Monday, November 10, 2008

Toronto Life cover story on "honour killing" comes in for criticism

[This post has been updated*]The cover story in the December issue of Toronto Life about the so-called "honour killing" of Aqsa Parvez, has provoked a furious reaction from a group of people who denounce it as a misrepresentation. Using a Facebook page, they have called on people who agree with them to flood editor Sarah Fulford, her voicemail and her inbox with denunciations of the story.

A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday morning in Toronto, featuring speakers from the Muslim Young Women, Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children, Urban Alliance on Race Relations.(The Facebook page and the organization seems to be lead by the Urban Alliance.)
While featuring Aqsa’s story is recognition of a young woman’s life cut tragically short, the Toronto Life article perpetuates common stereotypes about Muslim and immigrant communities, diverting attention from the urgent issue of violence against women across Canada.
Having read the story by Mary Rogan, my own view is that most of it is a fairly straightforward profile of a tragic event in which Parvez is said to have been murdered by her father and brother for, among other things, going against traditional ways and refusing to wear a hijab.

However the article does trespass against a standard journalistic rule: don't raise questions you don't answer. And it is easy to see how this particular paragraph, early in the story, provoked the reaction that it did:
Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism and, to varying degrees of success, condemns institutionalized patriarchy. 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?
Nowhere is this question even addressed, let alone explored; the rest of the article is a workmanlike job of reporting, reiterating much of what has been published elsewhere at the time of the her death by strangulation last December, augmented by interviews with Aqsa's two, closest friends who don't shine any particular light on the events as far as I can see.

[UPDATE: In a case of interesting timing, Sarah Fulford is speaking Tuesday night in Toronto in a free lecture hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism. Here's the promotional copy for the event, which takes place at 6 pm in ENG103, 245 Church Street.

Editor-in-Chief, Toronto Life Magazine

As a lauded journalist, Why They Matter In The Digital Age

In this presentation, Sarah Fulford will talk about why magazines in 2008 are surviving--and even flourishing--while newspapers are dying. More specifically, she will talk about her experience at the helm of Toronto Life, the business of working with writers, developing ideas and the challenge of breathing new life into an established brand. Sarah Fulford is the 34 year old editor-in-chief of Toronto Life magazine - and also the first female editor in the magazine' s 40 year history. Toronto Life is one of North America's top city magazines with 741,000 readers each month.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One wonders if the writer added the unanswered rhetorical device (“Is it possible that Toronto has become too tolerant of cultural differences?”), or the editors did. Whatever the case, talk about a classic example of lame reductive thinking: muslim men kill girl equals religious zealotry equals multiculturalism questionable. Good grief. This kind of reasoning serves only to bolster ignorant stereotypes and detract from the larger problem of violence against women in general, making the criticism entirely warranted. Thankfully, we do get a voice of reason later on in the piece from Shahina Siddiqui, who pegs the murder as a case of domestic violence, plain and simple, rather than an example of Islam gone wrong. I mean, really, wouldn’t we otherwise be seeing a hell of a lot more murders in Canada like that of Aqsa Parvez? Looks to me like this piece still needed some substantive editing.

10:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let the schadenfreude begin!

11:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the first Toronto Life cover design with any depth, vitality, and magnetism that the new art direction has produced.

11:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote that last comment has no idea what they are talking about...this cover is terrible. It is a straightforward cookie cutter cover.

1:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I originally read that graph, I immediately assumed it had been added by an editor. Having just read it again, I'm even more convinced. If that's the case, I wonder if the writer offered any resistance. It will be interesting to see what Mary Rogan's response is.

2:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good on them for drawing attention to this intolerant, backward culture.

4:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ anon 1:35
Agreed. That commenter has no idea what she's talking about. It's yet another dreadful cover. Way too many colours. Seriously over-retouched photo. Where is Christian Schwartz's beautiful type? Moskot must be cringing.

5:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This tragic story would be of interest to everyone in the GTA, but it is sad that Toronto Life chose to publish this story in the issue dedicated to "the immigrant experience." That says a lot to me about Toronto Life.

