Dead Muslim Women As Opportunities

In April of 2011, 20 year-old Jessica Mokdad was allegedly gunned down by her stepfather Rahim Alfetlawi. The media uproar over the murder was immediate and, unsurprisingly, cloaked under the sensationalized trope of “honor killing.” While Mokdad’s family, including her biological father, stressed that Alfetlawi had issues of control and was not acting out of some religious convictions, the use of “honor killing” continued and served, also, most poignantly as a source for protest against even attempted popular normalization of Muslims a la TLC. Despite evidence that emerged earlier this year that Jessica, herself, had gone to the police two weeks prior to her murder, claiming that her step-father had raped her as a teen and she now feared for her life (falling in the face of the reductionism of “Islamic honor”), her murder still ignites whispers of an honor-based killing. And these particularly loud “waswasa” have come from—wait for it—the efforts of the ever-lovable trifecta of Pamela Geller-Robert Spencer-Tasteless Opportunism.

A woman in a headscarf tries to get into the "Human Rights Conference"
A woman in a headscarf tries to get into the “Human Rights Conference.” Image via Think Progress.

Unable to let go of another opportunity to spread vicious hatred, Pamela Geller led the organization of the “Jessica Mokdad Human
Rights Conference on Honor Killings” held on April 29th, the day before the anniversary of Jessica’s murder.  The conference was held in Dearborn, home to the greatest concentration of Muslims in the United States, and boasted grandiloquent Islam hateratti such as Robert Spencer, Nonie Darwish, David Wood, James Lafferty, Simon Deng and, of course, Geller herself. (A counter event was held, also in Dearborn, entitled: “Rejecting Islamophobia: A Community Stand Against Hate.” The event was hosted by an array of organizations, coming together to call Geller’s conference what it was: an anti-Islam hatefest.) Yet what has made more headlines than the ridiculous conference itself has been the barring of Muslim women (and some Muslim men) from both registering and attending the conference.  Yes – a conference “for” and “about” Muslim women, apparently, barred Muslim women from attending.

Facepalm ad nauseum.

Not only were the women barred from entering the conference, they were escorted out by hotel security and police.  Omar Baddar and Omar Tewfik, of the Arab American Institute, chronicled their experience as well as the experiences of several Muslim women (most of whom were veiled) to both register for and attend the conference:

Yeah. In case you’re not able to see the clip (or your time happens to be more precious than mine) – the video is just a conglomerate of awkwardness, as a group of Muslims try to enter the conference and are passive-aggressively (and eventually aggressively) kept out of the conference, without being given good reason.

But here’s something more important than even that: it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising that the minds who have brought us fear of #creepingsharia and popularized pejorative use of heavily decontextualized terms such as “taqiyya” and “sharia” would actually not have – wait for it—the best interests of Muslims, even the Muslim women they’re apparently trying to save, at heart. Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and their breed of bigotry thrive on opportunism. The most prominent examples of their opportunism have been the repeated uses of the dead to further their own agenda: from using the 9/11 deaths in a campaign against Park51 to using the deaths of Muslim women across the world to push the “demonic imperialist nature” of Islam into the psyche of their audiences.

And it ends up being a tough choice for those of us trying to keep virulent Islamophobia at bay. There’s a strong desire not to give further exposure to the “fringe” hatred of the Holy Haters. Yet at the same time it is hard to ignore the growing and salient influence of such hatred—especially when you have someone like this guy claiming influence from the “fringe.”  When a supposedly marginal hate-filled discourse is having even a minimal impact on the thought formation of a mass murderer thousands of miles away, does it not become incumbent upon us to elaborate on our collective “oof”? It’s as painstaking to write about the hateratti as much as it is to read them. Yet it increasingly seems as though this apparent fringe, the same that brought us the Birther movement and influences the Tea Party, will continue to be a force – however “small” in density – to be reckoned with.

And signal collective groan.

  • Chris

    “While Mokdad’s family, including her biological father, stressed that Alfetlawi had issues of control and was not acting out of some religious convictions, the use of “honor killing” continued..”

