There is no question that the following story from Canada.com and the Calgary Herald is, when push comes to shove, a crime story. Yet the lede signals that something else is going on, something that readers have to wait a long, long time to find out when reading this report. The journalistic question is simple: Is this delay too much, if the goal is understanding the crime, or just about right, if one is trying to avoid the religious content of the story? However, this only raises another question: Why strive to avoid the religious content of the story, if there is a chance that it is linked to the outrage mentioned in the lede?
Let's start at the beginning, which does include a reference to this most symbolic of weapons:
CALGARY -- A Calgary mother won't spend a day in jail for killing her teenage daughter with a head scarf -- a decision that has prompted outrage.
A national victims' group, based in Toronto, is stunned by the suspended sentence given to Aset Magomadova by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sal LoVecchio. ...
"I really strongly disagree. It sends a massively huge message to the rest of the country and the world that her daughter's life was valueless," said Joe Wamback, co-founder and chairman of the Canadian Crime Victims Foundation. "Even though this girl may have been a handful and trouble, that's not the issue. The issue is human life. Sentencing is not just about the criminal, but has to speak for the victim and to denunciation."
About 200 words later, we learn that religion may have been a complicating factor in what is clearly a complicated crime in side a complicated family that, before coming to Canada, had been touched by the wars in Chechnya. The deadly conflict between mother and daughter took place after Aminat refused to attend a court session in which she was to be sentenced for "assaulting a female teacher at her school." In light of what we read just after that, I wondered what kind of school she was attending -- public or religious.
Then readers learn this:
The devout Muslim mother claimed Aminat came at her with a knife in her sewing room, where she prayed several times a day. She said she reacted by wrapping the scarf around her daughter's neck and twice told the girl to put the knife down before the teen lost consciousness.
A knife was found in the room, but the daughter's fingerprints were not on it.
Note this very striking detail in the crime story itself. What happened in this argument? It appears that Canadian law officials do not know. Period.
Thus, self-defence argument was rejected. However, the judge said the death was not intentional, even though it would have taken several minutes to strangle the victim in this manner. The mother's legal team noted that the judge took into account "psychological and psychiatric background" of the family. Is that code for cultural factors and even religion?
If there are Canadian readers out there, I also think that I need help understanding this reference in the report:
Marilyn Millions, one of Magomadova's sponsors with St. James Anglican Church, said outside court she was relieved "at the compassion and mercy that has been shown" by the court.
"There were lots of tears and emotion," she said. "If you've lived through it and you've gotten to know these people, it's all in the context. It's a lot different than reading a little bit about it. It's a very different situation."
These statements leave me very confused. Then again, I am also confused about what was happening that led to this tragedy. Had this daughter brought dishonor to the family? To answer that question, one would have to know a few more details about the nature of the school she was attending and previous events that, clearly, would have been discussed in the trial.
There are so many missing pieces. I do not know how we can understand the outrage among the victims' rights groups without knowing additional information about the context of the crime -- even if that means discussing religion in modern Canada.