It is sad that the article spends time going over the ethnic demographics of Mississauga when that has nothing to do with the crime. Nor does that information frame the major players in the piece. The writer was making a weak link between this crime and the value of multiculturalism but then does nothing to really discuss the issue.

Sadly, there are thousands of stories of domestic violence in Canada. It affects every community and every class. It has absolutely nothing to do with multiculturalism To present this issue as a dark side effect of Canada's policy of encouraging multi-ethnic identities is beyond offensive and Toronto Life should be ashamed of itself.

10:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: "One wonders if the writer added the unanswered rhetorical device (“Is it possible that Toronto has become too tolerant of cultural differences?”), or the editors did."

As a TL contributor I can tell you that the editorial voice there always wins out over the authorial voice. Stories and their angles are conceived in office and if what comes back doesn't match, it is tweaked and twisted till it does, regardless of what the author may have discovered. Under Fulford everything in TL has to have a gratuitous, salacious bent. It's become NOW magazine for Rosedale.

p.s. Hideous cover.

12:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's play a funny little game and substitute "young blacks" and "crime" in the following paragraph:

"But there is growing concern that young blacks aren't integrating or embracing our liberal values. Jane Creba's death -- coming in the wake of several high profile shooting deaths in the black community -- stoked fears about black-perpetrated crime in our midst. Is it possible that Toronto has become too tolerant of certain races?"

Nice, huh?

I don't buy that it's just the editors, here, either. What, Rogan never saw a final edit? Give me a break. I'd pull my byline before I accepted any editor inserting a 'graph like that in one of my stories.

5:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creba's death was random.
Parvez's, as far as is alleged,
was planned and deliberate.
There is some evidence that she
was killed because she would not
conform to certain cultural and
religious practices.
Toronto Life may have overstated
the case, but they have a
point to make about the link
between culture, religion,and
violence against women.

6:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Alleged." "Some evidence." "May have overstated the case."

You've both missed my point and confirmed it. The point I was making is that gross generalizations about cultures, races, nations, etc., are dangerously reductive. By framing the "issue" as they did, T.O. Life played an easy, dirty card.

BTW, there have been a few tragic and high profile honour killings in BC. None, that I know of, were committed by Muslims, but rather by Sikhs. Yet thankfully I don't recall any national discussion about whether the Sikh religion/culture was somehow responsible for these terrible crimes.

Gee, I wonder what's changed here?

I'm not saying you can never look at the possible implications of culture and religion on aberrant acts committed by minorities. But responsible writers tread carefully in these matters. Rogan and Fulford did not.

1:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been quite a few
books written about honor
killings in the Muslim World,
for example "Price of Honor,
Muslim Women lift the veil of
silence," and over time the
subject has become associated
with Islam, because of the specific
reasons for the pattern of violence - the women were seen to dishonor the family and the religion.
Sikhism and Hinduism also have these kinds of killings.
THerefore, Toronto Life's association of the subject with facets of the Islamic religion today is realistic. How would you describe what occurred, unless you want to water down the truth with euphemism and rationalizations.
I suppose you could say that
Toronto Life defends materialism
and paganism and does not believe
in defending family honor.
You could put it down any number
of ways.

3:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I suppose you could say that Toronto Life defends materialism and paganism and does not believe in defending family honor. You could put it down any number
of ways."

You could be the most abstruse "writer" I've encountered on this site.

12:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generalizations might be reductive,
but if there's a lot of evidence
supporting them, then they're
more probable. I'd say wait til
the trial before making any
conclusions. From the article,
I conclude that Toronto Life is
supporting paganism and hedonism,
because it looks at this life
style approvingly, in contrast to
a religiously structured family
life. It reduces structured family
life to "zealotry" as anonymous
first wrote in this blog. This
appears to be a case of domestic
violence, the father did not know how to control his hedonistic daughter. . . teen rebellion is a common problem for religious households, but in this case the end result is the worst case scenario. The trial will
bring out more specific evidence
as to what exactly happened.

6:05 pm  

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