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.

Related Links:

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror


Anonymous said...

His final act evaporated whatever BTV was trying to accomplish for Muslims here.

Anonymous said...

Here is a good take by Wajahat Ali.

Anonymous said...

His ex-wife took half his $280M. His new wife filed for divorce, probably hoping to walk away with another half. The guy probably lost his head.

When a man divorces a rich wife, he gets squat, so the rich woman does not kill him. Au contraire, half a dozen Hollywood film stars had their wives killed.

It is time the laws be changed, so a woman too gets squat if she divorces. That will bring safety to women, and most women will not divorce either.

Anonymous said...

Daily Dawn reports violence against women is on the rise.

Anonymous said...

New York desparately need a return of the death penalty - imposed quickly.


Anonymous said...

It is time the laws be changed, so a woman too gets squat if she divorces. That will bring safety to women, and most women will not divorce either.

Exhibit A as an example of clarity of thought.

Anonymous said...

It is not just Muslim men who beat or kill their wives. Many American men do this too. I am sure there are more men all over the world who do these things to their wives. I was a victim of domestic violence. My ex tried to kill me and was digging my grave to bury me. His grandmother called the police. I left and never went back.

Anonymous said...

Education has not reduced the impact of animal of human behaviour is the only answer for this. AS somebody said that dealth penalty is the only way to give other a sense of fear before they try these stunts.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from religionlink about declaration of faith leaders against domestic abuse:

Women who experience domestic violence have not always found compassion and help in their houses of worship. Some pastors, referring to a Bible verse, said women should submit to their husbands. Others likened women’s suffering to that of Jesus’ on the cross. Some counseled forgiveness or suggested that a marriage must be saved at any cost.

Now a growing number of faith leaders from a wide variety of traditions are trying to make sure those days are over. Clergy are joining longtime advocates in saying that religious institutions have a moral and religious responsibility to answer and eliminate domestic violence. The increasing number of statements by denominations and organizations reflects that. One of those statements, the National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence Against Women, has been signed by more than 2,000 clergy and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i traditions, among others.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some interesting revelations about Gandhi's attitude toward women, as published in the Guardian newspaper:

During Gandhi's time as a dissident in South Africa, he discovered a male youth had been harassing two of his female followers. Gandhi responded by personally cutting the girls' hair off, to ensure the "sinner's eye" was "sterilised". Gandhi boasted of the incident in his writings, pushing the message to all Indians that women should carry responsibility for sexual attacks upon them. Such a legacy still lingers. In the summer of 2009, colleges in north India reacted to a spate of sexual harassment cases by banning women from wearing jeans, as western-style dress was too "provocative" for the males on campus.

Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped lost their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community honour. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done, and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of "shame". Gandhi also waged a war against contraceptives, labelling Indian women who used them as whores.

Like all men who wage a doomed war with their own sexual desires, Gandhi's behaviour around females would eventually become very, very odd. He took to sleeping with naked young women, including his own great-niece, in order to "test" his commitment to celibacy. The habit caused shock and outrage among his supporters. God knows how his wife felt.

Gandhi cemented, for another generation, the attitude that women were simply creatures that could bring either pride or shame to the men who owned them. Again, the legacy lingers. India today, according to the World Economic Forum, finds itself towards the very bottom of the gender equality index. Indian social campaigners battle heroically against such patriarchy. They battle dowry deaths. They battle the honour killings of teenage lovers. They battle Aids. They battle female foeticide and the abandonment of new-born girls.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report about honor killings in India:

Hindu caste leaders in the northern Indian state of Haryana have given their backing to six people convicted last month in an "honour killing" case.

The heads of 20 caste councils also demanded legislation to ban marriages between members of the same sub-caste.

Five men were sentenced to death and one jailed for life over the 2007 murder of a young couple who married against the wishes of village elders.

Elders said they violated local customs by marrying within the same sub-caste.


Caste leaders and protesters held a meeting in the town of Kurukshetra in Haryana state.

"We will appeal to the government to amend the Hindu Marriage Act," the Times of India website quoted Bhalle Ram, head of Bainiwal village caste council in the state, as saying.

"We are giving the Indian government an ultimatum to effect these changes," he said.

Protesters are threatening to block the road between the Indian capital, Delhi, and major cities like Chandigarh and Ambala.

They say they will appeal against the sentence handed to the six men.

Caste leaders say that by local tradition people within the same sub-caste are considered to be siblings.

The young couple - Manoj and Babli - apparently fell into this category.

