in which a proliferation of woman's rights, and other social progressive policies, took place in Afghanistan. The Kabul in which she spent her youth was called "Paris of the East", a city with a young female population known both for their university degrees and liberal fashion sensibilities. Her own polygamous father, a retired colonel, had welcomed the waves of modernization. Rona could wear whatever she wanted and was fond of cheering for her favorite basketball teams in the stadiums. Those days ended in 1981 with an arranged marriage to a young man from a rich family, who gave her an extravagant wedding ceremony in Kabul's Intercontinental.

One would need a novel to delve more into the story of how this ‘family’ found new members; how it traveled around the world to Pakistan, India, the UAE, Australia and finally Canada; how the very-rich Shafia (whose business included buying a shopping centre in Montreal for two million dollars) decided to run his family according to his own sick notion of “Islam,” a notion that (as Kurdish-Iranian Feminist scholar, Shahrzad Mojab testified) is discarded by millions of Muslims around the world as a backward tribal code that has nothing to do with the religion. Never-resting Zainab, 19, whose recurring attempts to escape, with a Pakistani boy that she loved, were not tolerated.  Sahar, 17, loved nothing like taking cellphone pictures of herself and her large beautiful eyes. Geeti, 13, who never got a chance to go beyond her first teen year.

These voices of resistance are the true honourable voices in this story, a story which, when it is finally told, will defy all clich├ęs about Afghan women. Both those that the patriarch Shafia had in mind, and those apparent in the sensationalized racist accounts that have filled the newspapers in this country. 

Arash Azizi has spent countless hours covering the Shafia case for Shahrvand, a Toronto-based Persian publication.

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Thank-you Arash Azizi for

Thank-you Arash Azizi for contributing this.  I have avoided reading any articles on their case thus far, favouring instead to overhear the conversation that flutters around it.  I fear a spectacle premised on 'tolerance' which affords an opportunity for legitimizing notions of Islamophobia via false appeal to the rights of women. 

After all I do reside in a nation producing "Ethical Oil" which does not come from places "that do not respect the rights of women or gays and lesbians." 

I am interested in the aspect of "a brilliant story of resistance and expression" of women together.    I am wondering if the violent events endured by Zainab, Shar, Geeti, and Rona can be traced back to military intervention as the force countering women's rights and progressive policy here and there, or to borrow a ridiculous term from CBC, 'Afghanada'.

I hope to read more of your writing.   


Canada's 'Honour-Killings': Where Is The Sense of Honour

by Eric Walberg


"...As Canada continues to pour troops and money into American wars and intrigues in the Muslim world, the media focuses on so-called honour-killings. How many innocent Afghans, not to mention freedom-fighters, have Canadian soldiers and mercenaries killed since 2002? Surely many thousand times the 13 deaths attributed to honour killings on the home front.

And just why are the Shafias with their un-Canadian ways even living in Canada at all? It is a direct result of the destruction of their homeland...The shameful, very noisy trial of the Shafias distorts the real news about Canada's relations with Afghans,

a perfect metaphor for the high-tech imperial centre presenting itself  (through an embedded media) as the world's sole source of progress and reason, even as it drags that world down into chaos and destruction....

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