After Shafia: the conversation we need to have

Par Beryl Wajsman le 5 février 2012


The Shafia verdict should have implications far beyond the deserved condemnations of the very concept of "honour" killings. Beyond even the condemnation of the terrible subjugation of women that is at the heart of that retrograde and oxymoronic phrase and the corpus of thought that gave it birth. And  beyond any satisfaction people may have about the verdict. It should lead us straight to the heart of the matter: the absolute rejection of accomodation to any status for any religious law in Canada's legal jurisdictions and the urgent need to reaffirm this nation's dedication to the sovereignty of the individual over any collective.

Thanks to the brave Liberal MNA from the south shore, Fatima Houda-Pepin - born a Muslim but secular by choice - Quebec was spared the agonizing year-long debate on status for Sharia law in family matters that Ontario went through several years ago.  Houda-Pėpin stood up in the National Assembly and moved a resolution at the very start of demands to raise religious standards to secular rights. She was supported unanimously by the Aseembly and it is a credit to all members of all parties that this was so.

We may have had our Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accomodation, but it was clear from the outset and the conclusions that there would be a firewall between church and state. We need to state this over and over again with clarity and candour across all regions ofthis country. And particularly to new  immigrants. Neither political correctness nor accomodation should stop us from declaring loudly and proudly what we're for.

But it is now important to reach our citizens on a broader issue that springs out of the cultural particularities, no matter how perverse, that led to the murders of four women. That broader issue relates to the commitment to all free societies to put the individual first, ahead of collective fiat or demands.  The concept that a group has any right to impose its dictates on an individual is anathema to freedom.

Those who argue that a concept such as collective rights exist, open the door, however inadvertently, to subjugation of people.  All societies that have recognized the primacy of the individual have, ipso facto, protected groups. Those societies on the other hand, who believe that collective standards should be imposed on individuals - standards whether religious or political - have committed horrible atrocities in the name of those standards.

Whatever fleeting  encounters with what we call human progress, have always been the result of mankind's transcendent struggle for redemptive change steeped in the universal rights of all people. It took millenia to recognize this.

Magna Carta, and the individual rights embodied in it, may have come in the 13th century, but for much of the past three centuries societies have imposed the status of the supremacy of physical national sovereignty arising out of the mid-17th century Peace of Westphalia that put an end to the Thirty Years War. 

But it was precisely because of the Westphalian doctrine of national collective supremacy that World War I was possible. Tens of millions died to protect and defend collective national honours rather that principle and purpose. Ideas had not yet come before identities.

The League of Nations that sprung out of that "war to end all wars" sought peace and order as it's main goals, not the protection of individual dignity and the pursuit of individual justice. It was only after the slaughter of the Second World War that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was accepted as a world standard and for the first time the  foundational principle of individual supremacy gained global acceptance.

Clearly, fidelity to  those standards of individual human dignity vary from nation to nation. But we here in Canada, whose son John Peters Humphrey drafted those standards, must be first among equals in protecting them. 

That is the conversation we need to have across this nation. Not only with new immigrants who may not yet comprehend that their cultural and religious particularities do not supercede our dedication to the sovereignty of each and every person, but also to Canadian citizens themselves who must be made to understand every day and in every way never to take our civil rights for granted nor to allow them tombe compromised to statist or collectivist dictate 

There can never be "honour" in passing judgment on someone's conduct that hurts no one whether they be your child or neighbour.  Honour only comes from the courage and commitment to assure the survival and success of the fullest flowering of individual possibility.



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