It’s time western media looked beyond the veil

This was written by Mohammed Ayish and originally published in The National.

Most Arabs are resigned to being stereotyped by western media, but for Arab women the problem is particularly acute.

I was invited to Doha in Qatar last week to present the Arab Women Media Strategy at a conference called East and West: Women in Media’s Eye. My assumption beforehand was that the event would be yet another platform to expose the misrepresentation of women in Arab media: and the discussions were indeed inspired by research revealing long-standing media stereotypes of women in the region. But one issue raised by speakers that I found intriguing was western media portrayals of immigrant Arab women in North America and Europe.

Arab women in immigrant communities, just as in this region, are the victims of negative gender-based media representations, but on top of that they face yet more negative media coverage based on cultural misconceptions and the recent political conflicts that have marred Arab-Western relations. This is rather a thorny topic, and I commend the Rome-based international cultural association Reset Dialogues on Civilisations and Northwestern University in Qatar for initiating these discussions.

I believe that for media stereotypes of immigrant Arab women to receive appropriate attention, the issue has to be addressed in its cultural and political entirety, within the broad debate about Arab media stereotypes in the West. As long as negative Arab images continue to appear in western public spheres, women in immigrant communities will continue to suffer from them. One credible response to this challenge is the Network of Arab Women in Diaspora (NAWD) project launched last year by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, who chairs the UAE General Women’s Union. Among other things, the project harnesses the internet to initiate a cultural dialogue aimed at fostering a sense of identity among immigrant Arab women in the disapora.

At last week’s Doha conference, examples of how Arab women are portrayed in the U.S., Italian and German media went far beyond the usual gender-based stereotypes. I was dismayed to hear presenters referring to demonized images of Arab women, especially in the post-9/11 era. Both Newsweek and Time magazines portrayed Arab-Muslim women in terms of the veil/Islam, female circumcision and famine, while disregarding the contributions they made to their communities. Three different Italian RAI network shows featured images of helpless Arab women, often the victims of domestic abuse.

As to German media, Sabine Schiffer, head of that country’s Media Responsibility Institute, argued that they sensationalized the issue of Arab-Muslim women’s “oppression” as a strategy to detract attention from the abuse of women in general in the West. An image of a veiled Arab-Muslim woman demon-figure flying in the sky to wreak havoc on high-rise buildings in western cities was particularly disturbing. And an image of a crescent appearing slowly in sync with an act of domestic violence was most frustrating.

In the West, clearly, negative Arab images rooted in history are providing a base for the stereotyping of Arab women in the media. I have come across several studies that blame Orientalist traditions and recent political conflicts in the Middle East for reinforcing images of women only as belly dancers and concubines. One of those studies, published in 2004 by Maram Hallak (an Arab American) and Kathryn Quina, chronicles the immediate post-9/11 experience of seven young Muslim women students at a community college in lower Manhattan, next to the Twin Towers. The study shows how those young women were frustrated by media stereotyping, afraid for their safety, and distressed by the trauma they had experienced themselves from living next to Ground Zero.

A short documentary film screened at the Doha conference, on how Hollywood stereotypes Arabs, proved insightful for audiences keen on understanding the broad context that gives rise to negative images of immigrant Arab women in western media. The film, featuring the internationally renowned Arab American media scholar Jack Shaheen, notes that since the 1970s Muslims and Arabs have generally been portrayed in US media as violent, aggressive, villainous, ugly, and even sub-human. Many critics, including Professor Shaheen, blame the media for inventing and perpetuating the stereotypes that have largely shaped America’s images of many minorities, including Arabs.

Arab women in immigrant communities cannot win the fight for better media recognition while they continue to be viewed inside the parameters of traditional Arab-Islamic stereotypes. So for this issue to receive the widest attention, it has to be positioned within the broad discussion of Arab-Muslim media misrepresentations in the West. More systematic and comprehensive cultural dialogues between the West and the region are needed to reinforce common ground and avert potential misunderstandings. I see Sheikha Fatima’s NAWD initiative as a promising milestone on this path.

