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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on Feb 27, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

What’s Behind The Enormous Denial That Beheadings Are Related To Islam?


These People Claim That Honor Killings Are The Same As Domestic Violence

Hard on the heels of the Buffalo beheading, the mainstream and feminist media hosted many Islamic clerics, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious writers, as well as liberal, secular feminists, all of whom insisted that honor killings are no different than domestic violence; that both are crimes; and that honor killings have nothing to do with Islam just as domestic violence has nothing to do with religion.

Even so, everyone also said that an anti-Muslim bias (or “Muslim baiting”), controlled the perception of honor killings in general, and saw honor killings even when they did not exist–for example, in the case of the Buffalo beheading.

Pace, Soheila Vahdati in Womens eNews and Aziz Poonawalla in Beliefnet: No one is arguing that an honor killing is not a crime or even that it is the greatest of crimes. On the contrary. However, an honor killing may certainly deserve a much harsher sentence than a domestically violent beating; in certain cases, where torture or premeditation is involved, an honor killing/femicide might deserve a harsher sentence than a spontaneous, unpremeditated murder which did not involve any torture.

There is also this: In many cases of domestic violence/femicides, drugs and alcohol are often involved. Such murderers often kill themselves at the scene of the crime. In honor killings, this is rarely the case. These are potentially important differences that will be overlooked if we rush to claim that honor killings are the same as domestic violence or as domestic violence/femicide.

In order to prosecute an honor killing, we would first have to recognize it as a different kind of femicide. Perhaps it is more like the ritual murders perpetuated by serial killers, or berserk killers, mainly against strangers, not close kin, in which bodily mutilation, including beheadings play a part. Or, perhaps an honor killing, which may be preceded by years of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, is more like the highly ritualized killings of “disobedient” or enemy Muslims–by other Muslims.

Recently, Bill O’Reilly had a segment about honor killings in which he interviewed Dr. Dawn Pearlmutter, an expert in ritual murder. She confirmed much of what I have written before, namely, that beheading is rampant in the Islamic world; that it is accepted as a practice by moderate as well as radical Muslims; that jihadic beheadings are videotaped; that there is a thin line between the public beheadings and the more domestic varieties. Dr. Pearlmutter said that beheadings are highly symbolic, are always about “restoring honor” or “purity” to the beheader. Depending on which interpretation of the Qu’ran is followed, a beheading may also prevent the beheaded Muslim from entering Paradise.

According to my colleague, the psycho-analyst and Arabist, Dr. Nancy H. Kobrin:

“There is a communicative circuit of beheadings: The serial killer in the West who beheads prostitutes is no longer visible in our consciousness. There was a bizarre fascination with the jihadic videos that showed the beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg; it appealed to perverse sado-masochistic emotions. Now, the beheading of Aasiaya Z. Hassan has had an almost opposite effect. Most people are rushing to insist that how she was killed is somehow not important. It is being minimized, and de-contextualized.”

I’ll say. No one has tried to do this more expertly than Aloysious Mowe in the pages of Newsweek/Washington Post.

Father Mowe, (he is a Jesuit priest), begins his article by giving us five random examples of other beheadings as if to say that what happened to Aasiya Z. Hassan in Buffalo is common, not unusual to America, and that it has nothing to with Islam. In fact, he thinks it may be related to being Chinese! Thus, although beheading was abolished in China in 1905, Mowe claims that the communists have revived the custom for capital crimes. If so, this information cannot be easily found on most websites.

But Mowe is comparing apples and oranges, peaches and pears, melons and grapes.

When last I looked, the Chinese were not threatening to behead non-Chinese people, not even foreign capitalists, not even foreign communists. The communist Chinese are not kidnapping non-Chinese people and videotaping their beheadings. Muslim terrorists and Muslim national leaders are doing precisely that.

Further, honor killings, by definition, are mainly male on female crimes and are mainly of a female family member or intimate. Mowe’s examples, which are meant to be definitive, or to overwhelm, are really quite superficial.

Three of Mowe’s initial five examples involve men killing and beheading male strangers. Only two involve men killing women and female children whom they either lived with or whom they barely knew. In 2001, Harrell Johnson killed and beheaded his four year old stepdaughter. Upon closer inspection it turns out that this heartless killer, Harrell Johnson, was high on alcohol and the hallucinogenic drug PCP when he killed, then beheaded, his four year old stepdaughter, Erica Michelle Marie Green. He decapitated her with hedge clippers, and then, with her own mothers’ after-the-fact help, scattered her remains, not because his “honor” had been involved but because he wished to evade being caught. His tactic worked for four years. He was not found until 2005.

