Monday, February 16, 2009

How the media can make a headless woman disappear

Muzzammil Hasan is the owner of a Muslim cable station in upstate NY. He founded his network, Bridges TV (so named because it was meant to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims) to much media fanfare 4 years ago. Recently, he beheaded his wife, Aasiya, to considerably less media fanfare.

In fact, given the sensationally gruesome nature of the crime -- and the media's very well established record of covering anything remotely sensational or gruesome ("If it bleeds, it leads," after all) -- the media silence around this killing is highly suspicious. The few accounts of the murder are sparse in the extreme. I don't believe that the media is trying to be sensitive to the family because of the heinousness of beheading. They usually don't try to act like decent human beings when something like this happens: they're usually in the families' faces with microphones shouting questions. My guess is there's something more at work here.

I'm wondering if the media don't want to publicize a Muslim acting in a manner consistent with the behavior of so many Muslims in the Middle East (or, increasingly, Europe). They fell over themselves to report on the beginning of Bridges TV, an event that a limited number of people are probably interested in. They've largely ignored Aasiya Hasan's beheading, an event that most people who watch news would be interested in. It's sad that so many more people would be interested in a gruesome murder than would be interested in someone trying to bring harmony and understanding to different groups of people, but it's the reality of original sin. It's to this reality that media coverage is heavily skewed, and I can't think of a non-ideological reason for them to not report on this.

Maybe their ideology -- the aversion to portraying Muslims in negative ways -- gives them magical powers: their non-reporting has made the headless Aasiya Hasan disappear. If the event goes unreported, most people don't know about it, and the few who do don't have anyone to talk about it with. In 6 months, you probably won't hear anything about Aasiya Hasan, her murdering husband Muzzammil, or the fact that both of them were Muslims.

Where Muslims (faithful, orthodox Muslims, that is) live in large numbers in the West, there you start to see beheadings, honor killings, and other acts of violence called for under sharia law. This observation is increasingly hard to deny, especially given the daily accounts of such behavior coming from Europe, where Muslims have moved in large numbers. Not all, or even most, Muslims act this way, of course. Many do, however, and most of those who don't consistently fail to condemn or try to stop those who do. This is partly because the majority who don't act this way are afraid of those who do, and partly because both the majority and the minority see that the minority's behavior is often commanded by the Koran.

It was said of the Roman empire that it made a desert and called it "peace". Islam means "submission," and we hear that Islam is a religion of peace. Given the uniquely violent history of Islam, however, as well as the behavior of Muslims in Europe and, increasingly, in the US (check out the folks washing their feet in the sinks of public restrooms in places like Michigan, for example), it seems that Islam is peaceful in the same way the Roman empire was.

Update: The media appears to be doing their best to discourage people from viewing this murder as an honor killing.

There are two statements in the linked article that are particularly revealing.

First, there's the obligatory Islamic scriptures didn't really motivate this crime quote:
"All religions have texts that can be misinterpreted. Good people, regardless of faith, would never do something like this."

Well, that would seem to imply that there are a lot of bad people in the Muslim world, wouldn't it? But that seems simplistic. Muslims who kill their wives and daughters for bringing dishonor on their families are not necessarily evil people. They are just people who take their faith very seriously. Calling them "bad" or "evil" obfuscates the fact that the one undeniable common factor that they all share is their religion.

Islam is a religion steeped in violence. It is violent in a way that literally no other major religion is. Take away the violence from Muslim history and you wouldn't have many Muslims, because Islam was spread by the sword for the first 1,000 years of its history. Violent conquest was the primary way that Muslims proselytized for well over a millennium. This is a fact. That legacy matters for Muslims today. Honor killings are hardly uncommon in the Muslim world, and are increasingly common in Western nations with large Muslim populations.

Second, there's the closely related This crime isn't really related to Islam quote:
"Calling [this beheading] an honor killing, it sort of takes it out of mainstream conversation and makes it a conversation about those people from over there from those backwards countries. In fact, in this country and in mainstream society there are many cases where domestic violence escalates to the point where a woman is killed."

Well, it's true that woman are tragically killed in episodes of domestic violence in America. It's also completely irrelevant. If Muzzammil had shot his wife, or even stabbed her with a butcher's knife, you might be able to call it simple domestic violence. (I'd still be skeptical, given the circumstances, but I'd have much less justification for skepticism.) That's not what happened, though. Muzzammil cut off his wife's head less than a week after she served him with divorce papers -- an act that's horribly dishonoring to traditional Muslims. Given the documented prevelance of decapitation as a means for honor killings among Muslims in the Middle East and Africa, this man's actions stand out as something more than garden variety domestic violence.

Making the claim in the above quote makes would be like saying that the lynching of a black man 100 years ago wasn't related to racism, since lynching has been a common method of killing people for centuries. Only someone who'd predetermined that racism didn't, as a rule, lead whites to lynch blacks back then could look at such a crime and say that the ideology and the action were basically unrelated.

Likewise, only someone who'd predetermined that Islam doesn't, as a rule, lead men to kill their wives through honor killings today could look at Muzzammil Hasan's beheading of his wife Aasiya and say that it was basically unrelated to his religion.

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