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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on Feb 26, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

The Danger To the Prosecution of Calling an “Honor Killing” an Honor Killing.


On February 17, 2009, a reporter quoted the Buffalo DA as saying that Muzzamil Hassan, in custody for the Buffalo beheading of his wife, is “a pretty vicious and remorseless bastard.”

On February 18, 2009, the Buffalo DA kept the media away from Muzzamil Hassan’s hearing. Wise move.

Once upon a time, a Muslim woman, bright with hope, lived in the heartland of America. She wanted to lead her own life. She refused to marry her first cousin. She chose to attend college and she planned to become an elementary school teacher. She dared to drive her own car. Two of her cousins stalked her, warned her, threatened her, accused her of “turning her back on her own culture.”

Which culture? The culture of an American Ohio or the culture of the Muslim Middle East?

Nine years ago, on January 8, 1999, in Cleveland, Ohio, after attending mosque services with her parents, Methel Dayem was murdered in what prosecutors termed an "honor killing." Methel and her family were Palestinians, allegedly from the West Bank.

Not all honor killings look exactly alike. Sometimes, the killers are not the woman’s own father and brothers but her cousins–or her husband. Methel’s sister told the police that two of her cousins, Musa Saleh and Yezen Dayem, had been following Methel to school and to work. She was shot four times and died choking on her own blood. No money was taken nor was she sexually assaulted. The police arrested these two cousins.

The prosecution may not have understood that an honor killing is a family affair, an inside job. Sometimes, in Europe, the youngest (or the oldest) male family member may be designated to pull the trigger in the belief that a juvenile will receive a light sentence or that a grandfather will not mind sitting in jail for the sake of his family’s “[4] honor.” Certainly, even in Cleveland, no family member would ever testify against another family member.

In the West, honor murderers do not always admit guilt, nor do they confess. They will say: “She is dead” as both Buffalo’s “Mo” Hassan said of his decapitated wife or as Atlanta’s Chaudry Rashid, (Sandeela Kanwal’s), father said of the daughter he had just murdered. Or, they might say that the murder itself was an act of self-defense, that the girl’s dishonoring of her family was an aggressive act against which the family had to defend itself. This, in effect, is what Palestina Isa’s parents said after they murdered her in St Louis, Missouri in 1989.

In the Methel Dayem case, the judge threw out an aggravated murder charge against one cousin, Musa Saleh, who still remained in jail because of pending burglary and witness intimidation charges. Perhaps the Cleveland prosecution had hoped that one cousin would turn on the other and provide an eyewitness account of the murder. Perhaps the prosecutors did not fully understand what they were up against. Thus, they granted Musa Saleh immunity on the pending charges in the mistaken hope that he would testify against Yezen Dayem.

When they were originally charged, prosecutor Carmen Marino had said: "What these two did was shoot a woman in the back of the head. They believe that their religious beliefs supersede our law." His comments led many of the thirty–yes thirty! — Arab Americans in the courtroom to simultaneously "clear their throats in an effort to try to drown him out." Sam Quasem, an Arab American activist, said: "The Muslim religion does not preach to kill a woman. If that's not racism, I don't know what is."

Thus, leaders of the Ohio Muslim and Arab communities denounced the prosecutors' "honor killing" theory as a "cultural slur based on an outmoded medieval custom." In my opinion, they engaged in what is known as taqiyya, (dissimulation, disinformation), which is recommended Islamic practice when engaged in battle with the infidel. Once the prosecution described Methel’s death as an “honor killing,” the entire Muslim community organized in protest. They gave interviews to the media, they packed the courtroom. They and the defense lawyers insisted that the very concept of an “honor killing” was an “insult” to the Islamic faith.

The ruse (or tactic) worked. The fact that potential jurors had heard the phrase "honor killing" was deemed "prejudicial," "inflammatory," and "anti-Arab" to the defendant, Yezen Dayem, whose lawyer promptly requested and received a non-jury bench trial.

Circumstantial evidence pointed to Musah Saleh and Yezen Dayem's guilt: A video showed Dayem's car near the murder site; cell phone records revealed that whoever used his phone placed a call within minutes from a location not far from the murder site; the entire cultural context strongly suggests an honor killing. However, detectives found a pair of ski gloves covered with gunshot residue in the victim's car. Who placed it there, when, or why, remains unknown.

Nevertheless, because the DNA evidence retrieved from the gloves did not match the DNA of either of Methel's cousins, the second and presiding judge, Thomas Pokorny, found that this constituted "reasonable doubt." He therefore acquitted and freed Yezen Dayem. However, according to Amanda Garrett of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Methel Dayem's mother, sister, and aunt were "devastated" by the verdict. Methel's sister, Nebal Ali, shouted 'You will not get away from Allah. Allah will punish you.'" Afterwards, both she and Methel's mother 'rushed' at Yezen Dayem's family…shouting 'Murderer' and a string of vulgarities."

In my view, the Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian community’s immediate mobilization on behalf of the two accused killers was a mobilization which did not view the victim as an Arab, a Muslim, and a Palestinian. Had Methel been killed by Christian Americans or by Jewish Israelis the same community might have characterized the murder as a “racist” crime, as “Islamophobic,” even “genocidal.” But because Muslim men were the perpetrators, it did not matter that they had allegedly committed a Muslim-on-Muslim femicide.

Indeed, all honor killings are Muslim-on-Muslim (or Sikh on Sikh) crimes and, most often, male on female crimes. (Sometimes Muslims or Sikhs also murder a man for having married the “wrong” woman). Therefore, the activist Arab Muslim community in Cleveland viewed and defended the alleged murderers as the true “victims” and completely forgot that Methel Dayem was also an Arab Muslim whose life had been cut fearfully short and for precisely the reasons that honor killings occur.

Attention feminists: Methel was a woman. In Arab, Muslim culture, women do not matter as much as men do. Yes, this is even more pronounced in the Arab and Muslim world than in the very America whom you (and I, in the past), have all loved to criticize for its misogynist ways.

I hope that all future prosecutors who may handle honor killing cases take into account the aggressively organized nature of Muslims in America. Based on their strategy in the Methel Dayem case, we see that an unproven or difficult-to-prove allegation about an honor killing/femicide may lead to the kind of activism which, when coupled with how western law is practiced, might led to the dismissal of a presumably “tainted” jury and to a bench trial.

The Cleveland defense lawyers claimed that the jury was already “tainted” merely because they’d heard the phrase “honor killing.”

Sometimes, when a prosecutor tells certain truths (that an honor killing has been committed), people may be more outraged by the allegation than by the possibility of the dark deed itself.

I hope that this article finds its way upstate and right into the hands of the Buffalo DA’s office, who are prosecuting the case of Muzzamil Hassan.

By the way, what happens in Cleveland does not stay in Cleveland. Years later, when I was doing interviews about my book The Death of Feminism. What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom, which is about how Islamic gender apartheid has penetrated the West, a Cleveland reporter wanted very much to interview me about this. She was told she had to stay away from such material, that her Cleveland newspaper had had enough trouble when they had covered the Methel Dayem case.


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