Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The beauty of western governments is that they’ve known this for a long time.

Countries like America and Canada reacted to this idea because they had to live under monarchies and they saw first hand the corruption of such systems.

 As a result, what they tried to do in their establishment is spread the power between different entities so that no one person would have all the say.

This is why in Canada there is the house of parliament, the Senate and the supreme court of Canada. Similarly in the States they have three houses of parliament and their president is only aspect. (Forgive me if I got any of this stuff wrong, it’s been a while since I studied the details of government.)

By distributing the power like that, each entity can correct the other. (At least that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work. The current trend is to go back to concentrating the power into the hands of the 1%)

I think individuals need to have these kinds of safeguards in place as well.

No parent should create such an atmosphere of total control that their children and others can’t question their decisions or even authority.

At the same time parents have to be the parents. Families are not a democracy where the majority can change rules. Parents need to have the courage to set rules (within reason) and expect the children to comply with them.

For the past six days, I’ve been dealing the conviction of this Afghan family, the Shafias in the horrendous murder of the first wife and three of the daughters. I think that an atmosphere of total and unquestioning control is precisely what the father created in his household.

How else could he have convinced his son and his second wife to go along with his scheme to murder the four women?

The father was a millionaire.

He was used to a certain amount of prestige in his home country.

He comes here and he’s just another immigrant. And as in the case of many immigrant families, his children became more comfortable in their new home and language than he was. He probably depended on them in certain ways and it undermined his feelings of, I don’t know, power and mastery.

When I was growing up I always saw my father in his Canadian setting.

I remember a certain incident in particular that was really jarring. It was during grade eight graduation and I was introducing him to one of my teachers a really odd woman that none of the students liked. I’ll call her Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones had extremely short hair. She was tall and gangly except for her chest and she spoke with extreme awkwardness. On the night of the graduation she wore a very inappropriate v-neck halter dress and had stuck a blonde pouf of hair on top of her head. It looked as ridiculous as a man’s toupee.

But I was excited about my graduation and I was eager to introduce my parents to my teachers, and so I introduced my father to Ms. Jones and an odd thing happened.

She was taller than him, and perhaps that added to the effect of her bending down and shaking his hand.

She was condescending towards my father.

My father did not look more grand than silly Ms. Jones!

And yet he should have!

He was ten times better than her, and yet the way he was behaving was…yes…subservient.

It really bothered me!

And in some ways it made me think a little less of him.

Until seventeen years later when I went to Pakistan!

It was precisely twenty years ago, in the December and January of 1991-92.

There was a moment in Lahore, when we were at some sort of outdoor venue, my father had bought some sugar cane juice from a vendor and we were all sitting back sipping the sweetness, and it occurred to me what was different.

Our roles were reversed. Here I was the ‘immigrant’. I was the one almost cowering, thinking of what to say in my hesitant Urdu while the words came flowing easily out of his mouth.

He was in his element.

And I was fully dependent on his knowledge of the surroundings to stay safe.

Didn’t he stand a little taller? Didn’t he walk with a lighter more buoyant step?

And only then did I realize what kind of sacrifices he had made to bring us to this land of opportunity, Canada.

Growing up, my father was very strict! But he tempered it with love, and he did his very best to take care of us.

But the difference was that my father’s faith put limitations on him. Because he took his faith seriously, it curbed his behaviour, not condoned any injustice.

He knew his responsibilities as a parent and he fulfilled them completely. When some of his children did things he did not approve of, he had the presence of mind to accept that, as their choice.

Which brings me back to Mr. Shafia.

I bet you anything that he saw control of the family slipping away from him and the way he’d set things up there was no one there to reason with him. To talk him out of his murderous course of action.

Kind of like when Bush wanted to invade Iraq and there was no one to warn him because he’d hand-picked his cronies so they didn’t include anyone who disagreed with him.

All the years when my children were growing up I constantly told them that it was not my job to make them Muslim.

It was only my job to show them what I believed, and ultimately it was their choice whether or not to follow or not.

It’s kind of the way my dad handled us. He would say that the only reason he’d read Quran to us after working sixteen hours that day was because it was his obligation to teach us the faith so that on the day of judgment we couldn’t grab him by the neck and say, “Why didn’t you teach me?” Many times he’d say that when we grew up and went on our own he would never ask us again whether we prayed or not, fasted or not. It would be completely up to us.

With my children, my husband and I went a step further. We wanted God’s authority to be the head of the family (not ours). It was a pretty safe thing to do because it’s very clear that in Islam after obedience to God comes respect to parents.

We challenged our children to show us if we were violating any of God’s principles, and if we were, they were free to correct us.

I have learned to cherish this relationship with my children!

So many times when I slip up, when I say or do something dumb, I have my children there waiting in the wings to gently correct me.

The vast majority of people don’t intend to go bad. They do so in tiny increments.

Like Boxer in Animal Farm when he didn’t challenge the pigs when they started to change the rules.

Checks and balances.

A couple of posts ago I talked about taking on bullies, and I talked about a strategy wherein I was going to deal with a relative who’d been disrespectful to my father by disrespecting hers.

One of my daughters was kind enough to call me up and challenge that. She provided a saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that showed this was not necessarily the right approach, and I’m really grateful.

That might sound like an odd thing to say but think of the alternative!

My biggest fear has always been deluding myself.

I have seen umpteen people in my life, people whom I thought were way smarter than me, delude themselves into doing very wrong things.

Not as heinous as the Shafias, but still pretty bad.

And I always prayed that would never happen to me.

There’s a reason I’m talking about all this.

Believe it or not it has to do with writing.

Not only is no man an island, but I’d say people are more like the white ball in a game of billiards (pool).

The white ball bounces off all the others. Some balls it sends to the pockets, others ricochet off the edges of the pool table and effect changes in the configuration afterwards.

In any story, the characters are like that too!

In your story you want your character to start out straight. To be likeable, to be good. Something hits it, some inciting incident, and it will deviate off course. Hopefully by the end of the story, it will return to the ‘straight and narrow’.

The white ball protagonist’s character will change with every move it makes, every ball it hits and every ball’s tajectory that it changes.  Just like our character changes with every person we interact with, and who influences our own trajectories.

If life were perfect we’d all shoot straight from the pool cue and our paths would never ever deviate. They’d follow the ‘straight and narrow’.

But life is not perfect (nor is it meant to be).

We will hit yellow balls, and bounce off of eight balls, and red balls and blue balls.

We can only pray that each subsequent ball that hits us, brings us back in line, in a fairly straight line, because they don’t call it the straight and narrow for nothing!