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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on Feb 17, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Cold, Premeditated, Ritual Murder

The Honor Killing of Aasiya Z. Hassan. Part Two


Breaking News! The Buffalo beheader, a man who allegedly goes by many names, may have a history of domestic violence with other, previous wives.

Can a man who has a track record of serious domestic violence, in one marriage after the next, also, at the end of the day, suddenly commit an honor murder? Can a man who has had several wives who left him because of his violence, then "snap," and behead the last wife standing when she, too, leaves?

Stay tuned because we are going to be wrestling with precisely these questions as the details of the case against Muzammil Hassan or Syed Muzammil Hassan or Steve Mo Hassan begins to emerge.

Earlier today, I received an email from one Jordan Robinson who sent me to a blogsite which belongs to Zarqa Abid. First, Abid says that:

"It's been five days now that my family along with the rest of the community has been in shock. The fact that Muzzammil was married to my first cousin before marrying the victim still horrifies us. Ms. Zubair was his third wife. Both of his earlier wives filed divorce on the same grounds of severe domestic violence and abuses."

Is this true? I don't know. So far, I could find no documented history of domestic violence (which does not mean it did not happen). There is only Zarqa's late-in-the-day word on this–and the February 6, 2009 order of protection obtained by Aasiya Z. Hassan.

Is Abid's account an attempt on the part of the Islamic community to cut Hassan loose? Perhaps, for Abid goes on to say that Hassan was not a religious Muslim, that he used and perhaps stole from the Muslim community to fund a fabulous lifestyle for himself, and that she, Abid, tried, unsuccessfully, to alert the Muslim community to Hassan's violent nature.

This could be true. Most whistleblowers have a hard time alerting communities to the corruption and misogyny of their idealized leaders. But is it true? What interest in the matter might Abid have?

I googled her. Abid is described as someone who wears a face veil and justifies doing so–even though she herself is a television media professional. Perhaps Abid is telling the God's honest truth. Perhaps this is a new form of taqqiya, disinformation, so that the Muslim community can back away, with some dignity intact, from this formerly prominent Muslim leader who has now been exposed as a wife beater and, allegedly, as a wife killer.

Perhaps approaching me was clever and deceitful. Maybe this is Abid's way of "defending the faith." Perhaps it was whole-hearted, broken-hearted.

I asked my colleague, the Arabist and psycho-analyst, Dr. Nancy Kobrin whether she thought a man who had "allowed" two abused wives to get away without murdering them, could now commit an honor murder/or a western-style femicide. She said:

"This was possibly the second or third failed marriage. He knew, he feared that he was going to be found out."

If so, Hassan could not live with that and Aasiya had to pay for his shameful exposure.

Daniel Pipes has been following this story, HERE.

According to Pipes, "One Salma Zubair posted at BlogTalkRadio.com the following statement:

I am sister of this brutally murdered woman. She lived her 8 years of married life with fear in heart. She never let it come to her eyes or lips she was this afraid of this man. He had already frightened her enough that she couldn't muster up her guts and leave him, and when she finally did gather that much strength he killed her so brutally. She lived to protect her children from this man and his family and she died doing so. Muzzamil Hassan's family including his parents and brothers never tried to help Aasiya. Even when he had hit her and bruised her body badly in front of them. Aasiya had always been a very loving person, not even one person in this world can say a small wrong word about her. … And please make a special pray for her children and that they do not have to live with that family who's son killed their mother and they never helped her but rather supported their son."

All you bloggers and reporters out there: Please help with this task. And stay tuned.

Was Aasiya Z. Hassan the victim of an honor murder or was this simply a form of domestic violence? Did her husband kill her in an act of spontaneous passion or was her death carefully premeditated?

Yesterday, I published my study: "Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?" in Middle East Quarterly. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first such study of its kind. You may read it in full HERE. It will be out in hardcopy at the beginning of March.

If we refuse to understand what an honor killing is and how it differs from western-style domestic violence, we will not be able to prosecute honor killers, grant asylum to those in flight from being honor murdered, nor will we be able to educate people against honor killing. Many Muslim-American organizations insist that honor killing is "Un-Islamic." Yet, many scholars of Islam equally assert that the Qu'ran as well as custom permits grave punishment for "disobedient" women.

An honor killing does not only involve the misogynist control, isolation, soul-degradation and physical battering of a woman– although such abuse may precede an honor killing. An honor killing ends in the girl or woman's murder. Most domestic violence in the West does not. An honor killing is a family-enabled and culturally and religiously approved form of "femicide."

If a twenty-first century woman disobeys 7th-8th century Arab peninsula standards for female behavior, even slightly, or if she has been raped, she, not the rapist, is the one who has "dishonored" the family. She can be killed for this. Although Sikhs and Hindus do sometimes honor murder their women, in the West, this is mainly a Muslim crime. In my study, which looked at honor killings in North America and Europe, 90% of the honor murderers were Muslims as were their victims. Honor killings are mainly a Muslim-on-Muslim crime.

Not every honor killing in the West is exactly alike. A classical honor killing usually involves a young girl or women (between the ages of 14-25). She is killed by her father, perhaps with the active or passive collusion of her mother, sisters, brothers, male cousins, and neighbors. Her crime may be daring to go about unveiled, wanting to wear makeup, refusing to marry her first cousin, wanting to go to college, deciding to leave an abusive husband, choosing a non-Muslim boyfriend or a Muslim boyfriend from the wrong class or family.