Speak Your Mind: Mona Eltahawy’s Advice on Media

I spent this past Sunday morning at a brunch hosted by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women to honor “Women Who Inspire.”  Five Canadian Muslim women were presented with awards recognizing their contributions in the fields of politics, education, and community activism.

Also present was Mona Eltahawy, a U.S.-based journalist who gave a speech about media representations of Muslims.  She had some interesting reflections that I thought I’d share here on MMW.

Eltahawy began her talk by suggesting that the CCMW awards should perhaps be re-named to “Women Who Confuse,” a reference to her argument that Muslims doing anything other than chanting angrily (men) or hiding passively under black fabric (women) cause serious confusion to people whose only encounters with Muslims may be through news media sources that rarely represent the kinds of activities that the award recipients have done.  (See this video for an elaboration of her points on “The Happy Muslims Who Confuse You.”)  She characterized representations of Muslim women in particular as dominated by the two “H”s, headscarves and hymens, defined by little more than our clothing and the sexual regulations imposed on us.

Eltahawy spoke about the frenzy among people in the West to “save” Afghan women, and gave a particular example of one organization selling swatches of a burqa, as a fundraiser that almost turned the burqa pieces into some kind of trendy consumer item (and reminded me of the burqa wine-bottle covers I wrote about a while ago.)  She made a great point that “Afghan women are not our gimmicks, and not our dolls.”  I love the way she calls people out on this objectification of Afghan women – the doll image is great, and so true.

One of the most interesting things that Eltahawy talked about was about how more people need to get their voices into the media, rather than just reading and talking about it.  She spoke about her own experience sending an opinion piece to the Washington Post shortly after 9/11; she had no connections with the newspaper, but apparently the Post reads everything sent to them, and in her case they liked her article and got back in touch with her.  They eventually printed some of her writing, and she came to be published in other newspapers.  She encouraged those of us in the audience to try to do the same thing, and to sign off as activists in this field (along with whatever other qualifications we have), as a way of claiming credibility as people that the newspapers should listen to (and publish.)  In a context where so many of us feel like our images are being torn “between people who want to save us and people who want to liberate us,” Eltahawy recommends that we respond to these saviors and liberators by adding our own voices to what’s being said.

I’m not sure it’s quite as easy as Eltahawy made it sound (though, to be fair, her talk was really short and didn’t have a lot of chance to go into detail.)  After all, the newspapers aren’t going to print every thing that comes their way, and I’ve heard of some media declining to post quotes or interviews that add nuance or depth to  a topic instead of confirming their sensationalist slant.  But what I think was important was her encouragement to take an active role in producing media about Muslims, rather than just responding to what other people write (like, you know, on blogs that look at media representations.)  So many of our writers and readers on MMW spend a lot of time writing and reading about these things, and Eltahawy’s encouragement to take this writing also into media sources (online and print) beyond our own blogs was actually pretty inspiring.

Of course, blogs like MMW continue to be important, not that I’m biased or anything. ;)   However, I also really liked Eltahawy’s suggestions, and wanted to pass on her encouragement to all of you as well – it would be great to see more of all of our work reaching out in new directions.

Unfair Play: Doha Conference Sheds Light on Biased Images of Muslim Women in Western Media

This week in Doha, Qatar, the “East and West — Women in Media’s Eye” conference took place in Education City. The Peninsula and The Gulf Times both had pieces on the event. However, I was hard pressed to find any articles about the conference in any Western based, English language media outlet. Insha’Allah (God willing), this event will get more attention in some Western English language media outlets because the results definitely need to be heard not only by readers in the Gulf.

Saadia Izzeldin Malik, a professor at Qatar University, presented a study that looked at images of Muslim women in Africa in two major U.S. magazines, Time and Newsweek, from 1950 to 1998. The results of her study were not surprising to me and are definitely one of the reasons why I rarely read either magazine anymore:

Using content analysis, the study found that in the 44 stories of the two news magazines used (Time and Newsweek from 1950-1998), women in Muslim countries in Africa were depicted within the themes of veil, Islam, female circumcision and famine, she said.

Malik stressed that within these themes, there are different metaphors used to depict the images of Muslim women from the North and sub-Saharan Africa, saying that photos, especially during famine portray African women as predominantly helpless and needy.

