Not an honor killing

Just a few days ago, a jury convicted an Arizona man of second-degree murder, aggravated assault and leaving the scene of an accident. Faleh Hassan Almaleki’s main victim was his daughter. This crime was an “honor killing.” No one disputes that the daughter was targeted for becoming too “Westernized.” In fact, the phrase “honor killing” is everywhere in the media coverage.

Earlier this month, a New York jury took only an hour to find Muzzamil “Mo” Hassan, the founder of a Muslim television station, guilty of beheading his wife, Aasiya. But from the beginning, media reports have taken pains to emphasize that this was “only” domestic violence, not an “honor killing.” Murder of spouses happens, sadly, all the time all over the world. My previous congregation lost a beloved couple in an absolutely horrific murder-suicide. The thing that was interesting about this Hassan murder was that the perpetrator had launched — to much favorable media coverage — a TV network designed to improve the image of Muslims and the victim was beheaded after she was stabbed 40, 50 or 60 times.

Beheading is uncommon in America. History is replete with stories of beheadings, of course. But in recent years, most beheadings are associated with Islamic terror. The Wall Street Journal‘s Daniel Pearl, telecommunications consultant Nick Berg, and many other foreigners have met that gruesome fate from Muslim terrorists. Perhaps it’s just a fad but perhaps it’s more common in some cultures and perhaps there are reasons for this.

Anyway, NPR’s All Things Considered attempted a bit of media analysis about the murder in the piece “Buffalo’s Muslims Battle Stereotype After Murder.” Considering it was written two years after the Associated Press’ “Gruesome Killing Poses Another Test For Us Muslims,” it didn’t really advance the story very much. If anything, the previous story was much better. Both talk about how the killing became a crucible for Muslims and how some responded by working to raise awareness about domestic violence.

What neither story does is explain anything about beheading. Maybe I’m the only one who is super curious about this particular facet of the killing, but I’d just like more information about the practice. My father is a pastor and I have enough friends who are pastors or counselors that I know that cultural norms do come into play in domestic abuse scenarios. That is, in moments of rage, culture frequently informs the actions of the perpetrators and victims. It just seems odd not to discuss that in a high-profile killing such as this.

The story’s main aim seems to be about dispelling the idea that so-called honor killing played any role. Right up top we’re told:

When Aasiya Hassan was murdered in 2009, some journalists immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was an honor killing — but it wasn’t.

Now, I reviewed coverage of Hassan’s murder a couple of years ago and I’m not sure this is true. You can read what I wrote here (and what tmatt wrote here) but the situation was such that the National Organization of Women in New York complained about the wholesale lack of coverage. While that group did raise the possibility it was an “honor killing,” mainstream media reports didn’t. Or, if they did, they dismissed it. I was surprised that the coverage was so shallow and slight, considering how high profile the killer and victim were and, again, the beheading aspect.

Later in the NPR piece we’re told:

Some journalists assumed that the killing was sanctioned by Islamic law — that Aasiya had dishonored her family by filing for divorce and paid for that with her life.

That story line, said Qazi*, was everywhere.

“There was this constant reminder of this monster who we all tried to project and help to establish a lifestyle television channel to show who we are and what we stand for — and then we get this,” he said.

*Previously a Dr. Khalid Qasi, a leader in the Buffalo Muslim community, is introduced. I assume this is the same person. Again, I’m not entirely sure this passive construction and reference to “some journalists” is accurate. I think that many, many, many people probably wondered whether this was an honor killing. It’s just that my review of the journalism itself indicates that journalists weren’t in that group. They were behaving more like the journalists behind this NPR piece, raising the issue in order to dispel it.

Also, I think this appeal to Islamic law is a bit clumsy. While it’s silly to pretend that honor killings aren’t a problem in some Muslim communities, it’s not accurate to characterize it as Islamic law. Instead, I think it’s important to note how certain cultures combine with certain readings of Koranic verses to create the acceptance or embrace of honor killings.

Anyway, let’s get to the dispelling part:

Remla Parthasarathy, an instructor at the Women, Children, and Social Justice Clinic at University at Buffalo Law School, says the Hassan murder was a clear-cut case of domestic abuse.

“Honor killings are something that is sanctioned and approved by the extended family, that wasn’t the case here,” she said. “Religious leaders in the Muslim community came out and denounced it and they said it wasn’t an honor killing and I respect that.”

In fact, no one could recall ever seeing Mo Hassan at the mosque.

It is interesting to compare that last line with some of the dramatically favorable coverage Hassan received — including from NPR — when he started his Muslim network. But what I found interesting about this honor killing definition is that other than this Buffalo Law School clinic instructor’s assertion, we don’t know anything about the extended family or whether they knew about the situation at all. I’m happy to accept this definition, based on what we’ve seen in many other honor killing situations, but I just think more information would be helpful.

In fact, if the whole point of the story is about how people thought this was an honor killing but it is “just” domestic violence, it seems a fuller discussion of honor killing would serve the story well.

Instead the story reads as shallow and promoting a particular view. What’s more, the “honor killing” emphasis means that we don’t get a good discussion of whether there is anything in Islam that is used by its followers to subjugate women — something Eric Gorski discussed well in his piece two years ago. Many paragraphs are devoted to discussion of domestic violence, but none discuss religion. We’re told that the community discusses domestic violence but only as a function of being an “immigrant” community, not as a function of any particular religious views. As such, the piece reads more like public relations and less like a thoughtful look at the particulars of domestic violence in a given religious community.

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  • Ryan K.

    Not advocating for it…but I wonder if a journalist or the media would be advancing the story or looking at in a different light if they explored the hate crimes angle.

