A coalition of Muslim, immigrant and feminist groups gathered in Toronto Tuesday to express their unhappiness over a magazine article about the killing of Aqsa Parvez.
The story by Mary Rogan in Toronto Life's December issue gives an account of Parvez's final months, suggesting that she was killed because she wasn't adhering strictly enough to her family's view of how a Muslim woman should dress.
Her father and brother have been charged in connection with the death of the 16-year-old.
The group protesting the article particularly objects to the headline on the article, which describes Parvez's death as Toronto's first so-called "honour killing."
The Toronto Life article "serves to fuel myths and stereotypes that harm Muslim women and their communities and that distract from the real issues of gender-based violence against women," said Cindy McCowan, executive director of Interim Place, one of the organizations protesting the story.
"Violence against women is about the systematic power and control by men, and the assertion that Miss Parvez's murder was because she was Muslim or due to Islam is based in both racism and Islamophobia. Violence against women is not a value in any culture or faith community," she said.
Summaya Kassamali said the way the article is written equates Islam with domestic violence.
"It sort of implies that anyone who grows up Muslim — and they are taught there are certain things God wants, or there are certain requirements — is automatically subject to violence," she told CBC News.
Protests anticipated, editor says
Toronto Life editor Sarah Fulford says the negative response to Rogan's article is not unexpected.
"I'm not surprised at all. It's a very emotional story," she told CBC News. But she said many readers have expressed admiration for the moving descriptions of the final months of Parvez's life.
"As Mary Rogan so beautifully illustrated, Aqsa Parvez was caught between the Old World and the New World in a struggle that was familial and domestic and it … is resonating with many of our readers," Fulford said.
"In some ways, it's a common immigrant experience. Parents have a certain vision for their child that conforms to Old World ways and the child, in this case Aqsa Parvez, was curious about the New World and being a teenager, she wanted to have a boyfriend, she wanted to go to a mall, she wanted to wear her hair uncovered."
Fulford said the magazine was aware that describing the death as an "honour killing" would be controversial.
But she points out that Parvez herself is not here to tell us whether her death was an "honour killing" or a domestic dispute gone too far. The girl's final months, as described by her two best friends, were quite frightening, Fulford said.
"I don't know whether she would say this is a domestic violence issue or a question of strict religious parenting — I don't know exactly what she'd call it, she was murdered, so we can't ask her," she said.
Rogan denies accusations that her story is racist, Islamophobic or stereotypical.
"The suggestion that to focus on the hijab somehow detracts from the issue of violence against women is absolutely incorrect," she said.
Rogan said she hopes to participate in Facebook discussions on the issue.
The story "Girl, Interrupted" is part of a theme issue of Toronto Life that deals with the immigrant experience.