The results of Malik’s study shows that the framing of Muslim women through the veil and oppressive circumstances is not limited to Muslim women from the Middle East or various parts of Asia; it is a universal narrative. As has been discussed here on MMW on various occasions, the themes of the veil, Islam, and various oppressions cloud the media’s representation of Muslim women the world over. It is important that Western media’s coverage of Muslim women becomes more nuanced and Malik’s study is part of a growing amount of literature that attests to this.

Malik’s study is important because there is not a lot of media coverage of Muslim women in Africa and also because there is even less analysis of the media coverage of Muslim women in Africa. Because the coverage of Muslim women in Africa is so limited in Western media outlets, it is especially important that the coverage of African Muslim women does not become bogged down by various limited themes. It must focus on the issues that are facing African Muslim women. Malik also stresses that the coverage of African Muslim women needs to increase.

In addition to Malik’s study on the representation of African Muslim women, another study, done by Daniela Conte, was presented on the the representation of Muslim women on Italian television. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she found that the representation of Muslim women on Italian television typically confirmed the stereotypical idea of a  “Muslim woman who is mainly victim of abuses and without rights.” This was an especially important part of Conte’s study:

“This portrayal confirms the male-dominated approach of media and even the tendency towards a simplification of media contents and the reduction of the complex society into stereotyping categories,” she added.

This point is really crucial because the stereotyping and simplification of Muslim women and the issues that affect us are just as much a result of patriarchy and the male-dominated approach of media as it is racism and Islamophobia in the media.

These studies, as well as the others, presented at the conference show once more how media represented of Muslim women needs to be greatly improved. All Muslim women ask for is a fair portrayal. Is that too much to ask?

How to Write about Muslims (for real)

This piece was written by both Sobia and Krista

After getting all of that sarcasm out of our systems two weeks ago, we decided it might be useful to put together a list of actual guidelines for writing about Muslims.  Of course, this is mostly just wishful thinking, because if reporters actually seemed willing to adhere to guidelines like this, then there would be no need for this blog.  But here are some suggestions anyway.

A lot of this isn’t new stuff, as you’ll see from the many MMW posts that we link to, which illustrate some of our guidelines in more detail.

So, here you go: the shockingly un-sarcastic version of “How to Write About Muslims.”

Rule #1: Don’t assume that Muslim women need to be saved, or that you know how to save them.

By making this assumption, what one is essentially doing is:

  • Assuming that all Muslim women are somehow oppressed at the hands of their fellow Muslims.  The Muslim community is just as diverse as any other.  By generalizing in such a way, one maligns the entire community, including the women.  This is offensive to the many women who are treated with respect and equality by their fellow Muslims, including Muslim men.  This assumption also ignores the forms of oppression that Muslim women may be facing from outside of the Muslim community, such as racism and Islamophobia (or even war and occupation, in cases like Iraq and Afghanistan), which for some women can be much more disastrous than anything they experience from their Muslim community.
  • Assuming that Muslim women can’t take care of themselves.  This is very patronizing.  Muslim women have agency, and a great deal of it.  Throughout history and today, Muslim women have been taking various forms of leadership.  In situations where women are being oppressed, they are resisting in all sort of ways that the media doesn’t always think about.  Additionally, most Muslim countries have Muslim women’s organizations that are working hard to support themselves and other women.
  • Assuming that what you’re going to do for them is going to be helpful.  The assumption is that you know better than them what’s good for them.  It also suggests that you are actually in a position to help them, which might not be true.

These two posts by Faith go into more detail about what is wrong with making these assumptions.

Rule #2:Rather than assuming you know what Muslim women’s lives are like, try asking them.

Too often, writers write about Muslim women without ever having tried to find out what Muslim women’s lives are like from their perspective.  This is poor research, and feeds into the problematic assumptions discussed in Rule #1.  Do your homework, and try hard to connect to the specific women that you are writing about.  Even if you are writing about women in another country, try to connect to women’s organisations in that country.  At the very least, try to connect to women from that country who are living in your own community.

Rule #3: Be careful of who you talk to regarding Islam and/or Muslim women.

