Jewish Journal


February 23, 2009

Beheadings and so-called ‘honor killings’



As I was driving from the South Bay to the Valley on Friday, a drive that took 85 minutes to go 30 miles, I heard a report on NPR about a Muslim woman whose decapitated body had been found at the Muslim TV station her husband owned in Buffalo. Aasiya Hassan’s husband, Muzzammil, had been profiled on NPR only five years before for his efforts to improve interfaith dialogue with a television station that broke down Muslim stereotypes.

And now he’s been charged with beheading his wife, who had filed for divorce, and Muslims have again been put on trial for their practice of so-called honor killings.

I was going to blog about this at length. But I just discovered Mollie has nearly written a book on topic over at GetReligion. Here’s an excerpt:

The thing was that Hassan was a prominent Muslim who had been championed for his efforts to dispel Muslim stereotypes. So while, very sad to say, even if he were simply accused of killing his wife in a more common manner as opposed to beheading her — something that is extremely uncommon in America — this story might not have had as much news value.

The stories that were out there seemed to lack substance. They didn’t explore why beheadings are more common in some cultures and what, if anything, that has to do with various religious values.

There is much more that could be written about this story but I did want to highlight one mainstream media piece that managed to tackle some of the tough questions while being incredibly respectful toward Islam and Muslims. It comes from the Associated Press and here’s how it begins:

The crime was so brutal, shocking and rife with the worst possible stereotypes about their faith that some U.S. Muslims thought the initial reports were a hoax.

The harsh reality of what happened in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. — the beheading of 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan and arrest of her estranged husband in the killing — is another crucible for American Muslims.

Here was a couple that appeared to be the picture of assimilation and tolerance, co-founders of a television network that aspired to improve the image of Muslims in a post 9-11 world.

One of the things that always troubles me about some of these stories is how quickly reporters sort of get defensive and dismissive about any questions surrounding Islam and violence rather than just exploring them. Far, far too many of stories about Muslims who commit violence seem to lead with the angle that the real victim of the story is the image of Islam. While this story could be interpreted as falling into the same trap, it doesn’t shy away from the underlying questions and ends up being much more interesting and doing much more to dispel stereotypes.

Much, much more here.

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