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Posted in: Honor Killings, Culture Wars & Censorship

Published on May 26, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Why Is the Washington Post Afraid to Use the Words "Muslim" And "Honor Killing" In The Same Article?


In the last seven years, the print version of the Washington Post has covered honor killings sparingly, tangentially, briefly, and only in passing. Clearly, the mainstream media believes that some news is not fit to print.

For example, in 2004, in a Washington Post article which argued that the United States should grant political asylum to women fleeing violence, the authors note that "Persecution is a high standard to reach, involving extreme and offensive conduct, such as honor killings, sexual slavery and rape." Fine with me—but there is no discussion of what an honor killing is or who commits one. Two years later, in 2006, the Post ran a small item under "World in Brief" which reads as follows: "A 14-year-old Pakistani girl died of an infected wound a month after being shot four times in an attempted 'honor killing' in Karachi, police said. Nur Jehan was shot in the stomach, leg, knee and arm and left for dead by her relatives, who accused her of having sex with a young man."

In the summer of 2007, the Post ran a three-paragraph piece about the high-profile honor murder of a young Iraqi Kurdish woman in England. Later that same year, in the fall, the Post ran a full-length AP story about how Kurds in Iraq are attempting to stop the practice of honor killing their daughters. The piece is based on the story of one unmarried woman who was refused an abortion by every doctor she consulted, tried to kill herself, then chose to keep her pregnancy a secret, moved to a hidden location—all to avoid being honor-murdered and to avoid "shaming" her family so that her unmarried sisters would still be able to find husbands.

Fair enough: This is journalism-on-the-ground, in Iraq, during a war, and the piece mainly focuses on one woman's plight; no serious analysis of the problem is offered. Plaintively, one must still ask: Why not refer back to the honor murder of an Iraqi Kurdish woman in the West, in England—a case covered in the newspaper's own pages? For a fact-driven piece, why is there absolutely no mention of the social class or religion involved in these honor killings? Is that utterly irrelevant to understanding these tragic cases?

Ah, not exactly. It is quite relevant and mentioned upfront in the following two stories. In late 2008, the Post did a story about an Indian couple who potentially face family violence for having married "out of caste," which defied the cultural values of their families. This couple, like other such couples, face being honor-murdered by their families. Here, the Post is not shy about telling us that these are Hindus and that to violate caste norms means risking being honor-murdered.

Just yesterday, May 26, the Post again did a full-length story about an Indian couple whose marriage was ruled "incestuous" (they were from the same clan); thus, the "groom was strangled and the bride forced to drink pesticide. Their bodies were dumped in a canal." Although the killers were tried and convicted, clan members have vowed to raise money to pay for an appeal. Here, we are told that both the couple and their murderers were Hindus.

Why does the Washington Post find it relevant, safe, politically correct, to say that "Hindus" commit honor murders but not relevant, not safe, not politically correct to say that "Muslims" do so as well? Indeed, according to my 2009 and 2010 studies in Middle East Quarterly, it is quite clear that, while Hindus and Sikhs do commit honor murders, the majority of such murders are Muslim-on-Muslim crimes. In a study of 230 victims on five continents, I found that 91% of the perpetrators were Muslims. In North America, most such killers (84%) were Muslims, with only a few Sikhs and even fewer Hindus perpetrating honor killings; in Europe, Muslims comprised an even larger majority at 96 percent, while Sikhs were a tiny percentage. In Muslim countries, obviously almost all the perpetrators were Muslims. In my study, with only two exceptions, the victims were all members of the same religious group as their murderers.

Surprisingly—but perhaps unsurprisingly—the Washington Post failed to cover thirty-seven honor killing victims who were murdered right here in the United States and Canada in the last twenty years. The one American-based honor killing that they did cover was filed by the Associated Press and concerned the honor murder of Noor Almaleki in Arizona. The story focused on the decision not to subject her murderer (who was also her father) to the death penalty. It was a brief story, and the author fails to mention that this, too, was a Muslim-on-Muslim crime. Guess what? Both the 2007 AP story about honor killings among Iraqi Kurds, and the brief 2006 piece about the Pakistani honor killing, utterly fail to mention that the murderers and the victims are all Muslims.

One more point: The latest article about a Hindu honor killing in far-off India was composed of 909 words. The single piece about the honor killing in Arizona was composed of a mere 113 words.

As Orwell said: "Not all pigs are equal" on the Animal Farm.

Once, the Washington Post prided itself as the crusaders who broke the story of Watergate and helped impeach a President. Given their current stand on honor killings and their failure to use the word "Muslim," I am reminded that glory fades so quickly and therefore, of the following poem:

Ozymandias

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A Note To My Readers: The brief AP Al-Maleki story is no longer contained at the Washington Post site; however, I have linked to that same story as it appears elsewhere.


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