Don’t assume, just because someone is Muslim, that all Muslims will agree with them or that they represent all Muslims.  For example, Muslims who have made a career out of calling other Muslims Islamists, and who base their credibility on the number of other Muslims who don’t like them, are not a good source of information. Generally, people who work within an Islamic framework, as opposed to always bashing Islam, are more likely to understand the Muslim community.

If you’re looking for information on Islam and Muslims, works by the following people might be of interest: Dr. Jasmin Zine, Dr. Asifa Quraishi (discussed here on MMW), Dr. Amina Wadud, Dr. Asma Barlas, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, and Imam Shabbir Ally.  (Note that neither we nor MMW necessarily endorses everything that any of these people say.  See also the comment section of this post for some more suggestions of people who can represent Muslims.)

Rule #4: Understand that Muslims are just like anyone else in terms of their belief systems.  Not everything a Muslim does has to do with Islam.

Although Islam may play an important role in the lives of many Muslims, this does not mean that every action a Muslim takes, good or bad, is related to his/her religion. Believing everything a Muslim does must be related to Islam is the same as believing that everything a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Sikh does is related to their religions. As irrational and nonsensical as this seems for these religious groups, it should seem equally as nonsensical to apply this belief to Muslims. Muslims, just like all other people, are impacted and influenced by many aspects of their contexts – culture, economy, employment, relationships, health, etc. The ways in which Muslims behave, just like the ways in which all people behave, are influenced by the many experiences in our lives, just one of which is religion. To assume that a Muslim’s behaviour is based on his/her religion alone is assuming that Muslims live in a vacuum which is devoid of culture, economy, patriarchy, social problems, health issues, etc. Here is an example of taking Muslims out of their context and blaming Islam for their behaviour.

Rule #5: Understand that there is no such thing as a “Muslim culture.”  Muslims come from a variety of cultures, and culture is dynamic – it’s constantly changing.

Muslim culture does not exist. There is no one region of the world from which Muslims hail. Don’t take our word for it. Ask any researcher in cross-cultural studies (psychology, sociology, etc) and they will tell you that a Muslim culture does not exist.

Muslims hail from a variety of different cultures. Researchers also say that culture is a dynamic phenomenon. Every culture is dynamic and is constantly changing. Hence, the cultures from which Muslims hail are also changing. What may have happened in a culture 50 years ago, may not necessarily happen today. And just like North American culture, cultures around the world, are diverse. People of various cultures are not blindly following their cultures. Just as North Americans are not drones acting in ways dictated to them by their culture, similarly Muslims do not mindlessly follow their respective cultures.

Rule #6: Don’t create a dichotomy between “Muslim” and “Canadian” (or “American,” “British,” etc.), or between “Muslim” and “Western.”

See here for one example of why this is problematic.  There are a lot of Muslims who also identify as Western, Canadian, American, and so on.  Talking about Canadians and Muslims as if the categories are mutually exclusive reinforces the idea of an irreconcilable divide between Islam and the West, and erases the identities of the many Muslims who feel connected to both categories.

Rule #7: Tone it down! Be mindful of the language you use.

Language is a powerful tool that can shape people’s perceptions, and can have far-reaching implications for the way that people are seen.  For example, last week we had a discussion about the ways that terms like “honour killing” and “terrorist” are being used in relation to the recent murder of Aasiya Hassan (and see here and here for other discussions on the term “honour killing.”)  Terms like these can easily be used to portray all Muslims (and the cultures that Muslims are assumed to come from) as violent, scary, oppressed, dangerous, and so on.  It’s useful for fearmongering, but often antithetical to responsible journalism.

And please, please stop trying to make up clever titles involving some play on the word “veil.”  It’s been done.  Ad nauseum.  (See Rule #9.)

Rule #8: Take responsibility for the consequences of your writing.

If you do decide to write in ways that seem to generalize, patronize, insult, or demonize a whole group of people then take responsibility for your words and realize that people will be offended and upset. Do not be surprised when people feel insulted, demonized, or patronized by your words. And do not be surprised when they critique it on blogs, or write seething letters to the editor.

Rule #9: Leave the headscarf alone.

