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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on Feb 20, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

A "Cultural" Offense/Defense - But For the Prosecution

Some Thoughts for the Prosecutor of the Buffalo Beheading.


The profile of a classical honor killing is one in which a young girl or young woman in an Islamist household is, from a modern, western, and feminist point of view, kept secluded and subordinate, normatively abused, force-veiled at a young age, and held to a 7th-8th century view of woman's honor and family honor as practiced in the past and still today among many people in the Muslim Middle East, in the increasingly Arabized Islamic world in Asia, and in Muslim immigrant communities in the West.

For the first time, in the wake of the Buffalo beheading, Muslim-American organizations who routinely claim that honor killings have nothing to do with Islam are now saying that a classical honor killing involves the murder of a young girl or woman by multiple family members. It does. I have shown this to be so in my study, just published in Middle East Quarterly HERE. The Muslim organizations are not necessarily admitting that such a killing is related to Islam, but they are admitting that honor killings do exist, separate and apart from western-style domestic violence/femicide. And, to be fair, many individuals and organization leaders are also condemning such murders in grave and heartbroken voices.

Alas, they are now doing so, loud and clear, in order to make the point that Muzammil Hassan's "alleged" beheading of his wife, Aasiya Z. Hassan, does not fit the profile of a classical honor killing–and, of course, that Islam has nothing to do with it.

They may be right. But they may be wrong. And, as is often the case, the truth may turn out to be a complicated mix of criminal-legal, cultural, and psychological realities.

Even if the Buffalo case turns out to be the act of a "temporarily deranged" and violent man and not a classical honor killing–this does not discredit the importance of differentiating between a classical honor killing and domestic violence, and between the kind of cultural-religious murders which are normalized in Muslim countries and communities versus the kind of domestic violence/femicides in the West which are viewed as crimes.

As I have argued today in Frontpage HERE, some violent Muslim men in America who ended up killing their wives after first beating them, all killed them in signature barbaric-Islamic kinds of ways. They beheaded them, burned them alive, slit their throats and the throats of their wife's family members who either supported their leaving a violent marriage or supported their refusal to convert to Islam.

Daniel Pipes just called my attention to something a reader of his blog recently shared: There is another case which resembles that of Muzammil Hassan's. It took place in India. Mohammed Suhaib Ilyasi, "is a famous journalist who started the TV Show "India's Most Wanted." He also married a non-Muslim, Anju Singh, and converted her to Islam. She became Mrs.Anju Ilyasi. He took all her property, cash and jewelry. She came to know his real face and his connections with the Muslim Mafia. So he managed to murder his wife by slitting her throat with a blade. He was caught by Police and was in prison. But he managed to escape as his father is leader of the All India Islamic Cleric Association.

Now he is released with the help of politicians who are begging for Muslim community votes in elections. He is back in the media. Anju lost her life…and people forget."

American and European feminists, with a handful of exceptions, argue that domestic violence is much bigger than femicide–which it is. I say that domestic violence is not necessarily femicide, that the two phenomena are different and may require different analyses, different prevention strategies and different remedies. American feminists are also invested in not being seen as "racists," and therefore, easily become outraged, scornful, extremely nervous when anyone raises the ethnicity, religion, or immigrant status of the batterer or the killer.

Especially when he might be Muslim or a man of color. Yes, even if the crime is a Muslim-on-Muslim crime.

This is similar to those Americans (politicians, intellectuals, media), who absolutely refuse to "profile" Arab-speaking men from the Middle East at airports or in terms of immigration policies and who are more concerned with the civil rights of enemy combatants, (some of whom, they believe may be innocent), than with America's right to defend herself from jihad.

Even though the Buffalo honor killing might strongly resemble western-style domestic violence/femicide, the gruesome and signature nature of the murder method strongly links it to Islam. Daniel Pipes, on his blog, points out the following:

A Middle East Quarterly article, Beheading in the Name of Islam by Timothy R. Furnish in the spring 2005 issue, is enlightening. Furnish establishes that "ritual beheading has a long precedent in Islamic theology and history."

He begins with the Koranic verse 47:3: "When you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely; then bind the prisoners tightly" and notes how both premodern (Tabari, Zamakhshari) and modern (Yusuf Ali, Khatib, Mawdudi) commentators of the Koran interpret this verse literally. Furnish also notes a second Koranic verse, 8:12: "I will cast dread into the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike off their heads, then, and strike off all of their fingertips."

A quick survey of Muslim history, starting with Muhammad and continuing through the Almoravid Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and various mahdist movements, shows that this precept was carried out in practice. In modern times, Furnish notes that decapitation is standard practice in the Saudi kingdom.

He concludes with two points:

First, the practice has both Qur'anic and historical sanction. It is not the product of a fabricated tradition.

Second, in contradiction to the assertions of apologists, both Muslim and non-Muslim, these beheadings are not simply a brutal method of drawing attention to the Islamist political agenda and weakening opponents' will to fight. [Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and other Islamists who practice decapitation believe that God has ordained them to obliterate their enemies in this manner. Islam is, for this determined minority of Muslims, anything but a "religion of peace." It is, rather, a religion of the sword with the blade forever at the throat of the unbeliever."

I wonder if the prosecution can, for the first time ever, consider arguing a "cultural" offense/defense-like argument. Muzammil (which means "covered, hidden," in Arabic, or so I've been told) Hassan, has been charged with second degree murder. In New York State, only the killers of police officers or those who torture their victims before they die are eligible for execution.

Surely, beheading is "torture." Surely, it is premeditated murder. Surely, it takes a while to saw off a woman's head. Surely, she is conscious for some time. Surely, he must be tried and, if convicted, sentenced to death. Yes, under American laws. But I do not want the defense to be allowed to claim that, according to Muzammil's culture, Aasiya's departure normatively unhinged him and led to the beheading. Rather, Aasiya's departure unleashed in him a cultural-religious imperative to control the situation by killing his wife in a barbaric fashion.

Surely, Muzammil beheaded poor, tragic Aasiya, not only because he was a western-style domestically violent man, but also because he believed, psychologically, culturally, religiously, that beheading is an accepted, even an approved way of executing a disobedient wife.


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