They were kidnapped and killed a month after they eloped while they were travelling on a bus in Haryana in 2007. Their bodies were discovered later.

Those sentenced to death by the Haryana court last month were all relatives of the girl, Babli, and included her brother, two uncles and two cousins.

The head of the village council in Haryana's Kaithal district, which ruled against the couple's marriage, was given life imprisonment.

The case was brought to the attention of the village council by the family of Manoj, Babli's husband.

Campaigners hailed the court verdict as a blow against "honour killings", which are quite common in parts of northern India.

Correspondents say such killings have often not been reported or widely discussed in the past because families usually accept the verdicts.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an NDTV report abut alleged honor killing of an Indian woman journalist:

At 23, Nirupama Pathak seemed to have seamlessly made the transition from her small home-town in Jharkhand to big city life. Read: Delhi journalist murdered: Honour killing?)

Supported by her parents, she arrived in Delhi to study journalism at one of the capital's premier institutes. There, she fell in love with a classmate, Priyabhanshu Ranjan. A job at one of India's best-known newspapers, the Business Standard, followed. On Facebook, she commented on political and personal issues. She was easy-going, unpretentious and helpful.

The roots that seemed to ground her rose quickly to strangle her. Nirupama was a Brahmin, her boyfriend a Kayastha. Where she came from, that was enough to stop everything.

Last week, Nirupama's family summoned her home, insisting that her mother, Sudha, was not keeping well. On Thursday night, Nirupama was found dead in her bedroom at her Jharkhand home. Her family said she had committed suicide by hanging herself. The post-mortem clearly spelled murder by asphyxiation. "There are no external injury marks on her, which means that she was probably pinned down by a few people and then smothered," said P Mohan, a surgeon in Nirupama's hometown of Koderma.

Her mother, Sudha, was arrested for her murder and sent to 14-day jail on Monday. Nirupama's father, Dharmendra, says though the family wasn't pleased with her relationship with Priyanshu, because he was from a different caste, he would never hurt his daughter. "You have to first look at your own caste, then you should look elsewhere... but we only advised her," he told NDTV, reiterating that his daughter's death was a suicide.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a recent Washington Post report about honor killings:

Last year, officials in Haryana recorded about 100 honor killings of young people caught in the war between clan, caste, culture and cupid. Banwala's case is the first honor-killing trial to secure a verdict, although a similar trial is underway. In that case, four people are accused of beating and hacking a young man to death with sticks, sickles and scythes last year after he married a woman from a neighboring village, a relationship villagers also regarded as incest.

In 2008, a judge in Haryana and Punjab, Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia, said the number of "couples hiding themselves in the corridors of court" had risen in recent years. In response, the government set up hotlines and opened shelters for the runaway couples.

Mewa Singh Mor, the president of all clan councils in Haryana, said the councils do not order killings but often ostracize and boycott the defiant couples and their families.

"It is a shame that so many girls and boys are eloping nowadays, under the influence of TV and movies. Our constitution tells our youth what their rights are but says nothing about their social duties," he said. "These couples are like an epidemic. They are destroying our social fabric."

Jagmati Sangwan, a social activist, said the council meetings are "frightening, Taliban-type" gatherings that bar women but announce stern decisions on matters that directly concern them.

"There are seeds of an egalitarian society in such self-choice marriages, and these councils cannot tolerate that," said Sangwan, director of the women's studies center at the Maharishi Dayanand University in Haryana. "Victims of honor crimes fear filing a police complaint, and witnesses are hard to find. Sometimes the police dismiss them, saying it is a private, community matter. We want to break the social acceptance that honor crimes and killings enjoy."

Meanwhile, the court has posted two security guards outside Chanderpati Banwala's home. She has a fresh battle ahead when a higher court hears the defendants' appeal. "I will not give up. I want to teach them a lesson, so that innocent young couples are not killed again in the name of tradition," she said. "Now I trust only the court and God."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's VOA report on Hassan's conviction:

A Pakistani-American man who started a television station aimed at countering negative stereotypes of Muslims has been found guilty of beheading his wife.

A jury in New York deliberated for an hour Monday before finding Muzzammil Hassan guilty of second-degree murder.

Prosecutors say Hassan used two hunting knives to attack his wife, Aasiya, in February 2009, about a week after she filed for divorce.

Her body was found in the offices of Bridges TV, the station the two founded in 2004 in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. She had been stabbed over 40 times and her head had been severed from her body.

Hassan defended himself during the trial — claiming that it was he who was the victim of abuse from his wife.