    I find the article overall very interesting, this phrase sticks with me a lot, though, and I cannot help but comment on it. What on earth would make “issues of control” less of a reason for “honor” killing than religious convictions? I tend to disagree with people who say “honor” (rather: shame) killings have nothing at all to do with religion. They can be nurtured and encouraged in climates where religious bigotry and zeal create a climate of hate and action against individuals’ very private choices on love and sexuality. But: It is never only religion. It is patriarchy (which is integral to the world’s monotheistic religions, though, undoubtedly), it is sense of ownership over women, it is sense of being personally concerned by how a woman acts (family “honor”). Control issues fit very well with the latter two. Extremely well, I would say. So how would a murderer having “control issues” with his stepdaughter defy the existence of an “honor” motivated murder?!

    Also this: “(Jesssica) had gone to the police two weeks prior to her murder, claiming that her step-father had raped her as a teen and she now feared for her life (falling in the face of the reductionism of “Islamic honor”), her murder still ignites whispers of an honor-based killing.”
    Same here: Making family matters public (especially matters of sexual misconduct/abuse) is a classical family “honor” issue.
    Please explain why you think a rapist within the family, who then murders the rape victim for “control issues” according to other relatives, would not be an “honor” murderer.

    • Narjis

      It’s simple, Chris – that kind of murder happens every day, all over the world, in every culture and religion. And we never call it an “honor killing” unless the perpetrator is Muslim. Violence against women has many forms. What happened to Jessica Mokdad happens in this country on a regular basis and it’s usually not committed by Muslims (not that that really matters.) I would love to see some action taken against rape, stalking, domestic violence, sex slavery and all forms of misogynistic violence – I do not care what religion the perps claim to be, their crime needs to be punished and our society needs to address the root causes of this horrific behavior.

  • Chris

    Else: There is obviously nothing more to add to what you said on an organization and event on the “human rights of Muslim women” depriving them of their human right to freedom of expression. At a semi-public event that is supposedly about their rights.

  • Rochelle

    I disagree with your conclusion re: honor killing – that’s its just murder conducted by Muslims. Of course the media often jump to the false conclusion that any spousal-killing done by Muslims is an honor killing, which of course is unjustifiable. But honor killings do not present the same way as other kinds of domestic violence. And in fact any refusal to understand the specificities of honor killing does a disservice to its survivors or potential victims: http://www.violenceisnotourculture.org/files/Should%20We%20Use%20the%20Term%20Honor%20Killing-4.pdf

  • Sara

    1200 women are murdered in the USA every year…the majority by family members. Almost 250,000 are raped every year. Should we blame Christianity and generalize to all Christians for these crimes? Crime stats show that Muslims are the least likely group to commit violent crimes in the USA.

  • Chris

    @Narjis
    I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Spousal abuse – and murder of a “disobedient” partner seeking divorce and hence shaming the remaining partner, most often a gendered issue on top of that – is a universal issue. Murder within the family or the close circle is a universal issue.

    Honour violence is not a universal issue. It is violence based on notions of chastity of women, not men, and it is based on a feeling the extended kin has a stake in what a woman should or should not do, and consequentially has the right and duty to do something about it. There is no individual right to choose what do with one’s own body, but a proprietorship on women’s body by the extended kin. Violence based on women’s (lack of) chastity does not happen across the world. The single religious room where it is present in every single country is the Muslim world. The single religious carpet of different nations and ethnicities where the judiciary has long treated these crimes very leniently or even explicitly granted them impunity is the Muslim world. Does it happen in non-Muslim countries? Yes. Does it not happen in any Muslim country? No. Are there non-Muslim countries where the form of honour violence is not known? Absolutely. This makes honour-violence not a Muslim problem alone, but definitely a problem for Muslim nations and populations.

    Downtalking honour violence by saying it is like any form of domestic violence is a shame, particularly from the side of women. When the world over women are at risk of being killed when in the stage of divorce (which is honour or pride or machismo violence, whatever you want to call it), honour systems of violence place all women at a risk not only when seeking a divorce from their partner, but when deciding to be sexually active or even when arousing someone else’s sexual interest without any agentic sexual activity on the woman’s part.

    To deny this form of mindset and consequential violence is very much part of all contemporary Muslim societies means helping to cement the current status quo, where many women clearly are not free to choose whether they want to be sexually active or not in Muslim nations and exiled communities.