The headscarf is really not a big issue for a lot of Muslim women. And most Muslim women would really appreciate it if the media would figure this out soon. Muslim women wear or don’t wear the headscarf for a variety of reasons. Many Muslim women who wear the headscarf believe it is their religous obligation, while others wear it to increase their spirituality, while  others wear it as an expression of their modesty, while others wear it for political reasons, and others still for all of the above. Many Muslim also do not wear the hijab because they feel it is not a religious obligation.  Whatever their beliefs may be, for Muslim women the headscarf is a personal and private choice. A choice they have the right and ability to make. By assuming that the headscarf is somehow problematic, one undermines the agency of the women who have chosen to either wear or not wear the headscarf.

Even for women who are in situations where headscarves are imposed, they are probably having lots of other things imposed on them too.  The obsessive and often exclusive focus on the scarf is still reductive and misses the point.

Really, it’s getting old.  Give it a rest.

MMW Roundtable on the Murder of Aasiya Hassan

Salam waleykum, readers. Last week, we brought you daily updates on the Muslim community’s response to Aasiya Hassan’s murder.

This week, we’re bringing you our own thoughts on the coverage surrounding the case.

Media coverage around Aasiya Hassan’s murder has been slow but steady in its speculation. Much of it has been Islamophobic, throwing around sound bytes from unqualified spokespeople (looking in Brigitte Gabriel’s direction), making assumptions about Islamic law, and generalizing about the Muslim community.

Faith: The media coverage of Aasiya Hassan’s murder brings up two important issues for me. The first is the connection of Islam to any criminal behavior that is done by a Muslim. This has been happening more frequently whenever a Muslim commits a crime and it is a disturbing trend. Islam does not make people become criminals. No religion makes a person become a criminal. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Islam does not condone or support domestic violence or criminal acts.

Yusra: In writing about Aasiya Zubair (may Allah rest her soul), any good journalist will ask, “what makes this different that any other domestic violence case?” Muzzammil was a public figure who promoted himself as a leader of the Muslim community, which in turn honored him with awards and cash donations. He was seen as a spokesperson for Islam, and founded Bridges TV with the intention of dispelling stereotypes about Muslims. We cannot blame the media for jumping on the irony here. Muzzammil’s faith and profession make this story unique; any story that does not mention this is incomplete.

Sobia: What strikes me most about the coverage of this tragedy is all the speculation regarding the case. No one has stated Hassan’s reasons – not even him. Neither he nor the authorities have stated anything about Islam or Shari’ah, yet we have media outlets basically fabricating his motives to (and to me, this  is the sickest part) sensationalize the tragic murder of a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister because she is Muslim. Had the victim been a White, non-Muslim woman, I have a strong sense she would have been afforded a little more respect.

Krista: Of course this murder has nothing to do with Islam, and therefore, as Muslims, we should not have to explain it.  And yet, even as I write that, I know that there is a wholly different Islam being talked about in the news, an Islam of violence and misogyny, and that this is the Islam that we are being asked to justify or to distance ourselves from.  So, as I sift through the stories and the analysis, the evidence and the misinformation – all the while aware that there is much about the story that we still do not know – I find my religion on trial, often condemned even before we have a chance to speak up.  The language used in a lot of the coverage of this murder, pretty much from the beginning, has served to accuse Islam and Muslims as a group for the violence that occurred, and to suggest that Muslims are people that the rest of Americans should fear.

Even more troubling are the ways that the word “terrorist” is popping up in some articles.  This horrific instance of domestic violence has suddenly been turned into a “terrorist” act – in other words, Muzzammil Hassan is portrayed as not only a threat to his wife, but also a potential threat to all people around him.  Again, there is nothing that points to this case being anything other than a shocking and brutal form of domestic violence.  However, the language used, with “Shari’ah” to implicate all Muslims, and “terrorist” to suggest a broader threat, implies that all Muslims (and men in particular) are potentially violent, that spousal abuse and murder are acceptable in our religious worldviews, and that our inherent violence and support of violence make Muslims a danger to our broader communities.

