Monday, February 23, 2009

Aasiya Zubair Hasan's Beheading: Beliefs on the Hot Seat

Professor Kim Pearson has a thorough post at on the beheading of Aasiya Zubair Hasan, 37, of New York. Her husband, Muzzamil Hasan, founder of a TV station that he hoped would stop negative Muslim stereotypes, reportedly confessed to the gruesome crime. I wrote about it last week when I heard the story. At BlogHer Prof. Kim asks, "What's Islam got to do with it?"

As I wrote my comment on her post, I realized my feelings on this topic still run deep. So, I decided to shorten up the comment there and post what I'd written here at WSATA. According to her post, debate grows over whether the beheading was an honor killing, possibly an ugly but natural outgrowth of Islamic teaching, or was this just another domestic violence case through which we see the need for more education and information dissemination about spousal abuse and how important it is to give victims of domestic violence more protection.

My view is that it's all of those things. First, yes, more must be done to protect women who have been identified as victims of domestic violence. However, sometimes it's difficult to get the woman herself to leave the man because often the attempt to leave triggers more horrific violence. It appears that was the case in the Hasan murder. She filed for divorce and shortly thereafter her husband decapitated her.

For this discussion, I'm using the anthropological definition of culture: "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another." (Dictionary)

So, I think a combination of culture, which is strongly influenced by the abuse of patriarchal religious doctrine, and the weak minds of some males who confuse feelings of love with feelings of possessiveness contribute to violence against women. While studies indicate modern humans are abandoning religion in larger numbers, to ignore the influence of religion (formalized faith) on world cultures and the human psyche, even on the psyche of people who only practice "faith of their fathers" minimally, is to ignore the power of belief and how faith of all types motivates people both negatively and positively.

What we believe in our hearts directs our life decisions, and this is more true when society reinforces those beliefs by rewarding those who adhere to them and ostracizing those who do not. How often do you hear a married man say, "I'm proud to be henpecked," which says his wife dominates him? Yet some women are proud to say, "My husband makes all important decisions."

Even when we go against what we've been taught to believe, our decisions are still informed by belief because you have to know what you have believed or are expected to believe to think you've rebelled against it.

I say major religions, plural, because Islam can not be singled out as though it is the only major religion that has within its doctrines precepts that have been interpreted to mean the female must submit to the male and has fewer rights than the male or scriptures from which some people have extrapolated women deserve to be punished. Anyone who would smugly point a finger at Islam as though only Islam has female submission concepts within it must be unfamiliar with preaching heard any given Sunday in some fundamentalist Christian churches or have missed stories of domestic violence that trickle from other religious groups.

Neither may those who claim to have no religion ignore that our culture has been influenced by beliefs, not necessarily always religious, that females are inferior to men or that we may identify institutional attitudes which are fertile ground for misogynistic ideology. Darwin, who later rejected formal religious beliefs, clung to assertions that women are inferior.

The idea that the male is the teacher with a duty to "instruct and manage" his wife is not new nor is it an idea on the fringe of our so-called enlightened society. In fact, the English word husband means "manager" or "master of the house" and has other connotations of power going back to house buandi, indicating a house dweller or farmer responsible for herding animals.

The word wife simply means "woman" and did not come to mean female spouse until later in the history of the English language and "mistress of the household" is also a more modern meaning. But to take a wife was to add a woman to what the man managed.

We can go back to the Code of Hammurabi, which is said to predate the 10 Commandments, to see that wives generally were considered to have less power than husbands. Marriage itself was not recognized unless the male made the contract. Furthermore, the penalty for dishonoring one's husband was frequently death. And even Hammurabi, per Wikipedia, thought he heard the voice of God.

What came first, the chicken or the egg--beliefs that males are superior or beliefs that God said anything at all? How people answer this questions depends on what they believe. Faith informs our lives even when we claim to have none for over time we will invent our own belief system, perhaps declaring ourselves god, the voice to which we answer. Faith, or belief in the unseen, is a human survival mechanism, without which some of our ancestors would have been killed. Yes, assuming that the hair rising on the back of your neck is just your imagination could result in your being mauled by a lion that you only sensed but never saw.

If we choose to attribute the belief that women are inferior to men only to culture absent of any influence from major patriarchal religions, we must ignore that religion and culture often go hand in hand. And whenever you have the belief that one group is inferior or must by mandate submit to another group, you leave the door open to codified justifications for abuse. (See race and American slavery for clarification.)

I haven't studied any research on violence against women or men in matriarchal societies or in societies influenced by the worship of a female deity more than a male deity. When I have more time, perhaps I'll look up such studies.

What I know from personal experience and books is that we have in America men who hide behind narrow-interpretations of biblical scripture to declare everything from women are evil because Eve caused Adam to sin, in their opinions, to God beat his wife Israel and so it's o.k. for men to beat their wives. People are forever looking for ways to have God justify their cruelties.

Perhaps Aasiya's beheading will result in more people evaluating what they really believe about a woman's place. Perhaps this tragedy will make some people aware that more people than they think do not believe a wife's place is equal to a husband's or that violence against women is not an issue with which we should concern ourselves. And maybe some people will consider that they may not know the mind of God after all, certainly not in any way that would allow violence in God's name.

Also blogging on God at UMBOP, in a way.

1 comment:

msladydeborah said...

This is a thought provoking post.

I want to share some comments after I digest what you has posted.

I'll be back soon.