The couple had been married for nine years and had two children together.

Hassan could face life in prison when he is sentenced.

Riaz Haq said...

On New Year's Eve, Christian Jose Gomez allegedly attacked his mother with an ax. Angry that she had been "nagging" him about moving some boxes up to the attic, Gomez beheaded Maria Suarez-Cassagne in the family's garage and tried to stuff her headless body into a garbage can, according to investigators. When he couldn't do that, he fled the home on his bike and was soon captured by local deputies in Oldsmar, Florida. Gomez calmly confessed to the crime and said he'd been planning it for days.

Note that Fox News ignored the Florida scene of grisly, domestic violence. Apparently, without a Muslim suspect under arrest for the beheading, Fox News wasn't interested. The cable channel didn't set aside hours to cover the horrific crime. There was no heated Fox News commentary, no panel discussions, no primetime news specials to comb over the evidence of the tragic beheading. Fox News didn't care about the shocking story of an isolated beheading in America.

Thirteen weeks ago however, Fox News couldn't stop talking about an isolated beheading in America. In late September 2014, Fox News became almost singularly obsessed with the gruesome workplace beheading in Moore, Oklahoma by a recent Muslim convert, Alton Nolen. Angered about being fired over racial comments at the Vaughan Foods processing plant, Nolen went home and retrieved a large kitchen knife. He returned to the workplace and began attacking his former co-workers. He beheaded one woman and injured another before he shot was by a company official. Nolen later confessed to the attack.

Riaz Haq said...

Five young Indians die in suspected 'honour' killings

New Delhi (AFP) - Five young people in northern India are believed to have been murdered by their families or partner's relatives in suspected honour killings, in three separate incidents this week, police said Saturday.

Police arrested the father and brother of a 19-year-old Hindu woman Friday on suspicion of murdering her and her 23-year-old lover, both from the lowest Dalit caste.

The relatives allegedly strangled the couple after catching them having sex at their home in Shamli district in Uttar Pradesh state, police said.

"We have arrested the father and brother of the girl. They told us they killed them because she had brought disrepute to the family," Bhushan Verma, investigating officer in Shamli, told AFP.

"We are investigating to see if there were more relatives involved. Both were strangled to death."

It came after another Hindu couple in their 20s were Thursday found dead in nearby Saharanpur district, also in Uttar Pradesh, after their families allegedly objected to their relationship.

Police have not ruled out suicide after the couple were found hanging inside the man's house.

"It could be honour killing or suicide. We are waiting for the post mortem reports to confirm the cause of death," Pradeep Kumar Yadav, police chief of Saharanpur, told AFP.

Yadav said the couple were in a three year relationship and wanted to marry but faced resistance from both families.

Both of the deceased couples were biologically unrelated to one another.

However, in each case, the couples belonged to the same "gotra" -- or kinship group -- something considered incestuous by many Hindus despite the lack of biological links, and which can be a cause for such killings.

In a third case, police on Thursday found the body of a 16-year-old Muslim boy buried near an edible oil factory in neighbouring Muzaffarnagar district, after he earlier went missing from his home.

Police said the teenager was in a relationship with the niece of the factory's Hindu owner, adding her relatives strangled him to protect the "honour of the family".

"We have arrested the girl's brother, uncle and cousin for the murder," Deepak Kumar, police chief of Muzaffarnagar district, told AFP.

Marriages outside one's caste or religion still attract censure across India.

Honour killings -? which often see couples targeted because their families or communities disapprove of their relationship -? have been carried out for centuries in the country, especially in rural areas.

They are typically enacted by close relatives or village elders to protect what is seen as the family's reputation in a hereditary caste system.

United Nations statistics suggest 1,000 out of the 5,000 such murders that occur worldwide every year are in India.

India's Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that those found guilty of the killings should face the death penalty.

Riaz Haq said...

‘Honour killings’ in the West

Mon., June 2, 2014

Toronto Star Op Ed

Family stones woman to death outside court, May 28

Your article says that, since 2013, 869 women suffered “honour killings” in Pakistan. Compare this to the United States, where three women a day are killed by their male partners or husbands. By my count, since 2013 about 1,095 women were killed by men who think they have been dishonoured by their female partners.

Maybe the women wanted to leave the marriage, or had found a new partner, but clearly the men felt betrayed and dishonoured by their partners and killed them. The media are quick to target women murders in Muslim-dominated countries, but maybe the media should also look at the facts in the U.S. (and Canada) as well.

Judy Haiven, Department of Management Professor, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, N.S.