News last week that the founder of Bridges Television has been arrested and accused of beheading his wife is prompting renewed focus on domestic violence and honor killings among Muslims.
Muzzammil Hassan faces second-degree murder charges in the gruesome death Feb. 12 of his wife Aasiya Hassan. Aasiya had filed for divorce from Muzzammil Hassan and secured a protective order against him just before she was killed.
"This was apparently a terroristic version of honor killing, a murder rooted in cultural notions about women's subordination to men," New York State president of the National Organization for Women President Marcia Pappas told the Buffalo News.
Coincidentally, a German judge last week sentenced a 24-year-old German-Afghan man to life in prison for killing his sister by stabbing her 23 times last year. As awful as the crime is, the family's reaction to Ahmad-Sobair O.'s sentencing is telling:
The accused himself began screaming: "You son of a whore! What is this, honour? I know no honour!"
The murderer's mother then tried to throw herself out of a courtroom window, but was restrained by family members. Relatives of the accused also assaulted and threatened a journalist in the room.
There's not enough information yet to determine if Hassan's murder was, in fact, an honor killing – one in which a man kills a female relative in a twisted belief that she dishonored her family. Domestic violence murders are not new and not isolated to any faith. But it speaks to a simmering problem in parts of the Muslim community.
If any good is to come from such a heinous crime, perhaps it will shock the complacent and the deniers to confront the ugly truth. Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, issued a strong statement acknowledging Aasiya Hassan's murder is "a wake up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and can not be ignored."
He further acknowledges that some members of the Muslim community have ignored or downplayed the problem:
"I call upon my fellow imams and community leaders to never second- guess a woman who comes to us indicating that she feels her life to be in danger. We should provide support and help to protect the victims of domestic violence by providing for them a safe place and inform them of their rights as well as refer them to social service providers in our areas."
However, as M. Zuhdi Jasser notes, the crime is not generating the media attention that might be expected, given its nature and the accused killer's high public profile:
"Imagine for just one second, a non-Muslim CEO of a cable network channel (i.e. the Oxygen channel) turning himself in after the beheading of his wife. Add to this the threat of the ideology of radical Islamism and the resources which our government is spending countering that threat since 9/11, and one cannot help but lament the dimming hope of any legitimate reporting being done about the Islamist movement and its threats in the United States."
Jasser blasts reactions that merely say such behavior is not permitted in Islam, as did Khalid Qazi, who leads a New York Muslim Public Affairs Council chapter. Islamist groups such as MPAC have supported Bridges TV and denied a problem of domestic violence and honor killing exists in the Muslim community:
"This should at least begin a national discussion on how remarkably parallel the tracks of the ideologies of Jihadism and the ideologies of male domination and dehumanization of women are. Most importantly, we need to address how both come out of political Islam. American Islamist organizations should account for their stances on the place of women in society and whether they recognize the inherent equality of women which has characterized one of the core values of modernity in the west. A review of many controversial laws passed in the name of Sharia in the "Muslim world" reveals a treatment of women which is only a "stone's throw away" from the so-called moderate veneer of the Islamism of Muzzammil Hassan's Bridges TV."
For more on U.S. honor killings, see this study by Phyllis Chesler.