The images were horrific.
A young Muslim Pakistani woman's disfigured hands, raised in supplication after Salat were displayed for the world to see in a BBC documentary. Her horrific punishment was meted out for "dishonoring" her family.
A young man in Jordan described how he recited the Quran as he strangled his sister to death for "dishonoring" the family in a similar documentary broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
A program on honor killing was also aired on ABC in the United States the same week as these two documentaries.
"Honor killings" occur after a woman "disgraces" her family. In the BBC and CBC documentaries, the dishonoring took different forms.
These images are straight from the Muslim world: Pakistan and Jordan. Another example of how sick, cruel and barbaric Muslims are towards their women. Or not?
In the CBC documentary, which I did see, a clear distinction was made verbally: "honor killing" is not an Islamic practice. One of the women interviewed also mentioned this. This is a cultural one. It was even mentioned there are Jews and Christians in Jordan who engage in this sick practice.
But that doesn't absolve journalists from being labeled "anti-Islamic". While it is a step forward from the hateful programs of a few years back that would ignorantly claim such practices were condoned by Islam, such "disclaimers" aren't the solution.
A journalists' responsibility doesn't stop with saying, during a news production, look at this disgusting, barbaric practice, buttressing the documentary with shots of mosques, veiled women, people praying and reciting the Quran and then, almost as a side note, verbally mentioning, or getting one of the pieces talking heads to say, it has nothing to do with religion.
It's kind of like cigarette advertising and packaging. You know, that beautiful, elegant package, the pretty woman in the ad, beckoning you, seducing you, telling you, smoke, smoke, SMOKE .
Create the illusion through repetition, make it a mantra, let it fill up someone's head and once you've got them in your grasp, only then tell the truth in fine print.
And that's supposed to absolve tobacco companies who sell these sick, fatal drugs to people.
So culture, not Islam is to blame, some of the media is now telling us.
The aftermath of such programs often takes the following course:
- Accusations fly: "You Muslims, you treat your women like (fill in the blank-something negative of course)", your coworker, classmate, teacher, or even boss argues.
- Muslim women are pitied.
- Muslim men are reviled.
- Both elicit disgust: what kind of a sick religion do you follow.
But it's not my religion, it's some sick people, you say? "Well all I saw was you people praying and your covered women", your peer or coworker may say. "You Muzzlims are (fill in the blank-negative, of course)".
Hopefully, it ends at that. In some cases, the hate leads to death threats, mosque and home vandalism, and physical harassment.
Yes, honor killings are a reality for some people in the world. This is a practice that we as Muslims know is not Islamic, and which we must condemn as those who are required to stand up for justice (Quran 4:135), whether we are Pakistanis, Jordanians, or Muslims from anywhere else.
But the latest media focus on the practice reminds me of the outcry over female genital mutilation a few years ago. Initially, this was labeled an Islamic practice. Later, perhaps realizing their ignorance, journalists came to the truth: it's cultural, not Islamic. A practice found not in every nook and cranny of the Muslim world, but in parts, where it's practiced by members of other religions too.
Highlighting the negative of Muslim and nonwestern societies in general is not something done randomly by the media.
In his 1987 book Television Culture, John Fiske notes that in general, Third World countries are only mentioned in the news when something tragic or conflictual takes place. They are presented as places of natural disasters, famine, social revolution and of political corruption. These events are considered the rule, rather than the exception.
Fiske adds that news stories about the Third World confirm Westerners' sense that western democracies are the only civilized societies, which provide the basics of life for everyone, are stable, and governed fairly and honestly.
If networks would really like to tackle the issue of the abuse of women by family members or intimates, they don't have to spend thousands of dollars lugging expensive crews and equipment to the Muslim world. They can travel to almost any part of America.
Consider the following from the US Department of Justice, General Statistics:
- Every 9 seconds, a woman is battered.
- In 1992, the US Surgeon General ranked abuse by husbands and partners as the leading cause of injury to women aged 15-44.
- Up to 50% of all homeless women and children in the United States are fleeing domestic violence.
- Yet, there are nearly 3 times as many animal shelters in the United States as there are shelters for battered women. And lest we forget, this is happening in a country where the president has seen fit to violate his marriage vows in a most disgusting abuse of power and exploitation of a young woman. Yet polls reveal that he still maintains support from many Americans.
Given these facts, would anyone dare argue that there is something inherently wrong with these Judeo-Christian Americans? Or with American culture as such?
No, of course not. A history of abuse and violence in families, socioeconomic factors and jealousy on the part of husbands and boyfriends are just some of the explanations given for the abuse of women, especially wives and girlfriends in America.
Walk into a women's shelter that is not targeted to a specific ethnic or cultural group, and you will find women of all races, colors, and of course religions.
The abuse and killing of women for alleged honor crimes is not Islamic.
Nor is the abuse of women inherently as "American as apple pie".
Photo Attribution: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Acid_attack_victim.jpg