Sobia: The fact that this poor woman was beaten by her husband regularly and lived in such fear for so many years of her life are being completely forgotten in the efforts of Islamophobes to use her death to push their agenda.

Especially troubling are the constant references to Shari’ah law and honor killings.

Yusra: Blaming Muzzammil’s faith for the murder or somehow hinting that Islam has anything to do with it is a forceful injection of drama that belongs in trashy tabloids not credible newspapers. Yet so many media outlets went ahead and labeled the beheading an honor killing or injected Shari’ah in their stories, just so they could be cool and show they knew what Shari’ah was.  This sort of ignorance and libelous editorializing by journalists is commonplace whenever they write about Islam and Muslims.

Sobia: The Toronto Star not only attributed this murder to Shari’ah law without any evidence (extremely poor journalism in my books), but they also quoted an ex-Muslim, now evangelical Christian, on what Islamic law is. This would be equivalent to quoting Richard Dawkins, world famous atheist who was raised Christian, on Christian laws.

Faith: Every time an article or news story is done on Muzzammil Hassan, Shari’ah and “honor killings” are mentioned. It’s so disappointing, because it makes me believe that the media really doesn’t care about accuracy when it comes to any story about Muslims. Aasiya’s murder had nothing to do with Shari’ah, nothing. I honestly feel that Shari’ah is simply being mentioned to make the story more sensational than it already is. Additionally, Aasiya’s murder had nothing to do with “honor killings”.

Fatemeh: As I wrote in my post on ReligionDispatches, I believe that “honor killing” is the wrong word to describe what happened to Aasiya Hassan:

However, there is overwhelming evidence that the “honor killing” label is an incorrect one: Aasiya was Muzzammil Hassan’s third wife after two divorces, she suffered a history of abuse during her marriage to him, and his first wife’s cousin has spoken out about the domestic abuse that she faced while married to him. She had filed for divorce from him a week before her murder, yet she still worked in the same television station he did (they co-founded the network). As many domestic violence statistics show, women in abusive relationships are most in danger when they attempt to leave the relationship, and Aasiya had not only filed for divorce, but also gotten a protective order against her husband.

Not to mention that, if divorcing Muzzammil is considered dishonorable and is the reason he allegedly murdered her, why didn’t he also kill his first two wives, both of whom divorced him for spousal abuse?

Krista: We had an interesting discussion in the comments section of an MMW post a little while ago on whether “honour killing” was even an appropriate or useful phrase to use.  I’m still uncomfortable with it, but the argument for using the phrase that I found most compelling was the idea that it conveys a very specific set of circumstances (the issue of “honour,” often the involvement of several family members in the murder, etc.), and that some argue that it is necessary to have specific language to address the crimes that happen in these circumstances.  Again, that point is debatable, but the reason I bring it up is that, from what I have seen, nothing about this case fits that description.  If it is indeed useful to use the term “honour killing,” shouldn’t it be reserved for situations that actually fall under its definition?  And shouldn’t that definition be more concrete than “domestic violence committed by a Muslim”?  At this point, we have no evidence that this murder had anything to do with an “honour killing.”  Naming it in that way undermines the purpose of “honour killing” as a meaningful term, and needlessly (and dangerously) attaches cultural and religious connotations to this case.

Constant references to “beheading” also color the circumstances in a different light. When someone’s head is removed in a murder, news reports  refer to it using the word “decapitation”. It’s a pretty good bet that the Associated Press Style Book (referred to on the Associated Press’ website as “the journalist’s Bible”) would advocate as such. Yet, many outlets (including the Associated Press, disappointingly) refer to her murder as a “beheading.”

Sobia: Referring to this murder as a beheading, as opposed to as a decapitation which would be more accurate, brings forth connotations of some sort of judicial ruling, as opposed to a vicious hate crime against a woman.

Fatemeh: “Beheading” also conjures up some seriously Orientalist stereotypes, as if he’d murdered her using a giant scimitar (which is exactly what Bill Maher seems to think, despite the fact that no details about the case, including the murder weapon, have been released).

