Thursday, February 19, 2009

Muzzammil Hassan's Beheaded Wife No Honor Killing - Move Along

Honor killing, killing a close relative (generally a woman), to maintain the honor of your family, wasn't a common practice in North America. Until people from the Middle East started moving in.

I'm delighted that people from all over the world recognize Canada and the United States as desirable places to live, and move in. My ancestors did the same thing, a few generations back, diluting America's DAR and WASP element: and helping the country grow.

Not All Muslims Kill Their Women

The vast majority of Middle Eastern families in America tolerate embarrassing wives and sisters, rather than kill them.

However, "Sandela Kanwal, Aqsa Parvez, and Sarah and Amina Yaser Said would probably be alive today, if their male relatives hadn't handled embarrassment the way they did in the old country.

It's a bit hard to ignore the fact that a small minority of Middle Eastern Muslims in North America don't realize that local laws and customs frown on men killing their women: even if the men are embarrassed.

It's even harder to ignore the way that the 'Muslim community' and 'Islamic leaders' seem to get defensive as soon as this little cultural quirk is brought up. Even though it's been argued that honor killing is more a Middle Eastern cultural thing, than an Islamic teaching.

I don't think that traditional news media's efforts to placate hypersensitive Muslims is helping. At all.

Editor's Quandary: How to Handle a Prominent Muslim, Founder of Islamic Network; and a Beheaded Wife

After news of Muzzammil Hassan's incredible headless wife spread around the world, The New York Times published a story on this curious upstate New York occurrence.

The 'Gray Lady' took a bold approach, stating: "...The gruesome death of Ms. Hassan prompted outrage from Muslim leaders after suggestions that it had been some kind of 'honor killing' based on religious or cultural beliefs.

"Dr. Sawsan Tabbaa, a Muslim community leader who teaches orthodontia at the State University at Buffalo, said, 'This is not an honor killing, no way.'

"Dr. Tabbaa added, 'It has nothing to do with his faith.'..."

No Honor Killing Here: Move Along

Those three paragraphs from America's 'newspaper of record,' sets, I think, the tone for most coverage of this event.
  1. It is not an honor killing
  2. Muslim leaders are outraged at the very idea
  3. Options
    1. Move along, move along: nothing to see here
      1. Pay no attention to another prematurely-dead Muslima
    2. Call for end to domestic violence
Options III A and III B seem mutually exclusive, but I think a skilled writer, with a select audience, could combine them.

After the Times: Polite Reticence and (Sort of) Bold Challenge

After The New York Times cast light upon the journalistic high road, CNN related the events in Orchard Park to interested readers, and a stern rebuke appeared in the United Kingdom's Guardian.

CNN didn't use the phrase, "honor killing," at all. Their article was a low-key, tasteful, recounting of the known facts of the event. The closest CNN came to embarrassing sensitive persons was the use of the word "beheading" in the headline.

Someone writing for the UK's Guardian made what I think is a daring statement: that Muslims and Islamic leaders might want to take a look at what they're doing and saying.

But, the Guardian's article made clear, we mustn't say "honor killing."

There is No Honor Killing: Just Domestic Violence

Wajahat Ali, writing in the United Kingdom's Guardian News and Media Limited's, chose Option 3B: which I think may become the preferred view of Bridges TV's little public relations problem.

Wajahat Ali's headline and lead sentence does make sense:

"A wake-up call for the community"

"The murder of a Pakistani-American woman forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about the prevalence of domestic violence"

So far, so good. In fact, Orchard Park police were called to the Hassan household to deal with domestic violence: the last time, on February 6, 2009. That was the day Aasiya Zubair Hassan filed for divorce.

The first paragraph makes some good points:

"The brutal beheading of Aasiya Hassan, a Muslim Pakistani-American mother of four, will finally force a community to confront and remedy the overwhelming – but frequently ignored and intentionally hidden – demon of domestic violence that has persecuted its silenced women for far too long...."