Mowe’s second murder which involved a femicide and beheading, took place in 2009, at Virginia Tech University. Haiyang Zhu, a Chinese graduate student first befriended, then beheaded another Chinese graduate student, Xin Yang, when she refused to sleep with him. They did not know each other well.

Although in both these cases, men killed and beheaded women in North America, they are not honor killings. In these two cases, beheading is not related to any known cultural or religious practice. In one of these two murders, there was a craven, criminal desire to avoid being apprehended.

The other three murders on Mowe’s lists are by men of men who were either outright strangers or who were certainly not domestic intimates. Mowe’s third killing was a horrific “thrill killing” in Canton, Ohio, by 18 year old Jean Pierre Orlewicz. The victim, a 26 year old man, who may have been classified as a sex offender, apparently owed Orlewicz a sum of money. Mowe’s fourth killing involved William Perry, a North Canton, Ohio, man who killed his neighbor after an unsuccessful robbery, and who then “tried to hide the crime by mutilating the victim’s body.” (Is this a copycat beheading? I ask because it took place in the same geographical area as the third killing.) Mowe’s fifth murder took place in 2008, on a Greyhound bus in Canada. The killer, a recent Chinese immigrant, Vince Weiguang Li, who had been released from a psychiatric unit where he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, suddenly stabbed, then beheaded a male stranger, Tim McClean.

By definition, these other heinous, bizarre murders are not honor killings. I do not think they can all be classified in one way. Drugs, alcohol, and mental illness seem to have played a role in some, but not all of these murders. Although there was media coverage of these crimes, the world does not “know” about these murders. They are not on our emotional radar. And why? Because they do not reverberate in sync with the jihadic era in which we collectively find ourselves. Such beheadings are atrocious crimes, perhaps evidence of great personal pathology. They are not part of a visible political-religious onslaught as the one which is currently pandemic both in the Islamic world and in the West, as Islamic customs penetrate our world.

Mowe himself is from Malaysia. I mention this because, like other racially marginalized groups in the West, Mowe may be overly sensitive to white, western racism. Aasiya’s beheading in Buffalo provides him with an opportunity to air his own–and the grievances of other non-white races. While understandable, Mowe is viewing an Islamic beheading in New York State through the prism of white western racism which for him, trumps sexism and blinds him to it.

Mowe is using/abusing Aasiya’s beheading in order to divert attention away from its Islamic component. In so doing, he fails to differentiate an honor killing, which is perpetrated by one’s own family; from an Islamic al-Qaeda beheading on behalf of jihad; from Islamic state sponsored beheadings, such as those that take place in Saudi Arabia; and from the beheadings of “disobedient” or infidel young girls and women that are taking place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

Above all, although he directs readers to a rather grisly website which features photos of beheadings, the photos are not captioned. It is unclear when and where such photos were taken. Most of the beheading “art” photos seem dated, old-fashioned; some are of paintings such as that of the Biblical Judith holding the head of Holofernes. Does Mowe (or this site) mean to suggest that beheading is a Jewish custom as well? It is not. But the Jews who lived in ancient Israel or Judea/the Holy Land, encountered many barbaric practices which still exist among Muslims today. Such practices include beheading, stoning, mutilation, the public display of a severed head and a mutilated body, the desecration of a corpse and its display, etc.

Why would Mowe have such an interest in beheading as “art?” Why would he wish to minimize the fact that beheadings are a signature and Qu’ranically based method of Islamic murder? Might the fact that he is a Jesuit priest who specializes in Islam and who currently teaches at Georgetown University play any role here at all?

I am only raising these questions because at this moment in history, most infidels who are involved in “interfaith” work, (Mowe is a Jesuit expert in Islam), tend to function as dhimmis, third class citizens, in relation to their Muslim benefactors who fund conferences and research. Georgetown alone was recently the recipient of a twenty million dollar Saudi grant for a Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. According to Georgetown University:

“In December 2005, the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU) received a $20 million dollar gift from HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, an internationally renowned businessman and global investor, to support and expand the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The Center was renamed the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). This endowed fund is the second largest single gift in Georgetown University history.”

