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Forced Marriages in Our Own Backyard

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Posted on March 17 2011 6:00 pm
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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Originally published at FrontPage Magazine.

On February 22, 2011, Jessie Bender, a 13-year-old southern California girl, ran away from home. No, Jessie was not into “sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll.” On the contrary. Jessie was terrified that her American-born mother, Melissa, a convert to Islam, and her mother’s Pakistani boyfriend and acting stepfather Mohammed “Mo” Khan, had decided to send her to Pakistan to be married against her will. Had Jessie gone, her mother and “Mo” would have received $3000.00.

Initially, her mother told police that Jessie had been abducted by a Facebook predator. Melissa, in full hijab, made a tearful plea for the television cameras.  ”If you are holding my daughter, please let her go…Please, I beg you to let my daughter go. She’s just 13 years old.”

This tearful, public, pseudo-honesty reminds me of the Afghan-Canadian Safia family who wept in public, mourning their three dead honor murdered daughters: 13 year-old Geeti, 17 year-old Sahari, and 19-year-old Zainab, and Safia’s first wife, 50-year-old Rona Amir Mohammed. In a bid for sympathy, and to throw the police off their trail, the three murderers shed copious tears, grieving, loudly.

Jessie Bender’s mother went on television and lied about her daughter. Yes, it is true, Jessie had communicated with an adult male on Facebook, but that is not where she ran. Jessie’s uncle had hidden her at an Apple Valley motel. Within a week, it became clear that Jessie’s mother, Melissa, and her pseudo-stepfather “Mo, ” had both been lying. Melissa herself had visited Pakistan and may be seen in a photo smiling broadly, wearing very serious hijab and standing next to a turbaned tribal elder who is holding a gun. Possibly, she is also standing  next to “Mo.”

Patricia “Tissy” Said in Dallas, assisted her Egyptian-born husband Yasir who honor murdered their two daughters, Sarah and Amina, for refusing such arranged marriages.

Like Texas’s “Tissy” Said, California’s Melissa Bender also seems a bit…dim-witted, easy prey for a smart or charming Muslim man who wants (or needs) to bring his Pakistani brother over to America. “Mo’s” brother is, apparently, in some kind of trouble and has to get out of Dodge City pronto.

Yasir Said hatched a similar plan: He wanted to marry his American-born, American-citizen daughters off to hand-picked Egyptian men who would then be able to become American citizens. Whether Said was doing this for money, “honor,” or jihad is unknown. Tunisian-born Samia Labidi, who lives in France, describes such marriages between under-age Western girls and older Muslim foreign men as part of a larger jihadic plan. This may not be true in the California Bender case, but it may be true in other cases.

And, by the way, “Tissy” Said herself married Yasir in Texas when she was only 14 years old. She did so with her father’s permission. I have no doubt that both she and her father believed that Yasir was the Sheikh of Araby and would provide for “Tissy” royally. Instead, he did what many Muslim Arab men do: He sent his wife out to work and lived off her pitiful earnings.

Melissa has six children from six different fathers. She has also lost custody of two children to their maternal grandmother. I do not justify her stupidity and cruelty but it is clear that she may not be in good mental or intellectual health. Nevertheless, her children are at her mercy.

Jessie was found hiding about 30 miles from her home. Since then, Jessie and her siblings have been in child protective custody.

An estranged family member confirms that Jessie indeed “was going to be married off to [the stepfather’s] brother over in Pakistan because he was in some trouble and they wanted to bring him over to the states.  They were going to get paid $3000 for this.”

It is common for Pakistani fathers to sell their young daughters into marriage in order to make a quick buck. Bride prices range from Rs. 80,000 to Rs. 200,000 (1,400-3,500 USD), and younger girls receive higher prices. For example, one ten-year-old Pakistani girl was sold into marriage by her father in order to settle an outstanding debt. According to Amnesty International, a medical examination showed that she had been subjected to rape and torture. I am sure there are thousands of such cases throughout the Islamic world.

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