TV executive beheaded in Buffalo; husband charged -- what's Islam got to do with it?

BlogHer Original Post

Aasiya Zubair Hasan, 37, wanted to dispel post-9/11 stereotypes about American Muslims. In 2004, the Pakistani-born architect co-founded the Bridges TV satellite channel with her husband, Muzzamil Hasan, in their home in Orchard Park, NY, a suburb of Buffalo. That dream ended on Feb. 12 when Muzzamil Hazan walked into the town's police station and announced that Aasiya's dead body could be found on the floor of the Bridges TV offices.

Police did indeed find her body, with her severed head nearby. Muzzamil Hasan stands charged with second-degree murder, and fierce debates are raging over whether this is an "honor killing" and an indictment of Islam, or yet another failure in the effort to protect women from a spouse with a long history of violence.

According to news reports, Aasiya Hasan had filed for divorce and an order of protection against her husband on Feb. 6, after he had beaten and terrorized her for years. Rabbi Bradley Hirschfeld, a friend and colleague, reportedly told the New York Times that she told him about Muzzamil's violence, but that he was getting counseling. The Buffalo News reports that she'd called the police multiple times about his violent behavior, and was so afraid that he would take her children, ages 6 and 4, that gave their passports to a friend for safekeeping.  Police say that despite the repeated calls, Aasiya was never able to bring herself to press formal charges against her abuser.

 

Muslim bloggers and organizations have roundly condemned the murder and have been quick to say that there is no justification for it in Islam. Here's Islam on My Side:

The murder of Aasiya Zubair could have happened to anyone, of any
religious and/or ethnic group, and the actions of her murderer,
Muzzammil Hassan, should never be associated with
Islam. Anyone who studies Islam honestly will understand that Mr.
Hassan’s actions clearly violated Islamic teachings, therefore the last
thing that anyone should call this murder is “Islamic.”

Nonetheless, the writer applauds this press release from a group of Muslim organizations and bloggers urging "swift action" against domestic violence:

In
response to the collective concern of the American Muslim community,
imams and religious leaders across America have been asked to speak out
against domestic violence to their congregations. They are asked to
remind congregants of the Prophet Muhammad's abhorrence of harshness,
abuse and violence, and emphasize solutions that strengthen families
and ensure all members are treated with fairness and respect, free of
fear of abuse or violence.

Sunni Path wishes that the call to action had come sooner:

 What is tragic, however, is that it took a crime so heinous for us to
finally pay attention to a problem which has been long festering in our
communities.

Still, to some observers this horrific crime is evidence that "honor killing" -- a murder of someone who has supposedly "shamed" her family -- is practiced by even "moderate" Muslims. Phyllis Chesler is especially insistent on this point, noting the brutality of the murder:

A beheading suggests that the murderer wants to separate his victim’s
mind from her body, he does not want to hear what she has to say, he
wants her mute, beyond what duct tape can do and he wants her
completely severed, disassociated from her ability to flee.

Others note that Muzzamil Hasan wasn't particularly religious, and say that this was the culmination of an escalating pattern of abuse. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women, noted women are often in the most danger when they try to escape their abusers, and this seems to have been the case here. According to Gandy, focusing on the Hasans' religion distracts from the real issue:

Despite these patterns that are typical of spouse abuse and murder
(only the manner of killing was atypical), most of the conservative
commentary has focused not on male violence toward women (surprise,
surprise), nor on the importance of protecting women who have separated
from a violent relationship (another surprise) but has focused instead
on attacking the Muslim community. Although the crime was quickly
decried by Muslim groups, many talk shows and blogs used the horror of
Muzzammil's act to indict an entire community -- in a way that they
would never have accused the entire Christian religion because a
Methodist man murdered his estranged wife in a horrible way. Three
weeks ago, a Chinese graduate student at Virginia Tech cut off a female
friend's head with a knife. Not a single news outlet referred to his
religion.

Perhaps ironically, one of the first people to refer to the murder as a possible honor killing was NOW's chapter president in New York State, Marcia Pappas, in a press release criticizing the media for failing to make this a national story:

 And why is this horrendous story not all over the news? Is a Muslim
woman's life not worth a five-minute report? This was, apparently, a
terroristic version of "honor killing," a murder rooted in cultural
notions about women's subordination to men. Are we now so respectful of
the Muslim's religion that we soft-peddle atrocities committed in it's
name? Millions of women in this country are maimed and killed by their
husbands or partners. Had this awful murder been perpetrated by a
African American, a Latino, a Jew, or a Catholic, the story would be
flooding the airwaves. What is this deafening silence?

If Google News is any indication, the silence has been broken.  Stories about Aasiya Zubair and the horror she endured are ricocheting around the globe, with particularly heavy regional coverage. 

Amy Siskind hopes that Aasiya Zubair can become a symbol of the urgent need to combat violence against women in all communities, and finds the debate over honor killing a "sick" distraction:

 

 
Aasiya’s murder could serve to elucidate our country’s gravest societal
crisis—violence against women. The problem is, her killing has touched
off a debate among feminists on several fronts, including whether hers
was an honor killing or domestic violence; multicultural relativism;
Islamic violence on our shores; and whether we should even be speaking
out about this particular murder in the first place. Yet in order for
our country to start a much needed national dialogue on violence
against women, the feminists of our country need to unite and work
together on this most important takeaway—that a woman was senselessly
murdered and the laws of our country could not protect her.

A statement on
the Bridges TV website condemns the killing and asks for privacy.
Bridges TV staffers say they will try to keep the company alive in an
effort to realize Aasiya's vision.

Related posts:

Islamacate lists of other Muslim responses 

http://www.islamicate.com/2009/02/aasiya-zubair.html 
 

Muslim Media Watch
http://muslimahmediawatch.org/2009/02/17/a-collection-of-statements-concerning-the-murder-of-aasiya-hassan/ 
 

Facebook Memorial Page: 

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=51076729695 
 

Warped Galaxies: stats on domestic violence in the US and in several Muslim countries:

 http://www.pktaylor.com/pksblog/2009/02/aasiya-and-horrors-of-domestic-violence.html

 Whose Shoes Are These Anyway: Islamic TV CEO Confesses to Beheading Wife

Many, many thanks to BlogHer CEs Gena Haskett, Nordette Adams and Mata H who contributed links to this post. 

ADD A COMMENT

In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.

Menu