In half of the honor killings I studied, the murders were particularly gruesome and barbaric and involved stabbing the women 8-23 times, setting her on fire, first raping her, then immolating her, slashing her throat, decapitating her. The ferocity of the violence is equivalent to what serial killers do to prostituted women who are strangers to them or what Islamic terrorists do to stranger-infidels.

In 1999, in St. Clairsville Ohio, an honor killing took place which somewhat resembles the one in Buffalo. The husbands in Ohio and New York are both Pakistani immigrants. In Ohio, Nawas Ahmed, an estranged Pakistani husband, outraged that his wife, Dr. Lubaina Bhatti Ahmed, 39-years-old, had gotten an order of protection and was suing him for divorce, arrived at her home and slashed her throat–and for good measure, the throats of her father, sister, and her sister's child because they were there to support Dr. Lubaina in her attempt to flee a dangerously violent man. Similarly, Aasiya Z. Hassan was 37 years-old and reportedly an architect or professionally involved in her husband's Muslim media venture.

I suggest that the murder of an adult spouse is another, somewhat less frequent kind of honor killing. Both Nawaz Ahmed and Muzamill Hassan had wives who wanted to live violence-free lives. This is a western concept, not a Muslim or Pakistani concept. From the Islamic point of view, the wives "knew what they were doing" and thus may be viewed as having brought their deaths on themselves.

I know this is hard for us to believe but in Muslim lands and in many Muslim immigrant communities, an ownership/protector mentality, which is completely justified in the Qu'ran, normatively characterizes the relationship of fathers and daughters, husband and wives, brothers and sisters. Verbal abuse and physical violence are not criminalized. Ninety percent of the women in Pakistan are routinely beaten in both their childhood and when they are married wives and mothers. A recent study confirmed that "annually, one million Pakistani women are beaten while pregnant."

Given the fact that Aasiya called the police, hired a lawyer, and got an order of protection, we know she was being abused. We also know that she chose to resist the abuse. We now know that her sister had known that Aasiya had been living in fear. The fact that Muzammil decapitated her (and did not shoot her from a distance), suggests that his violent rage was not necessarily spontaneous but was, rather, the kind of cold, calculating, and premeditated rage which precedes a classic honor murder.

My guess is that "Mo" Hassan feels he did the right thing, that Aasiya forced his hand. Joshua Rhett Miller, who has been doing some excellent reportage about this case and who recently interviewed me, told me that Erie County District Attnorney Frank Sedita III said that, in custody, "Mo Hassan is vicious and without remorse."

What is a beheading? What exactly does it signify? What is it meant to communicate?

Beheading, "Mo" Hassan's chosen method of murder, is also closely identified with historical and contemporary Islamic terrorism. Muhammed practiced it in his day. His followers still do. Beheadings are on the rise in the Islamic world and the rest of the world watches in fascinated horror.

What, really, was poor Aasiya's crime? In Muslim countries and communities in the West, women are not supposed to tell anyone that they are being beaten at home and if they do, they may be honor murdered because they've "told." In Aasiya's case, she not only told, she did so publicly and legally. From the Islamist/Sharia point of view, Aasiya brazenly turned to an infidel/kuffir system of justice, one which is radically different than a Sharia system. Some Muslims might say that for this, she deserved to die.

One wonders: Does "Mo," who has lived here for thirty years, really believe that he is living in America? Does he think he's still living in Pakistan and that to question his right to "dream on" is "Islamophobic?"

What does it mean to behead a woman? To behead a wife, not a stranger, not a despised prostitute, not a rival drug lord? To exert the same amount of force that two-four men had to exert in the Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg video-ed beheadings?

"Mo" has, in a sense, created a public crime scene, very much like those created by serial killers or by terrorists. According to Arabist and psycho-analyst Dr. Nancy H. Kobrin, we associate our "identity with our faces, our heads. Our thoughts and speech are literally in our heads." "Mo" did not want to hear what his wife had to say. He wanted to stop her thoughts. Perhaps he also envied her the strength to break away from a tradition which he was duty-bound to uphold.

Indeed, in the only photo that we have of the couple, Aasiya seems to be high spirited and confident. "Mo" is harder to read, since he displays little affect. Did "Mo" envy his confident wife who had the strength and the courage to break free from abuse?

Decapitating and then having his wife's remains on display in the Bridges TV office is peculiar. Did "Mo" somehow want to "broadcast" his bloody deed? Since the TV venture was failing financially, perhaps"Mo" was shamed on two counts: as a businessman/protector of a positive Muslim image and as a husband whose wife had just forced him out of their home and wanted a divorce.

While Muslims also behead men, (publicly and on video), the public stoning and beheading of women partakes of the "pornographic." Public beheadings have also been seen on video and via satellite. Great public attention follows. Perhaps "Mo" wanted to make a public statement that, while his business-media venture might be failing, that he was still in control of his wife who had ejected him from their home.

This was not a crime of passion or even of temporary insanity. This was a cold, cruel, premeditated act of ritual murder.

May Aasiya rest in peace. May her murderer rot in jail. (Alas, capital punishment, even for an honor murder, is not legal in New York State). May Aasiya's children remain safe from any further harm and may they be spared the kind of life that their mother was forced to endure.
Even in America.

A Note to Any Possible Critics:

As someone who has studied both domestic violence and honor killings in the West, I view myself as a pro-Muslim as well as a pro-woman advocate. In this instance, the victims who are of concern to me are mainly Muslim girls and women. The fact that their killers may also be Muslims does not mean that those who study honor killings are "racists," unless, of course, you are far more worried that the Muslim killers of Muslim women will tarnish the reputation of Islam and/or are being unfairly targeted by "racist Islamophobes."


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