I have no idea if Mowe is in any way related to this Center; whether he has participated in any of their conferences or talked to or worked with any of the Center’s members.

Mowe does say that China and Chinese people might be heavily involved in beheadings. Mowe’s heart is in Asia. Therefore, I find it shocking that he has utterly failed to mention the most recent and prominent beheadings in Indonesia which were of three young Christian schoolgirls whom Islamists killed, decapitated, and placed their heads in plastic bags and left them near their church.

Finally, Mowe suggests that even domestic violence is not really a widespread problem among Muslims because a) other religions are also patriarchal; b) other Catholics have expressed misogynist thoughts to him; c) “the lives of millions of Muslim couples are not marked by domestic violence and do not end in murder.”

Dear Brother Mowe: Have you ever walked in the shoes of any Muslim woman? Do you have any idea what price, in terms of obedience and submission they may have had to pay in order to remain alive? Do you know anything about the domestic violence that goes unreported and unprosecuted in general and, one must assume, among Muslim couples too?

I wonder if the extraordinary rush to proclaim the beheading of Aasiya Z. Hassan as having nothing to do with an honor killing or with Islam might be due to one other factor. Dr. Nancy H. Kobrin suggests that:

“The Muslim who engages in an honor killing clearly reveals that he has not integrated into the West. We know that there are immigrant Muslim communities in Europe who have not integrated, they exist as ‘parallel’ communities. We also know that, according to the study released by The Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion in the UK, that there is an overlay with where you find terrorist behavior.”

In other words: Wherever there are parallel Islamic communities you will probably find terrorists breeding plots against the West–look for them wherever women are being harshly treated, rendered subordinate, in a fundamentalist kind of way.

Parallel communities, parallel mentalities. The Muslim communities in Europe no longer pretend to be part of Europe. It is overwhelmingly clear that they are “parallel” communities. The much smaller Muslim population in America also exists in parallel communities in certain sections of certain cities in the America. But their many spokespeople pretend that Dallas, Dearborn, Jersey City, St. Paul-Minneapolis and areas in California are really, truly, Americanized populations.

Many Muslim and ex-Muslim individuals are truly assimilated westerners; many have fled Islamist ways and have taken shelter with and assumed sophisticated, transnational, urban identities. And yet: When an apparently Islamic barbarity, like the beheading of a wife, takes place in America, there is an immediate fear that America, like Europe, might also be harboring “parallel communities.”

Hence there is a rush to deny that this might be so.

I understand. Americans do not want to behave in "racist" ways, nor do they want to "profile" anyone, especially a Muslim, especially because so many Muslims have been funding terrorism against America, Israel, and Europe. We are better than that. We believe that a person must be considered innocent until proven guilty; that each person must be judged on a case-by-case basis and never judged in terms of their cultural, political, or religious beliefs. To our credit, we believe in the right to a fair trial.

This approach is indeed commendable, but perhaps dangerous, in times of war, and when terrorists are plotting to destroy us.

NEWSFLASH: Daniel Pipes has called my attention to a piece by Asra Nomani which covers the history of domestic violence in the Hassan marriage. You may read it HERE and at The Daily Beast HERE

This history details various incidents of domestic violence both towards Aasiya and towards all four children and includes the approximate dates when Assiya obtained Orders of Protection. This information is, of course, very relevant. As I’ve written many times before, the Hassan femicide is probably a “hybrid” femicide. It has some features of Pakistani-style domestic violence towards a wife, (including her need to ask her husband for permission to do the simplest things in western terms), but coupled with an Islamic/Pakistani method of murder: Beheading.

Nomani, a religious Muslim feminist, whose work I generally admire, has joined the very long line of people who are insisting, as per above, that domestic violence has nothing to do with Islam; that the Hassan femicide is not an honor killing; that honor killings also have nothing to do with Islam; nor do beheadings.She is not even suggesting that an honor killing or a beheading is a very extreme form of domestic violence.

It seems that the stakes are perceived to be very high, namely, that the Hassan case has the power, symbolically, to influence America’s views about Islam; that view, whether Islam is more like the Judeo-Christian legacy or not; whether Muslims practice peace because they are following the Qu’ran–or whether the opposite is true. What view Americans will come to hold might influence many public policies, including, eventually, that of immigration.


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