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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Jul 17, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for NewsRealBlog

Muslim Women Are On Fire - Both Actually and "Culturally"


In Afghanistan, the women are setting themselves aflame, choosing an awful, fiery death rather than one more awful beating at the hands of a husband and a mother-in-law. Amazingly, when the mainstream media finally writes about this precise tragedy in Afghanistan, it still carefully manages not to use the words "Muslim" or "Islam." For example, see Time magazine's recent coverage of this very subject. And, see my previous pieces on what such "soft censorship" is really about when the American mainstream media consistently fails to describe a Muslim-on-Muslim honor killing in the West as a Muslim-on-Muslim crime but is quick to note Hindu honor killings in India as Hindu-on-Hindu crimes.

In Kabul, when battered women run away, their own families refuse to take them back and the government puts them in jail and treats them as criminals. In a rather moving documentary, "Daughters of Afghanistan," Sally Armstrong shows us what happened to one young Afghan woman who refused to take the beatings anymore and upon a lawyer's advice dared return to her family of origin. Her own father clapped her up into solitary, perhaps for the rest of her life, to live in a cold, dark room with one bricked-up window.

This happened in 2002, after the Taliban fell.

But the Taliban mentality in Afghanistan long predated the actual Taliban phenomenon. In 1961, I remember meeting a rather genial relative who had come down from the Khyber Pass region to meet me, his first American woman. Apparently, he, too, was a merciful fellow who married his brother's widow—but then shut her up in solitary. I was told that he fed and clothed her and that this alone saved her from a far more dismal fate. I did not understand then—or now—why this poor widow-wife could not have shared the family tasks and remained among the living. Entombed, buried alive—like Verdi's great opera hero, Aida. Without a name, without even a number, the fate of this unknown prisoner haunts me still.

These tragedies are no longer confined to Third World countries.

Given massive Muslim immigration to the West, we have massive Muslim female resistance to being subordinated, buried alive—resistance which is punished by Muslim-on-Muslim honor killings in the West. I have written about this at length, most recently in my 2010 study in Middle East Quarterly.

Families of origin carefully plan these murders. Mothers often play a key role in luring their daughters back home, in strangling or stabbing them, and in helping their murderers escape. This was the case in the honor murders of Aqsa Parvez in Toronto (2007), Amina and Sarah Said in Texas (2008), and Noor Al-Maleki in Arizona (2009). If you want to understand how mothers can actually mistreat, persecute, and collaborate in the murders of their daughters, please read my book Woman's Inhumanity to Woman.

Just yesterday, Aset Magomadova, a Calgary-based mother who strangled her 14-year-old daughter, Aminat, with a headscarf in 2007, finally received a "suspended sentence" and three years probation. The mother is a Muslim refugee and widow from Chechnya; her other child, a teenage son, is suffering from muscular dystrophy, and she herself was wounded in the war—her foot was partly blown off. The girl was allegedly on drugs and suffered from serious behavior problems. Victim advocates are outraged at so light a sentence. The judge did not believe that Magomadova actually meant to kill her rebellious daughter. The judge sentenced the murderer to "counseling for grief, depression, and anger management."

The question remains: Was everything possible done for a disturbed teenage Muslim girl? If not, why not? But, for whom is "everything done?"

If everyone understood that a Muslim girl is at special risk, especially if she is "wild" (even if she is just trying to fit in), if the media used the word "Muslim" where appropriate, perhaps services tailored to Muslim immigrants from war-torn regions might now exist.

This past week, the Canadian "federal government affirmed its zero-tolerance stance against "honour killing," declaring such "barbaric cultural practices" as "heinous abuses" that have no place in Canadian society." They are considering adding "honour killing" as a separate charge to the Criminal Code. Honor killings are referred to as "culturally driven" violence against girls and women. And it is true, such violence exists among Canadian immigrants from south Asia who are Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Expect such tragic "culturally driven," "South Asian immigrant" and "Muslim" problems to proliferate in the West. The questions are: Are we equipped to handle such problems? Are we morally bound to do so? How expensive will our intrinsic altruism and outreach to the "wretched of the earth" actually be?


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