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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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4. Can Living in America Erase the Pakistani Within?

In America, he liked to be called “Mo” and “Steve,” which were short for Muzzammil Syed Hassan. The Big Guy—and he was a big guy who weighed nearly 300 pounds, or twice his wife’s weight–just wanted to fit in, be a regular American.  After all, he came here when he was 17 and excelled admirably. In 1996, he received an MBA from the Business School at the University of Rochester, and he then became a banker in Buffalo, New York. Big “Mo” was ambitious. He wanted to present Muslims in a positive light. Thus, in 2004, together with his wife Aasiya, they founded Bridges TV, an English-language Islamic network to combat alleged anti-Muslim bias in the American media. He found several million dollars in backing.

But Hassan could not stop being a Pakistani Muslim man. What does this mean? It means that he still felt entitled to control, monitor, harass, and physically batter his wife. When he physically punished her, it was viewed as “correcting” her mistakes. When she went to the hospital and filed a police report—when she had black eyes, bruises, cuts—he viewed her exposing him as “humiliating attacks,” indeed, as “terrorist attacks.” When she said that she was going to file for divorce, he viewed that as “killing him;” in addition, he began to fear that these police and hospital reports plus a divorce with such facts stated might jeopardize his dream of a pro-Muslim television network. Her attempts to defend herself from his physical violence, e.g. sitting on her, trying to run her car off the road (2007), beating her so viciously that his son from a previous marriage who lived with them had to use a whole roll of toilet paper to stanch the flow of blood, dragging her across their driveway, blackening her eyes, breaking windows (2009), etc., were seen by him as “abuse.”

In other words, her attempt to defend herself against his violence was something he experienced as “abusive” to him.

Many Pakistani men in America have killed their wives and their daughters. In my studies published at Middle East Quarterly, I found that honor killing victims comprised two very different groups: One victim group had an average age of 17; the second victim group had an average age of 36. Aasiya was 37 when Muzzammil murdered her. I also found that one feature of an honor killing is “overkill.” The victims are tortuously murdered, burned, raped, mutilated, stoned, even beheaded, as was the case with Aasiya. At trial (which is still ongoing) it became clear that Muzzammil attacked his unarmed wife with two hunting knives and stabbed her at least 40 times before he beheaded her—a signature Islamist-era gesture.

For example, on September 11, 1999 in St. Clairsville, Ohio, 33-year-old Pakistani-American Dr. Lubaina Bhatti Ahmed, a physician, had her throat cut by her estranged Pakistani-American husband because she had the audacity to file for divorce after years of being a battered wife. He also murdered her father, sister, and sister’s child because they were present and morally supporting her decision to divorce him. Talk about overkill! The husband, Nawaz Ahmed, was a former pilot in the Pakistani air force. Ahmed was jailed, tried, and sentenced to death. He remains in the Ohio State Penitentiary.

On July 6, 2008, in Atlanta, 25-year-old Pakistani-American Sandeela Kanwal was strangled to death by her Pakistani-American father Chaudhry Rashid because she wanted to divorce the man to whom she had been forcibly married in Pakistan.

Clearly, female-initiated divorce is not acceptable, neither in Pakistan (where women are killed for less than demanding a divorce) nor in America. Muzzammil Hassan was a three-time loser with a reputation and credibility on the line. If it came out that he beat his wife, badly, and constantly subjected her to psychological torture, he feared he would lose his backers and their image of him as a good, great man.

On February 6, 2009, Aasiya finally obtained an order of protection and had Hassan ejected from his home. In Pakistan, this would never happen. And, if any woman dared do this, her murder would be seen as justifiable. More, Aasiya had been mothering the two children Muzzammil brought from a previous marriage as well as their own two children. She turned to Child Protective Services on their behalf.

Finally: Is Muzammil Hassan truly “crazy”? —>

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