Beheading of Muslim woman drips with blood and irony

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2009, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved

I didn't want to write about this. We have enough doom and gloom already -- why add to our collective pool of misery. But this story needs to be told because it got far less press last week than Jennifer Aniston turning 40 or the latest update on human baby factory Nadya Suleman. And that, in and of itself, is just wrong.

The brutal murder of Aasiya Hassan, however, is beyond wrong. It's beyond tragic. There isn't even a word that captures the horror of being murdered by one's own husband. That is how Hassan's life ended. Her decapitated body was found in a hallway, her severed head nearby.

This horror took place not in some tribal area of the Middle East, where beheadings are acceptable forms of punishment, but in Buffalo, New York. Yes, right here in America. And no one noticed. Or maybe they're afraid to notice. But we must notice.

We must.

"The crime drips with brutal irony: a woman decapitated, allegedly by her estranged husband, in the offices of the television network the couple founded with the hope of countering Muslim stereotypes," writes Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press.

Brutal irony indeed.

A related AP story notes that New York television executive, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, "sought to improve the image of Muslims in the media" and "launched his Bridges TV network in 2004. In an AP interview, he said he hoped the network would balance negative portrayals of Muslims following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks."

So much for that.

A week before her death, Aasiya Hassan filed for a divorce, allegedly following years of domestic violence and abuse. She had a restraining order, and her husband was legally forced from their home in a quiet, upscale New York suburb. Following their estrangement, says the AP story, "the beheaded body of Aasiya Hassan, 37, was found last week at the offices of Bridges TV, the Muslim-American television network the couple started to promote understanding between cultures."

Muzzammil Hassan's defense attorney James Harrington insisted, "culture, religion doesn't play a role." (Ah, defense attorneys. Their concept of "truth" is so fluid.) The AP story notes that "experts say such killings are still accepted among fanatical Muslim men, including in the couple's native Pakistan, who feel betrayed by their wives." In other words, honor killings.

Estranged husbands - both Muslim and non-Muslim - injure and murder their wives with shocking frequency, but beheading falls into a grisly category all its own. They just don't happen here. True, beheadings occurred in our European history, but nowadays, they occur predominantly in the Muslim world. Outside the Muslim world, beheadings simply do not occur in modern society anymore, except at the hands of the criminally insane. (Note to Muslim world: Beheading is oh-so six centuries ago.)

It would be easy to let the murder of Aasiya Hassan intensify the mistrust and tension between Muslims and non-Muslims, but I decided to focus instead on the one sliver of hope in this nightmarish story. It's not much of a sliver, microscopic in fact, but it's something.

The AP notes that the Islamic Society of North America "urged (Muslim) leaders to take a strong stand against domestic violence." Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali stated, "Women who seek divorce from their spouses because of physical abuse should get full support from the community and should not be viewed as someone who has brought shame to herself or her family."

OK, it's a start, and the Islamic Society of North America should be applauded for that. At least there was "urging" to take a stand, and a statement that abused women seeking a divorce should be supported by the community rather than scorned (let alone brutally murdered) but it wasn't enough. The Islamic Society didn't declare Muzzammil Hassan's actions to be unacceptable. His actions should have been soundly denounced. They were not. The statement talks about the woman, talks about the community, but the actions of the murderer were ignored. Let that not go unnoticed.

Nonetheless, the Islamic Society's statement was still a start, and we should heap praise on Muslims who speak out against atrocities committed by those claiming to follow Islam, and in particular, to honor killings and beheadings. Bravo, Islamic Society of North America! And a denouncement, even as an addendum, would still be welcomed!

As for Aasiya Hassan, we can't help her now, but we can honor her memory. Former Bridges TV news director Nancy Sanders said that Hassan "didn't want her children to be brought up in a world where every mention of a Muslim had some sort of terrorist connotation to it." We can honor Hassan - both Muslim and non-Muslim alike - by objecting loudly to honor killings and barbarism such as that which ended her life.

Sanders adds, "This woman in particular fought so hard to change the image of Muslims in America, and how does she die? This brutal act at the hand of her husband. It just stuns me."

It should stun us all. A lot more than Jennifer Aniston turning 40 or some woman in Southern California spraying out babies like a lawn sprinkler.