Krista: The language around “beheading” also carries connotations of a judicial sentence imposed on Ms. Hassan.  Again, nothing that has been published in any of the news reports has given any indication that this was some kind of religiously-imposed punishment, or that Ms. Hassan had been said to violate any Islamic law.  Even the most extreme and violent (mis)interpretations of Shari’ah don’t allow for beheading a woman who divorces her husband.  The way that Shari’ah gets talked about in relation to this case – usually without a direct link; the word just gets thrown in there to imply a connection – is really worrying, and puts the blame on Islam for something that would be clearly condemned within an Islamic legal framework.

Last Friday, imams across the United States discussed domestic violence in the Muslim community in an effort to make sure that no other women suffer the way Aasiya did. Tinting the story with references to Islam, Shari’ah, and honor killing obscure the real truths of the situation, and make the murder of a wife by her husband seem like something that only happens to Muslims.

Faith: The second issue that this tragedy brings up is the Muslim community’s complicity in domestic violence against women. Muzzammil Hassan was supported by various Muslim organizations in the U.S., including ISNA, despite the fact that all three of his wives left him because of domestic violence. He had a reputation for being violent and abusive, yet he still managed to gain a platform at major Muslim conventions throughout the U.S. because he founded Bridges TV. Abusers should not gain the support of Muslims, yet too often we are silent when they are among our mist. I hope that this tragedy really makes Muslims take a cold, hard look at how we treat domestic violence and abusers in our community. Not just speak about the issue, but actually stop embracing and sheltering abusers and take actions to help victims of abuse.

Sobia: What heartens me is the response from mainstream Muslims to fight intimate partner violence. Just as after the tragic Aqsa Parvez murder, this time again mosques across North America delivered khutbahs against domestic violence, explaining how un-Islamic such terrible actions are. It appears the Muslim community  is stepping up to the plate in North America and, as such, showing Aasiya Hassan respect.

Fatemeh: There is no doubt in my mind that this is a case of domestic violence. Aasiya isn’t the first person to be decapitated in this country (do a Google News search for “decapitation” if you don’t believe me), but I hope she’ll be the last, enshallah.

Domestic violence affects Muslims just as much as it affects other communities, and we have to face it. And we are: it’s reassuring to see how Muslim Americans came together after this horrific murder and turned it into something positive by raising awareness in our communities, attempting to ensure that no other woman faces this same fate. As tragic as it is, Aasiya’s murder may have saved more women than her work as a Bridges TV executive, even as her husband’s alleged actions have hurt the community more than his work at Bridges TV helped.

Media Whores: The Egyptian Media’s Defamatory Coverage of the Murders of Heba & Nadine

A week ago, Heba Akad, the daughter of famous Moroccan singer, Laila Ghofran, was brutally murdered while sleeping over at the house of one of her girlfriends.

Heba and Nadine. Image via Facebook group.

Heba and Nadine. Image via Facebook group.

Her girlfriend, Nadine Gamal, was also murdered and died from stab wounds and a slashed neck.

Heba, who was stabbed half a dozen times, called her husband as soon as the murderer left and told him what had happened. It took her husband two hours to drive over to the apartment at Sheikh Zayed, a city on the outskirts of Cairo, and by the time he got there, Nadine had died. Heba died in the operating room shortly after her husband got her to the hospital.

The deaths of the two 23-year-olds (pictured left), both college students, are tragic.

But what is more tragic is the way the Egyptian media dealt with the murders. Rather than answering (or attempting to answer) the 5W’s and H in their articles (Who, what, where, when, why, how), they decided to use the front page spots to create what I can only call sensationalist trash. Headlines such as “Hashish and opium and drugs” were a dime a dozen.

If it bleeds, it leads.” So true.

The papers had a field day publishing rumors, manipulating facts, embellishing half-truths, and focusing on (what they believed were) the lives of the two women rather than their deaths.

To sum up what (the majority) of the press reported:

Nadine is one of Egypt’s elite, living it up in a sumptuous villa enclosed in one of Egypt’s many exclusive compounds. She lives alone, meaning she was loose and had no morals. She held huge parties with men coming and going at all hours. She and Heba were high on drugs and booze, and the man who killed them did so violently, meaning it was a crime of passion. It was so violent it couldn’t have been a robbery. The neighbors heard shouts, which means Nadine was arguing with a man—it must be a boyfriend. Oh, and also, she gave LE 40,000 to a boy at university, that must mean something. Perhaps trading in drugs?

