Responding to public opinion, the City of Edmonton has pulled a controversial bus placard ad campaign that some believe conveyed anti-Muslim sentiment. The campaign placed on the tail of many Edmonton Transit buses and ostensibly pitched at young Muslim women, included the headline: “Is Your Family Threatening You? Is There a Fatwa on Your Head?” It features a composite photo of seven young women with the subhead: “Muslim Girls Honor Killed by Their Families.” In much smaller type, the ad proposed to help young girls if they visit a website.
The website purports to be a kind of underground railroad to help lead people out of Islam. Neither the ads nor the website includes a toll-free or other hotline phone number. The ads were developed and paid for by US-based SIOA (Stop Islamization of America), which posted the same material in Tampa, Florida. The organization was founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer as part of their American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). Both spoke in the Toronto area in September (link). Neither has much of a track record in matters pertaining to violence against women, but both are known for their opposition to the spread of radical Islam.
Even though I am a staunch proponent of free speech, I applaud the City of Edmonton for removing the ads. Let me explain why. Honour killing, in spite of what Geller and her coterie tell you, is not an Islamic practice. The practice of murdering and assaulting women who stray from the values of their families predates the advent of Islam. It is a disgraceful practice most commonly found throughout southern Asia, the Mideast, and parts of Africa, especially where tribal culture predominates. Every year there are cases of young women being killed or maimed in rural non-Islamic India because they are dating or marrying across caste lines, even though the caste system is “officially” illegal. This has nothing to do with Islam. One other factual problem: it would be extremely rare for a young woman to, as the ad puts it, have a “fatwa on her head.” It takes a religious authority – not your family members – to declare a fatwa or religious edict. Therefore, I favour the removal of the ads because they convey inaccurate information and are factually incorrect.
The Shafia case
But who wants to tell Ms. Geller that she is keeping company with the most villainous males of an ilk she abhors? You recall the Shafia case. Mohammad Shafia, an Afghan immigrant living in Montreal, slew three of his daughters and his first wife by drowning them in a car in Kingston, Ontario. Seems he couldn’t keep his women from succumbing to the lure of mainstream Canadian culture, so he murdered them. Shafia claimed that he had taken this murderous action because of his adherence to Islam. The same has been true of a number of cases where young girls have been slain by family members for being too liberal in their lifestyle and attire. But Islam does not condone any of it. These cowardly scoundrel men are using their faith as a shield for their fearful, sexist and murderous behaviour. The police show up at these men’s homes on a report of wife assault, and these guys try to invoke some kind of “religious immunity” to protect their obscene behaviour.
Along comes Ms. Geller and her associates and they side with these foul men, take them at their word and agree, “Yes the problem is Islam.” But the problem is violent men, who will stop at nothing to have their way with their women, even to the point of sullying their own religion’s reputation. Ms. Geller and her SIOA have seized on this as an opportunity to fan the flames of anti-Islamist fervour. Speak to any Islamic authority or imam in Canada or the United States: every one of them will tell you unequivocally that killing someone or injuring them out of some misplaced sense of family honour does not accord with the current practice of Islam. That is not to ignore the fact that some of the most glaring examples of this so-called “honour” killing have originated with South Asians and Middle Easterners of Muslim faith.
However, let’s also be clear and rational in our thinking. If all terrorists are purple skinned, that doesn’t mean all purple-skinned people are terrorists. Just because everyone who gets a takeout pizza order is male, doesn’t mean that only men or even all men eat pizza. Ms. Geller is taking the bad and unauthorized behaviour of a few crazies and allowing it to be representative of the entire group.
Code of conduct
Let’s acknowledge that typically, when you run afoul of a religious code of conduct, you are either shunned or asked to leave the company of believers. Murder is not part of it.
So then, these ads that incorporate no 1-800 hotline, are less about rescuing the victims than they are about stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment. For example, if a Christian or Hindu young woman is being attacked by her family, would this organization help her? If the main concern is violence against any young woman, the headline would have been: “Is your family threatening you with physical harm and death because of its ‘family honor?’”. What if it had said “Young” women rather than “Muslim” women, and if it had been posted by a social service agency opposed to violence against women? No one would have objected to that ad. This rejected ad’s main purpose was to yoke violence against women to Islam.
I understand that an elected official in Edmonton has been calling the ads “racist”. Let’s not throw that word around too readily. There is nothing racist at all about the ad. Anti-Muslim? Most likely. But religion and race are two very different things. There are Muslims in every nation and of every colour. The ad is not racist.
Let us not allow this attempt to opportunistically use the persecution of women – especially young women – to drive an anti-Muslim agenda. Let us not divert our attention from the very real issue behind the murders of the seven young women in the poster. — New Canadian Media