Patriarchal Religion, Domestic Violence And A Beheading In Buffalo

Of course there is a general relationship between patriarchal religion and domestic violence, and the more rigid and traditional the form of patriarchal religion, the stronger the relationship. Whether this particular murder by beheading in Buffalo was an “ordinary” instance of domestic violence or whether the Pakistani-born Muslim husband was animated by a sense of entitlement derived from his interpretation of Islam, or by his upbringing in a society in which “honor killings” are often winked at by law enforcement authorities, I do not know. And neither do the mainstream Muslim leaders who were quick to say that this murder has nothing to do with “real” Islam.

Nor does the president of the National Organization for Women, Marcia Pappas, who described the case as “apparently, a terroristic version of honor killing” and condemned Buffalo police for referring to the murder as an apparent case of domestic violence. I’m curious about whether Ms. Pappas, from a feminist perspective, or various imams, from a Muslim religious perspective, think that beheading your wife is any more or less of a crime if a man is not religiously motivated. But the official skittishness and media evasions surrounding this case are part of the grand American tradition of pretending that religion has only good effects on individuals and society.

That said, we must recognize that most of western civil law, until the middle of the 19th century, treated women as the property of, first, their fathers and then their husbands–and this treatment was rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition. Until the separation of church and state began to take hold in the West (slowly and unevenly) after the Enlightenment, there was really very little difference between the way women were dealt with under traditional Christian teaching and the laws of nation states. (HH here: I have to take issue with this one point. I am sure she included it only to seem “fair” anyway. The law in Europe pre-1800’s provided no punishmment for daughters and wives that failed to “submit”. There was no lash and hang mans’s noose awaiting the European women. Women have been major players in Western history from Rome’s Livia and even before. Where are the powerful queens and empresses and others that grace European and American history? Paul enshrined submission to the husband into Christianity but never prescribed punishement. Nowhere in Western hostory have women been excluded from equal testimony with a man BY LAW. Women’s rights in Europe have been far worse than they are today but there is still a large difference between how a family pet is treated and how a farm animal is treated. IN the West Women have progressed to true partners, in Islam they are and always have been cattle.) In countries where there is no separation of church and state, including many Islamic theocracies, there are still no “women’s rights” that violate traditional Islamic law. In countries where secular government and religious law and tradition are often at odds–Pakistan is one of those states–there is an uneasy coexistence.

The great Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in a powerful speech delivered in 1885, said it all:
“You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman…I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindoo [sic] woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons pepetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ of course he can do it.”

Since then, Christianity and Judaism (with exceptions for extremist sects within them) have made considerable progress in their attitude toward women–largely as a result of relentless feminist pressure and the support that separation of church and state gives to women’s demands for equality and justice. But even today–and we know this from the testimony of women who have fled extreme factions within Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam –domestic violence is a terrible secret in certain religious groups isolated from and contemptuous of civil society. Deeply religious women who “tell” on abusive husbands to civil authorities–and this is true among certain ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews as well as within the most conservative precincts of Islam–risk being cut off from their religion and, if they are mothers, losing their children.
(HH again: here the authro makes it clear how much she stretched to make the earlier comparison between Europe and Islam. Here we see it again, the EXTREMIST Jews and Christians MIGHT go so far as to ostrasize a women who rebels. HAteful as it may be being cut off from your religion and losing your children is better than being cut off from your life and losing your head.

It is disingenous for any religious leader, however personally reasonable and “moderate” he may be, to claim that religion has nothing to do with honor killings in Islamic theocracies and nothing to do with domestic violence within the most patriarchal precincts of any faith. However, the position of women in most of the Islamic world is infinitely worse than in the West. In some Islamic theocracies, women might as well be living in the 14th century as far as their legal rights are concerned.

Which brings us to the case of Muzzamil Hassan, accused of beheading his wife, Assiya Hassan, days after she filed for divorce. One of the most ironic aspects of the case is the fact that the Hassans started a cable TV network, Bridges, aimed at promoting understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures. There was a long history of domestic violence complaints by Mrs. Hassan against Mr. Hassan, and on Feb. 6–the day he was served with divorce papers–Mr. Hassan was also served with an order of protection. Mr. Hassan himself reported the death of his wife to police.

NOW is right about one thing: the police in Orchard Park (the affluent suburb of Buffalo where the Hassans lived) are idiots for saying, as police chief Andrew Benz did, “I don’t know if (the method of death) does mean anything…It’s nor a normal thing you would see.” Really? But it is “normal,” or less abnormal, in the world of Islamist honor killings. The “method of death,” as any homicide detective knows, always means something in a case of premeditated murder–the charge against Mr. Hassan.


I am of two minds about the religious inferences being drawn from this case. On the one hand, Mr. Hassan may just have been a violent man, seething beneath a polite surface, who would have done what he did regardless of his religion. On the other hand, his version of his religion may have been an important factor in his rationalization for committing such an act. One thing is certain: Aasiya Hassan did step out of the role of a traditional wife in her native culture by turning to secular law in America to protect her against a violent husband. And the law failed her, as it has failed countless American women, of many faiths, murdered by men using that most traditional of American weapons–a gun.The use of the word “terroristic” by NOW is politically inflammatory and quite stupid, given that all domestic violence, as feminists have long pointed out, is an intimate act of terror. Not long after the news of the beheading in Buffalo, there was a horrifying, widely circulated story in New York about a grandmother who killed her 4-year-old granddaughter. Did NOW issue a statement condemning “terroristic” grannies?

But the comments of Muslim authorities saying this crime has nothing, perish the thought, to do with religion (as if they knew what was going on in the mind of the accused killer) certainly do not address urgent issues about the position of women within some quarters of Islam or the uneasy position of many immigrant women and girls caught between the most traditional, repressive Muslim religious values and the secular liberties that the United States affords its female citizens.

(HH: overall a great piece of analysis.)

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