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Aqsa Parvez's death lays bare flipside of immigration

Parents want change, but are fearful their children will heed `siren call' of the West
Dec 12, 2007 04:30 AM
Naheed Mustafa
special to the star

The news item was on the front page but easy to miss. Short-ish, below-the-fold, it was accompanied by a blurry picture of a young girl with long hair. But the two lines just below the headline yesterday were shocking: a father in Mississauga attacked his daughter during a confrontation about hijab.

A further reading of the story brings more questions than answers. Was this about religion? Was this about culture? Was he a raging fundamentalist or a father pushed over the edge? Where's the mother? Where's the community? How on earth could this happen?

The details are scant at this point. Aqsa Parvez was attacked and now she's dead. The main reason seems to be conflict over hijab. Dad wanted her to wear it and she wanted nothing to do with it.

But there has to be a back-story here, doesn't there? This can't just be about a father so driven to enforcing his will that he'd rather have a dead daughter than a disobedient one. Or can it?

This sad case is almost a shorthand for the flipside of the immigrant experience.

To say immigration is transformative is a gross understatement. Families leave everything and everyone they know and move to a foreign place where they become blank slates. The support of the extended family is gone, the cocoon of well-understood social norms is cast off, and parents and their children stand out in the open, waiting for a new life to start.

And just as a new life rife with possibilities is open to the parents, so too is it for the children. But while parents want economic opportunities and a solid education for their children, they are wary of the siren call of "the West." They want change but not too much change. But for kids, the desire to fit in, to be "normal," is tough to ignore.

Aisha Asghar's parents immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. She says the struggle of Muslim kids, especially girls, to fit in with their new Western lives isn't anything new. She remembers it from her own days in high school. Asghar says while most girls who wore hijab at her Scarborough high school wanted to do it, it was always clear which girls didn't.

"You could pick out the girls who wore hijab because they had to. They would wear revealing clothing and be walking around with their boyfriends but they had the "symbol" of Islam on their head. A lot of parents are concerned with putting a cloth on their daughter's head because they think it'll protect them," says Asghar.

She says at root is the clash between what parents perceive as being their culture and what kids feel is their own. "A lot of this is the disconnect between parents and their kids. These days you have to be your kid's friend to some degree, you can't just dictate all the time. You need to know what they want, what interests them."

Nevin Reda knows well that struggle between old and new. The mother of four daughters is originally from Egypt and came to Canada 14 years ago. Reda, of Mississauga, says she struggles with her girls they don't want to speak Arabic, they don't like the food, and, most difficult for Reda, they don't like going to the mosque.

She says part of the problem is certainly a cultural one she's more Egyptian, her daughters more Canadian but a large part of it is also the messages Muslims get about hijab.

"There needs to be more information out there about a girl's choice to wear hijab and not about wearing it as a religious duty. In the mosque it's equated with morality and modesty," says Reda.

She says reading about Aqsa in the paper made her immensely sad. She thought immediately about her own 16-year-old daughter. "This is anger and emotion gone out of control," says Reda.

Aisha Asghar says it's inevitable that children will rebel if parents aren't tuned in. "It could be that she hates everything her parents stand for and she was totally rejecting all that. That's what happens when people force things on you."

Naheed Mustafa is a Toronto journalist.



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