Then, there's the third paragraph:

"...Contrary to some spurious reporting, this was not an "honour killing", a barbaric practice that has its own unique motivations and historical culture, rather it personifies the all too common phenomenon of domestic abuse. Asma Firfirey, the sister of the deceased, stated Aasiya suffered last year from injuries that required nearly $3,000 of medical bills – allegedly the result of spousal abuse...."

Let's see if I understand this.
  • A Pakistani-American cuts off his wife's head
    • Soon after she shames him by filing for divorce
  • He leaves the body and head at his business for people to see
  • and it's not an honor killing
That assertion may make a few Muslims feel better, but I don't think it helps rehabilitate the image that outfits like Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia's religious police, Sudan's government, and the Taliban have given Islam and Muslims.

Insisting that Aasiya's beheading be described with a generic term which can mean anything from a slap to a lethal beating, can easily be taken as an effort to trivialize a serious cultural and legal issue. The author may not have had that in mind, but his 'it's not an honor killing' sounds like some of the crazy legal defenses of past decades. ('I didn't rob anybody: I just took their money.')

Even so, I recommend reading the rest of Wajahat Ali's article. he has something to say to Muslim/Islamic leaders that must, in my opinion, be said.

And heard.

And acted on: very soon.

Defying the Times: Journalists Unchained

A Buffalo News article published today, long after The New York Times set the standard for reporting on Orchard Park's beheaded Muslima, included this paragraph:

"...Advocates for women — some of them Muslims — have called for the community to acknowledge religious and cultural traditions that stigmatize divorce and heighten the danger of violence in divorce cases...."

I'm impressed at this divergence from the 'Muslims outraged by ignorant outsiders' standard. But, the Buffalo paper prudently followed that bit of rebellion with a more traditional:

"...Meanwhile, the Imams Council of Greater Western New York on Tuesday issued a statement calling it 'unfair to vilify the Islamic faith or Muslims' in the homicide...."

'Vilifying the Islamic Faith or Muslims?' No - Trying to Save Lives - Yes

One blogger can't do much, but I have to try.

There's no doubt that "domestic violence" isn't limited to one culture or one religious group. But, it does look like a few people with roots in the Middle East have regard domestic violence as a culturally-acceptable way of dealing with having a snit.

I'm pretty sure that many Muslims don't think that flogging or killing their women is a good idea.

And, I think that Islamic/Muslim/Middle Eastern religious and community leaders could do wonders for the image of Islam and Muslims if they'd make:
  • Fewer claims that honor killings aren't happening
  • A greater effort to spread the word that embarrassing relatives can't be killed in the new country
It's an idea that's worth trying: and not all that far from what Wajahat Ali advocates.

(Continued in: "Honor Killing, Muzzammil Hassan and Aasiya, Protecting Feelings,and Common Sense" (February 20, 2009))

Related posts: News and views:


Brigid said...

There is no elephant.


Brian H. Gill said...


That's the way I see it.

('An elephant in the parlor' means, in parts of America, anyway, a painfully obvious reality.)

Anonymous said...

Great post about this. No matter how many beheadings, stonings, or terrorist attacks there are, we must never fear, resist or mock the precious and ever peaceful Islam. Who are we to say that raping 9 year-olds is immoral? Who are we to say that stoning gays and rape victims to death is evil?

Who are we to say that killing hundreds of people every month in the name of Allah is the height of evil? That is just their culture and ideology and it MUST be respected. Morality is all relative, we must remember that.
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
cut off your wife's head

if she dishonors you
by asking for a divorce

absurd thought -
God of the Universe wants
all planets Islamic

Earth is one of many
in process of conversion

absurd thought -
God of the Universe wants
many Taliban planets

stonings and beheadings
billions served daily

absurd thought –
God of the Universe says
convert the infidels

or make them pay a tax
if they don’t want to die
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Brian H. Gill said...


I think I understand what you're trying to say, but I've learned too much to think that there is one, monolithic, uniform, global, version of Islam.

As an example, there's a mosque in Toronto, with what I think may be a valuable program. More, at "Canadian Mosque's "Specialized De-Radicalization Intervention Program" - Sounds Good " (February 26, 2009).

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.