Two cultures, two women, two fates

In Western culture, we have learned through the past century or two that equality of the sexes is just an immutable fact. That doesn’t mean that men and women are exactly alike. They’re not. Men and women are different, and the differences acknowledged and understood are beautiful things. But men and women in the West are of equal worth in the eyes of the law and in society’s expression of human rights. Islamic culture takes a very different view. Women are not equal with men in the eyes of sharia law and are certainly not free or valued on a par with men. The hijab and the burqa are not symbols of freedom. In the past few days, the results of this difference in valuation of women between the West and Islamic culture has been brought out into the light by the actions and fates of two women.

This week, a woman living the free life that only the West offers faced a mortal threat. Free to become whatever she wanted without any man telling her no, she became a police officer. On Sunday at her church in Colorado she faced a mortal threat. A man entered with a gun, and he intended to kill as many as he could. The woman’s training and instincts kicked in. She stood up, summoned the courage her Creator endowed her with, and stopped the murderous madman before he could fully carry out his attack. The woman who faced him down is Jeanne Assam, and she’s a hero.


She described how the gunman, Matthew Murray, entered the east entrance of the church firing his gun. “There was chaos,” Assam said, as parishioners ran away. “I saw him coming through the doors” and took cover, Assam said. “I came out of cover and identified myself and engaged him and took him down.”

Assam had several years of experience in law enforcement and is licensed to carry a weapon. She attends one of the morning services and then volunteers as a guard during another service.

Her background is key. She was a police officer in Wisconsin before moving to Colorado and attending New Life Church. She became a police officer in a society that encourages women to seek out their own destiny.

We now know that Assam’s bullet did not kill Matthew Murray. He killed himself. But the fact remains that Assam, empowered by her training but more importantly by her freedom and faith, stopped him and saved lives.

This week in Canada (though the event could have happened almost anywhere), a young Muslim woman found that a very different story awaited her. She refused to submit to her father’s demand to wear the hijab, a headscarf demanded by some Islamic sects. Her father and brother believed that her refusal to cover her head brought shame on their family. Her refusal earned her death at her father’s hands by strangulation in what has come to be known by the oxymoronic name of “honor killing.” Her name was Aqsa Parvez. In the view of her culture, she was still her father’s and brother’s property. She defied them, and paid for that with her life. She was 16.


The girl, Aqsa Parvez, was in critical condition on Monday after being strangled, apparently after a dispute with her family over her refusal to wear the hijab, the Islamic headscarf worn by some Muslim women.

However Peel Regional Police said Tuesday the girl died late Monday night.

Police arrested the victim’s 57-year-old father, Muhammad Parvez on Monday morning after receiving a 911 call from a Mississauga home from a man saying he had killed his daughter. He is due to appear on Tuesday in a Brampton, Ont. court.

The victim’s 26-year-old brother, Waqas Parvez, was also charged with obstructing police.

Friends of the teenager, a Grade 11 student at Applewood Heights high school, said Monday they were shocked by the attack on the outgoing, likeable girl, but said she had been threatened by her strictly religious family before.

Aqsa was not alone in her fate. “Honor killings” have become a fact of life wherever Muslims live, from the heart of Arabia to London and beyond.

One doesn’t have to be consumed with self-hate to see that the West certainly isn’t perfect. We’ve had and still have our flaws and sins. But one also doesn’t have to engage in smug cultural superiority to see that we do have most things figured out better than they do. All one really needs to do to see the difference in sharpest relief is look at the faces and fates of the two women from the two cultures who came into our lives this week.