Thursday, February 19, 2009
Beheading in Buffalo: Domestic Violence or Honor Killing ?
Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan, founder of a Muslim-American TV network, is accused of beheading his wife, Aasiya, last week in Buffalo, New York, days after she filed for divorce, according to media reports.
The incident has shocked the Muslim-American community in upstate New York and the rest of the United States. The allegations against Mo Hassan are particularly devastating for the Muslims in North America because Hassans had founded Bridges TV network to fight negative stereotypes of Muslims after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
The reports have triggered frenzied speculation as to the motives behind this murder. Was it an extreme case of domestic violence? Or was it an honor killing which sometime occur in couple's native Pakistan? So far, it seems the answer depends on the preconceived notions of the speculators. The well-known strident critics of Islam and Muslims in America have already concluded that it was an honor killing perpetrated by the husband, and they cite the beheading as method of killing as proof.
Rabbi Hirschfeld, a friend of the Hassans, said that Ms. Hassan had confided in him a few years ago about incidents of domestic abuse, but at the time she insisted that her husband was getting counseling. She later told Rabbi Hirschfeld that the counselor had told her she was safe, according to the New York Times.
“I knew there were issues in the marriage,” Rabbi Hirschfeld said. “I didn’t know it was this bad. My immediate response is horror and incredible sadness.”
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the police had responded in the past to domestic dispute calls at the Hassan house.
Unfortunately, the issue of domestic violence among Muslim-Americans is not unknown. Last year, International Herald Tribune talked with a Muslim-American woman who looked into this problem. "The Muslim community is under a lot of scrutiny, so they are reluctant to look within to face their problems because it will substantiate the arguments demonizing them," said Rafia Zakaria, a political science graduate student at Indiana University who is starting a legal defense fund for Muslim women. "It puts Muslim women in a difficult position because if they acknowledge their rights, they are seen as being in some kind of collusion with all those who are attacking Muslim men. So the question is how to speak out without adding to the stereotype that Muslim men are barbaric, oppressive, terrible people."
According to Dawn newspaper, the 2008 report of violence against women in Pakistan makes horrific reading. In that year alone, 7,733 cases of violence against women were reported in the media. What is shocking is the large number of women who lost their lives in this period — 1,516 were murdered while 472 were killed for reasons of ‘honor’.
A number of women organizations are offering shelter and counseling in response to the growing but hidden problem of domestic abuse among South Asian and Muslim families. Maitri and Nisa are prominent in this effort.
But it's not just a Muslim or Pakistani problem. It occurs in people of every class, race, religion, ethnicity and nationality. A woman is beaten up every 9 seconds in America. Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, the euphemism for murders and assaults by husbands and boyfriends. That's approximately 1,400 women a year, according to the FBI. The number of women who have been murdered by their intimate partners is greater than the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. The problems of domestic violence tend to get worse during times of economic hardship. In the latest stimulus budget package, President Obama has allocated additional funds to stop violence against women. Specific Office on Violence Against Women investments in the Act include $175 million for the STOP (Services • Training • Officers • Prosecutors) Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program and $50 million for the Transitional Housing Assistance Grant Program.
The use of specific incidents of violence and murder to demonize any particular religion or ethnicity does not help the victims. On the contrary, it can have the opposite effect of attempts to cover up the problems that lead to extreme violence like the tragic murder of Aasiya Hassan. It is important for those of us who genuinely care about the helpless victims to focus on understanding and dealing with the real causes of violence. Organizations such as NISA, Aurat Foundation and Maitri also deserve support in their noble effort to help the unfortunate victims.
Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence
Fighting Agents of Intolerance
A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change
A Tale of Tribal Terror