Exclusive: Do We Justify the Most Brutal Murders by Calling Them 'Honor Killings'?

by MARGARET CALHOUN HEMENWAY April 6, 2009
Islamic groups in the U.S. are actively trying to discourage use of descriptive terms like "Jihadi" to describe an Islamic terrorist and warn Americans against "Islamophobia" should they use the "wrong" words to talk about Islam or Muslim terrorists. Yet Americans have already succumbed to using an Islamist phrase, "honor killing" to describe the brutal, pre-meditated murders of Muslim women (often wives or daughters) by Muslim relatives (often fathers or brothers). 
 
There are thousands of these killings overseas (many under-reported and perpetrators unpunished) in countries ranging from Bangladesh to Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and in Western societies like Great Britain where Muslims have emigrated. Many more Muslim women are beaten and abused. While Muslims account for less than 6% of the Dutch population, Muslim women constitute 60% of those seeking refuge in battered women's shelters.
 
Somali exile and former Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who became an outspoken Dutch Parliamentarian, told the New York Post (July 23, '08) that honor killings are a misnomer:  "The killing occurs because these girls have allegedly brought shame on their family. The paradox is that these are individuals who have emancipated themselves. "These girls embody the American dream. They want to become self-reliant – deciding who they marry, when they marry and how many children they will have." Hirsi Ali, who left her homeland to escape an arranged marriage, was forced to flee the Netherlands for voicing criticism of Islamic extremism and has been subjected to death threats. 
 
On March 21st, in Jordan, a man beat his daughter to death for wearing makeup, according to the Canadian press. In Basra, Iraq last year, a Muslim teenager was murdered by her father and brothers. Her sin was flirting with an infidel – a British soldier. The murder was celebrated within the community and the murderers never brought to justice. According to the Guardian UK (May 11, 2008), the father boasted of his deed:  "My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours."
 
In a Toronto suburb in Canada, a 16-year-old Muslim of Pakistani descent, Aqsa Parvez, was strangled by her father in 2007 for refusing to wear the Islamic "hijab" or head covering. Her crime, as a friend said, was that Aqsa "just wanted to dress like we do. She just wanted to look like everyone else." 
 
Increasingly, however, killings of Muslim women are occurring on U.S. soil. On July 6th last year, in Jonesboro, Georgia, according to police, a Pakistani named Chaudhry Rashid strangled his 25-year-old daughter with a Bungee cord in her bedroom because she wanted to end her arranged marriage.
 
The latest Alexandria, Virginia Gazette Packet (March 26-April 1) depicts the murder of a wife by her Ethiopian husband who retrieved a steering-wheel lock out of the closet to bludgeon her to death (it was not clear whether their 11-year-old daughter witnessed the murder). Although the news heading did not describe the deed as an "honor" killing, the article mentions the defense attorney attempting to explain the context in which the behavior could be understood (curious word "behavior" to describe a murder and a history of "suspicious, controlling behavior where he refused to let his wife interact with her coworkers.") The article points out that, "The cultural differences that Hussin struggled with in America created enormous problems in the already troubled marriage. In Ethiopia, women have more defined roles." This is a politically correct way of saying that women in these countries are expected to be submissive to their husbands and lack the legal rights of men.  Under harsh Sharia (Islamic) law, only the husband can grant permission for divorce.
 
In January 2008, two sisters, Sarah and Amina Said, were killed in Texas by their father, who married his Christian wife when she was only 15. The girls were high achievers in school; one had won a $20,000 scholarship; both were shot to death while calling for a police dispatcher. Their Egyptian-born father, implicated in the killings, is still at large. The father was suspected of a history of physical and sexual abuse of his daughters and had threatened to take them to Egypt where they could be killed for dishonoring the family.
 
In a grisly and recent murder in upstate New York, a 37-year-old Muslim woman, Assiya Hassan, was beheaded by her Muslim husband.  The Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III described the husband as a... "pretty vicious and remorseless bastard," (FOXNews.com- February 17th). "Whether he was motivated by some kind of interpretation of his religious or cultural views, we don't know." The irony of the young wife's murder and display of the body parts, reminiscent of an act of terrorism, is that Muzzammil and Aasiya Hassan founded Bridges TV in 2004 to counter anti-Islam stereotypes.
 
What would motivate a husband to decapitate his wife? Her crime was the simple act of filing for divorce. Some Muslim men consider divorce a stain upon the family – bringing dishonor and therefore, punishable by death. Assiya reportedly had been subjected to domestic violence at her husband's hands prior to filing for divorce and was granted a protection order which banned him from the home.
 
A rabbi who was a producer and host for Bridges TV, remarked in the wake of the murder that "now is not the time" to debate the cultural and religious context of the murder – "I will only say to those who leap to the conclusion that this kind of thing is intrinsic to Islam, ask yourselves if you think that drunkenness is intrinsic to Irish Catholics, or cheating in business is to Jews?" 
 
This rabbi, aside from making odious and intellectually dishonest comparisons to Irish Catholics and Jews, evidently does not seem to understand that many women are treated as chattel under rigid Islamic regimes. In the United States, Ireland and Israel, such horrific crimes would be punished, the murderer shunned by the community, and the perpetrator could face a death penalty or life in prison. 
 
Women are still forced to enter arranged marriages in many Islamic countries and child brides are commonplace.  Feminists are oddly silent about systematic violations of the most basic human rights of women throughout the Islamic world. No murder of a spouse or daughter would ever be associated with the word "honor" in any Western democratic society. In borrowing this phrase, we are falling into the trap of letting Islamic extremists justify and rationalize the most brutal of murders.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Margaret Calhoun Hemenway is a retired federal employee, having served fifteen years in the U.S. Congress and five years as a White House appointee at DoD and NASA.
 


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