Speculations, assumptions and downright lies.

Heba was not hung out to dry in the media, perhaps because of who she was, and perhaps because she didn’t commit the scandalous crime of living on her own. But once the papers found out that she had married her husband behind her parent’s backs, the press tore her to shreds. Who cares how she was murdered or who murdered her? Let’s write about how her mother must feel at this moment! Let’s focus on that!

Nadine’s father, the poor, distraught man, appeared on national TV during one of the nation’s most watched news programs, Al-Beit Beitak (This house is your house), to refute what had been said about his daughter.

The truth:

Nadine’s parents are middle class, and live in Saudi Arabia. She came to Egypt to study. She lives alone in an apartment, not a villa. Her father paid for the apartment over the space of three years, and had to wait another year before he had saved enough money to actually make it habitable. Nadine had been living with her grandparents in Giza, which was a two hour commute both to and from her college. Her grandfather was bedridden and her grandmother was also taking care of two other grandchildren, both of whom had Down’s Syndrome. Tired of the commute and of being an added burden on her grandmother, Nadine asked her father to live in the apartment nearer to her university.

Her dad called her a dozen times a day on a special Saudi line (to save money) to make sure she was okay. She held no parties. She was a “good girl.” The boy the papers said she gave LE 40,000 to was a boy who was thinking of proposing to her. No money was ever exchanged. And she wasn’t his girlfriend in the way the papers insinuated she was—the coroner told her dad that she was a virgin. Blood tests showed there was no drink or drugs in either of the girl’s systems and no drink or drugs were found in the apartment.

“My daughter has just been killed and I have to ask the coroner if she was a virgin to salvage her reputation,” said her father on TV as he struggled to hold back tears. “I had to cancel the funeral because of what the press has reported. Haram what they did. Publish lies. Nahsh a’rad alnas [An Arabic phrase that translates as "clawing the honor of people."] If any of it was true, then write it! But if it’s not, then don’t ruin the memory of an innocent girl who died a horrible death.”

Poster via Facebook group.

"To every newspaper who wronged Nadine and Heba. Your apology or the trash can is waiting for you." Poster via Facebook group.

A Facebook group with almost 2,000 members (another one has over 5,000 members) is asking newspapers for a public apology. Pictured right is one of three posters they’ve created saying: “To every newspaper who wronged Nadine and Heba. Your apology or the trash can is waiting for you.” At the bottom the text reads “An invitation to boycott yellow journalism.” Another poster reads “Nadine: To everlasting paradise. No condolences [accepted] from yellow journal[ists].”

I am totally disgusted. It’s press like this that gives us journalists a bad reputation. If these were any two girls who were murdered, I’d bet anything that not even a tenth of the press coverage would have been given to their murders. But since it was the daughter of a famous singer that was killed, it’s news. And not just any news, but front page news for an entire week.

Yesterday the killer, Mahmoud Abd Al-Hafeeth, was apprehended. He’s only 20 years old. He bought a knife with him and entered the apartment to rob the women, only he woke up Heba. She screamed, he stabbed her. Nadine woke up, ran after him, so he stabbed her. She ran to the kitchen to get a knife, so he stabbed her in the back and slaughtered her, then tried to decapitate her to make sure she was dead. He then ran away.

And the worst part:

He killed them for LE 400 ($70) and a mobile phone.

All the papers published that it turned out there was no crime of passion, only a burglary that went very wrong. But not one paper apologized for what they had previously published.

If you understand Arabic, you can watch the episode on Al-Beit Beitak which talks about the arrest of the murderer here, where the host asks the Journalist’s Syndicate to investigate what the papers wrote and penalize them.

If you don’t understand Arabic, you can watch this small clip of the show, if only to see how nonchalant the murderer is when talking about his crime (he’s in the blue sweater and talks at 2:12) and reenacting—at the actual murder scene—how he climbed up the pipes.

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In lela wa ina ilayhee rage’oon (From God and to Him we return).

May God give them peace.