The news that Muzzammil Hassan decapitated his wife Aasiya Hassan left far too many people dropping the words "honor killing" and intimating that his crime was somehow prompted by his religion.
Take this absurd, insulting (they're laughing????) interview on last Friday's season premiere of Real Time with Bill Maher with Lebanese-American activist Brigitte Gabriel.
For starters, domestic violence is perpetrated by people — men and women — in this country and abroad of all nationalities, religions, cultures, economic classes, ages and skin colors. From Rihanna to Charlotte Hilton Andersen to Leslie Morgan Steiner to Nicole Brown Simpson, victims of domestic violence don't conform to a stereotype any more than their abusers do. Studies show that 1 in 4 American women and about 1 in 13 American men will be the victim of some sort of relationship violence in their lives. Twenty percent of all nonfatal violent crime experienced by women will come at the hands of their intimate partners in this country, and about one-third of female murder victims in a given year will die at the hands of an intimate partner. For far too many people in this country, domestic violence — as either a victim or a perpetrator — is a part of their lives. Period.
But, as Katy noted last week, there has been quite a rush to place the Hassan murder in the context of the Hassans' faith and/or culture. It has been called an "honor killing" despite scant public evidence that Mr. Hassan characterized it as such. Sobia, Krista and Fatemeh over at Muslimah Media Watch point out that the language used by most news outlets does not describe the murder as a "decapitation" but rather as a beheading, which underscores the popular sentiment that it was meted out as punishment (i.e., again with the "honor killing" meme) and has connotations of a judicial sentence. And all of this comes despite the fact that — as Kari Ansari in the Chicago Tribune and the women of Muslimah Media Watch both point out — decapitations aren't part of honor killings which aren't sanctioned in the Qur'an or under Shari'ah. Ansari says:
Islamic law does not allow a man to kill his wife, for any reason. There is nothing in the teachings of the faith that says a man should protect the honor of his stature in the community by committing violence against a woman.
While the problem of honor killings does still certainly exist in the Muslim and Hindu worlds, and in other patriarchal societies, we are addressing this problem on a worldwide basis, working to eradicate this cultural practice. [emphasis mine]
Much like female genital mutilation, Ansari is saying that honor killings, when they do occur, might be blamed on Islamic traditions but are in fact older, patriarchal cultural traditions onto which Islam has been superimposed. MMW's Krista adds:
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.
What none of them mention, but I will, is that "honor killings" are far from universal in the Islamic world — which stretches around the globe and, like Christianity, is practiced by a variety of people in different countries and cultures, usually shaping it in individual ways to fit cultural needs and practices.
Nonetheless, the irony that this woman's murderer was also a man committed to a business venture which attempted to teach Americans and Canadians that Islam isn't so foreign or so scary or so decidedly alien has seemingly given too many people a pass to traffic in the very stereotypes the Hassans were trying to combat. And, let us be frank about why: it is a way of denying rhetorically that domestic violence and heinous crimes against women happen in our communities, in our neighborhoods, to our friends and our family. It is an easy way to explain away the horror of the crime, to minimize its significance to our shared society, to say-without-saying that it's just one of those things that happens to those people. Yet statistics tell us if you're in a room with 3 other women, one of you has been (or will be) the victim of domestic violence. One of every three women murdered in this country is murdered by an intimate partner. One in every five non-fatal assaults on a woman is committed by an intimate partner. That is the reality. It might not be that Muzzammil Hassan's religion left him insufficiently assimilated to our culture to let go of some supposed cultural tradition of wife-beating and wife-killing; rather, it is entirely possible that his religion was insufficient to keep him from assimilating the American tradition of doing just that.
Related: The Shadow of Shame [Newsweek]