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Inside the Mind of an Islamist: 5 Keys to the Psychology of an Honor Killer

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Posted on February 6 2011 9:26 am
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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3. Where Could Muzzammil Syed Hassan Have Learned That Extreme Violence Towards Women Is Normal, A Man’s God-Given Right?

For the first seventeen years of his life Hassan grew up in Pakistan, where the level of violence towards girls and women was and still is barbarous and quite unbelievable.

In 2009, I received an extraordinary report which documented honor killings in Pakistan. My Pakistani informant, of the SW Community Development Department, in Sind, Pakistan, sent me an unpublished paper in which he describes and explains a murderous Pakistani culture very carefully.  He writes:

Women in Pakistan live in fear. They face death by shooting, burning or killing with axes if they are deemed to have brought shame on the family. They are killed for supposed ‘illicit’ relationships, for marrying men of their choice, for divorcing abusive husbands. They are even murdered by their kin if they are raped. The truth of the suspicion does not matter — merely the allegation is enough to bring dishonor on the family and therefore justifies the slaying. The lives of millions of women in Pakistan are circumscribed by traditions which enforce extreme seclusion and submission to men. Male relatives virtually own them and punish disobedience with violence.

According to my informant, of all of the honor killings in Pakistan, most go unreported and even more go unpunished.

The isolation and fear of women living under such threats are compounded by state indifference to and complicity in women’s oppression. Police almost invariably take the man’s side in honor killings or domestic murders, and rarely prosecute the killers. Even when the men are convicted, the judiciary ensures that they usually receive a light sentence, reinforcing the view that men can kill their female relatives with virtual impunity. There are few women’s shelters, and any woman attempting to travel on her own is a target for abuse by police, strangers or male relatives hunting for her. For some women suicide appears the only means of escape.

He continues: “In [Pakistani] communities an ‘honor killing’ is considered a just punishment, not a crime. This view is also shared by many Pakistanis who do not belong to tribal societies.”

In these communities:

Male control does not only extend to a woman’s body and her sexual behavior but all of her behavior, including her movements, her language and her actions. In any of these areas, defiance by women translates into undermining male honor and ultimately family and community honor. Severe punishments are reported for bringing food late, for talking back or for undertaking forbidden trips, etc. A man’s honor defiled by a woman’s alleged or real sexual misdemeanor or other defiance is only partly restored by killing her. He also has to kill the man allegedly involved. Since [the woman] is murdered first, the [man] often hears about it and flees, aided by the fact that unlike the woman, he is both familiar with the world outside the house and can move freely in it. But [men] who escape will not be able to return to normal life. Nobody will give such a man shelter; he remains on the run until he and his family are ready to negotiate with the victim, the man whose honour the [man] defiled. The balance is restored by negotiating compensation for damages.

Moreover, there are few safe places for a woman to escape to. Seeking help outside the family is fraught with danger for a woman. Not only does society blame a woman for being targeted for murder–the popular perception being that she must somehow deserve it–but by seeking outside help she risks being sent back to her husband or father in whose custody she is perceived to belong. Most important by seeking help outside, she adds shame to her husband and his family by making the issue public. No Kari [“black” woman marked for honor-killing] who escapes is ever forgiven, even if her innocence is recognized; some men are known to have traveled hundreds of miles to find and kill Karis, even years after the alleged misdeed.

According to my informant, “The sheer scale of the phenomenon in Pakistan makes it a case apart.” In his view, although such crimes of honor are a pre-Islamic practice, the increase in religious fundamentalism has led to an increase in honor killings. Honor killing victims “remain dishonored even after death. Their dead bodies are thrown in rivers or buried in special hidden Kari graveyards. Nobody mourns for them or honors their memory by performing their relevant rights.”

This is the culture that nurtured Muzzammil Hassan, the culture that also nurtured his wife Aasiya—which explains why, after she obtained an order of protection and had Muzzammil ejected from their home (his home, his land, his property), she still did his laundry and indeed, was bringing him clean clothing to his office at Bridges TV, where he lay in wait for her with his two pitiless hunting knives.

Next: Can Living in America Erase the Pakistani Within? —>

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