  • Chris

    Also, I believe there should – one day – be honest discourse from within the Muslim community, at best within the community alone and not involving outsiders: What role does it play for the prevalence of harshly violent reprisals against individuals who are unwantedly sexually active (from a community perspective, only female and homosexual male activity seems to be unwanted – male unmarried heterosexual activity seems rather well tolerated and sometimes even encouraged as long as it does not involve Muslim women) that at the time of the Prophet, with his sanction and involvement, individuals were murdered for having illicit sex? I think it is naive to believe a full sanction for execution for highly personal decisions of the intimate sphere do not create a climate of entitlement to hurt people for their intimate decisions. If the best of creation does so, it cannot be wrong. This is a worrying aspect of the hadiths, and I doubt I am the only one world-wide to think so.

  • http://www.inutiburkan.wordpress.com SmurfBurkan

    Honour killings and discussion around “honour culture” is not about blaming ALL Muslims or blaming Islam as a religion. One cannot deny the fact that some interpretations in Islam and the values derived from those uphold a certain culture and attitude towards women, their role and position and notions about “honour” and what it means to be a “real” man or woman. I mean, non-Muslim men who beat or murder women do not refer their actions to their culture or traditions, but most Muslims do unfortunately. I know in Sweden, this debate has been going on for a while, especially since there have been several honour killings and other serious cases the last year or so. Every one of those men and women explain their actions by saying that this is “our culture, tradition and religion”… And there have been both men and women murdered under those circumstances, some even tortured to death… Allahu al Mustan.

    • Louise

      “One cannot deny the fact that some interpretations in Islam and the values derived from those uphold a certain culture and attitude towards women, their role and position and notions about “honour” and what it means to be a “real” man or woman.”

      the issue around honour killings which is a specific term cannot be compared to the notion on Honour in the Quar’an which relates to Honour which is the dictionary definition of Honour.

      Honour killings are a cultural epithet, in Islam there is a specific rule about not asking a woman her sexual history as its considered not important. In Islam while women-and many forget men, are expected to be chaste, this is not the sole issue a womans worth is valued on in Islam unlike many long standing cultures. hense honour killing is a cultural thing and has existed long before Islam.

      “I mean, non-Muslim men who beat or murder women do not refer their actions to their culture or traditions, but most Muslims do unfortunately.”

      um, no. firstly, there are social constructs in non religious societies about what makes a man and a woman-and men do beat up women because of these social constructs, because culture tells them they should “control your women” otherwise why would there be such issues around how the media and advertising portrays violence against women and why would so many feminists and other groups be fighting against this.

      just because a “muslim” says they are doing this in the name of their religion does not make it true. many people, both religious and non religious, have a massive stumbling block when it comes to differentiating between Islam and culture-they are not the same thing and people are very lazy and use saudi arabia as a surrogate to Islam, yet many things that are practised there are not Islamic. so while these men may use their religion as an excuse, it is in fact a cultural teaching, and if people actually had knowledge of Islam and could see the difference between that and culture-there would really be progress. because as i have said-there are many non-muslims who are also killed in honour killings-but its not called that as its believed to be a religious rather than a cultral definition.

      • http://www.inutiburkan.wordpress.com SmurfBurkan

        Louise I think you misunderstood me. I am not saying that Islam in and of itself supports the idea of honour culture/killings etc (and I do not refer to honour in this context as we usually interpret it, rather honour in a certain cultural context which should be understood). I am saying that certain interpretations of the religion indeed do uphold these notions by not condemning them outright or even supporting certain ideas.
        Sometimes it is very subtle and we as Muslims do not even realize it because we do not reflect or think about it. For example, the unproportional focus on women´s bodies and sexuality which some scholar have and interpretations they draw from religious texts specifically and especially regarding women. “When the women become corrupt, the society becomes corrupt” (which are actual quotes from severa,l highly respected by some, scholars) – how can we not see through this?

        Secondly, what I meant by referring honour violence to culture/religion is those very interpretations of Islam and what it “really” is. As Muslims, we do have a responsebility to tackle these issues. In Sweden, an Afghan family said that it was their “culture and religion” that made them feel compelled to torture (yes, torture) the man their daughter had married (against their whishes) to death because he had “shamed” them. What has made them think that Islam supports these ideas? When you read certain fatwas, or hear some scholars speak about women, the female body and sexuality, you have no trouble to imagine from where they got it…


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