    It seems to me that killing another person because of their cultural-orientation qualifies as hateful. With hate crimes increasing in policy and judicial decisions it would be interesting to hear how some from a more liberal persuasion that are trying to downplay the honor killing element would deal with the hate crime aspect.

  • Jerry

    It is interesting to compare that last line with some of the dramatically favorable coverage Hassan received — including from NPR — when he started his Muslim network.

    That’s true of endless criminals in both Republican and Democratic parties and has been true for ages. I don’t see this crime as being unusual in that regard.

    In fact, if the whole point of the story is about how people thought this was an honor killing but it is “just” domestic violence, it seems a fuller discussion of honor killing would serve the story well.

    Honor killing is a subset of domestic violence that has a particular origin and justification. Honor killings in the US amongst Christians historically was not men killing women but men killing men for slights to their honor. is one site that discusses this. The difference is that honor killing in the US was a two way street with both sides armed.

    An aspect that is little covered in sensational crime stories like this is a bit of perspective. I have some issues with the story, but at least tries to discuss how Islam is changing in America. What was culturally sanctioned in American’s countries of origin is giving way to adoption of American values and ideals.

  • jason taylor

    Ryan K, that would be bigotry. To use hate as a synonym for bigotry in the modern fashion implies that there are no other kinds of hate. “I hate Steve” does not mean I am prejudiced against Steve’s culture. It means I hate him personlly. “I hate ice cream” means ice cream does not suit my culinery preferences. And so on.

  • Ryan K.

    I know it is wikipedia but the definition for hate crime seems to fit this situation of honor killings.

    It is killing someone for cultural, religious, and often sexual reasons. Is this intolerant and fall under bigotry? Yes. But I am just saying by the expanding liberal sensibilities of applying hate crime motivations to a wide range of behaviors, there is some over lap here.

  • Lee S

    Instead of worrying whether it was a hate crime or honor killing, why not just see it as a murder. His action cannot be justified by cultural differences.

  • John M.

    It would be nice if more reporters were aware that Muslim identity and Muslim practice are not directly proportional the way we usually think of them in Christian/Western culture. Just because no one ever saw Mo Hassan at the mosque does not mean that he’s not profoundly influenced and motivated by the shame/honor matrix of the Muslim society he grew up in.


  • TruBluTopaz

    By trying to hide the fact that within the umbrella of sharia is a definitely anti-woman attitude is the same as calling a piranha a pacu or a pitbull a Staffordshire terrier. You can change the name from honor killing to domestic violence but that doesn’t separate the act from the license to kill offered under some aspects of Islam. The Muslim community may not like it due to bad PR, but they are also silent when fellow Muslims act in truly heinous ways. You cannot have it both ways. Either the reason for these brutal slayings are based in religous dogma gone wrong or they are cultural phenomena permitted because the people involved are viewed as “foreign”. Frankly, I am disgusted.

    I have a huge American Muslim population at my school. I don’t think all of them are killers. But I honestly worry about what they are taught at home, at mosque regarding our culture and theirs. I know of girls who are engaged at 15 courtesy of arranged marriages. This is also an issue with girls from India which would point to this being cultural as opposed to religious in tone.

    The endgame is that we have people who come here from other countries to make money, but who cling to old world beliefs that are out of sync with our laws. I have had two teenaged girls murdered by their Egyptian father under the rule of sharia and honor killings. Their crime? To become American and date American boys. And what is worse is that their own brother continues to try to justify the murders and shield Interpol from knowing where his father has fled. We have judges trying to justify spousal rape under sharia standards. At some point the much proclaimed ACLU views of separation of church and state must apply to religions other than Christianity.

  • Bronwyn

    The quest to view this honor killing as domestic violence has its origins in the desire of the Western press and our government to sanitize the actions of Muslims in our country. Muslims are a group of people who do not value democracy and whose family structures are built upon total submission to the Koran and the life of Mohammad. They act according to their own cultural upbringing despite their wealth, education or years in the freedoms of the west.

    Aasiya Hassan was murdered by Islam. In this religion she was considered as valuable as a horse. The Koran sanctions beating and “other measures” against a wife considered a threat. The hadiths of Islam teach that women are evil and stupid. Women are cnonsidered most of the population of Hell.

    The family does in many cases sanction the killing of the female, but not all. It is not necessary. The father owns the family and can enforce his honor at will. In fact any male can kill the recalcitrant female, though the mother often helps in the murder. When Muzzamil killed Aasiya he told the police that because she was beheaded she could not go to Paradise. He had stabbed her over thirty times before beheading her. She was alive. The honor killer tries to extract the maximum terror before death in vengeance for dishonor. Islam hates women because its founder, Mohammad, the mass murderer and rapist hated women. Islam permits child rape which is termed child marriage perpetrated on children as young as six years old becuase Mohammad raped the child AIsha when she was nine years old. The child had been taken from her paretns house when she was six. Islam considers the life of Mohammad to be perfect life. THe Christian,Jew amd women hating Koran is conisdered unchangeable. You see th problem.
    Islam is totally other and a huge problem to a Western democracy.It is bent on conquest of all non Muslims through miltary action during war and through forcing the non-Muslim society to accept Islamic culture and legal system which is called sharia. The packaging of this honor killing as “just” domestic violence is a part of the sharia canpaign to adjust our culture to fit their legal system We are not allowed to notice the violence and cruel hatred in Islam until it is too late and they have achieved the upper hand by stealth or by war. Most often both.
    Look to Europe. Their submission to Islam grows daily without a shot being fired. The explosion in rape of Swedish women increased seven hundred per cent due to Muslim immigrants who considered the Western women to be whores. The government does not protect the women and to criticize Islam means risking prosecution for hate speech. The US must resist and refuse to allow our freedoms to be destroyed. Muslim immigration needs to be halted immediately. They are here for war.