Crisis In The Family Courts

No Woman, No Culture Immune to Violence Against Women

Posted in Uncategorized by abatteredmother on February 22, 2009

No Woman, No Culture Immune to Violence Against Women

Below the Belt: A Column by NOW President Kim Gandy


Rihanna. Aasiya. Does it take a celebrity assault to get violence against women into the news? What about something as gory as cutting off the woman’s head? Indeed the story of one woman’s life or death can open up a discussion with people who may not think about the issue at all, or that they can do anything about it.

Just over a year ago, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, led me to take a look in this column at the horrific forms of violence that target women around the globe. Then, last July, I wrote about feminist activist Jana Mackey, who was just 25 years old when she was murdered by a man she had dated. Mackey was a law student, a Kansas NOW leader, and a volunteer who assisted victims of sexual assault. But even her knowledge and genuine understanding of dating violence didn’t insulate her from tragedy.

Of course, something as pervasive as violence against women is not going to vanish overnight, but raising the profile of the issue does help. It makes people think, starts conversations around the water cooler, and (is this hoping for too much?) perhaps leads to increased public support for programs to protect survivors and break the cycle of violence. So, here we go again with a couple of very public cases that started those conversations recently.

Let’s face it, high-profile cases do tend to stop people in their tracks, reminding them that domestic violence can happen anywhere, between people of all ages and income levels–even between much admired celebrities. Reminding everyone that education and wealth don’t shield us from partner violence.

Rihanna and Chris

Earlier this month, R&B star Chris Brown was booked by the Los Angeles Police Department on suspicion of making criminal threats against singer Rihanna. As reported by the Los Angeles Times: "An early morning altercation with Brown after a pre-Grammy Awards party left Rihanna with bruises and a scratch on her face, according to police sources. She was treated at a ‘major medical facility,’ a police source said."

Rihanna had been scheduled to perform at the Grammy ceremony but was unable to attend. The L.A. Times also revealed that "Rihanna is cooperating with investigators building a domestic violence case against her boyfriend," and additional charges involving the alleged assault may follow. Brown later issued a statement that did not admit guilt, but did say that he was "sorry and saddened . . . over what transpired."

Now, the fame of the two people involved means this isn’t your average domestic violence case, so the media have been all over it. This might not be a bad thing if reporters and on-air guests actually took the time to discuss the larger issue at hand. If they invited law enforcement experts, advocates, social workers and survivors to share their side of the story. If they emphasized that every year in the U.S. women experience 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes — and every day three women are killed by an intimate partner.

Instead, early stories focused on how the charges were impacting Brown’s endorsement deals. The Washington Post consulted a crisis management expert who said: "Strictly from a career standpoint, [Rihanna] needs to cut him loose." And what about from a personal safety and dignity standpoint? Does anyone care about that?

The media also feed us the comments of other celebrities and gossip columnists, telling us that "Chris is a great guy," and the couple were "affectionate, adorable" at the pre-Grammy party. (Some of these celebrities have since retracted their seemingly thoughtless comments.) Indeed, there was an enormous amount of victim-blaming — just take a look at the outrageous comments about Rihanna, and what she must have done to "deserve" a beating. As frustrating as these comments were, there is much to be learned from them.

First of all, even men who seem nice in the public sphere can be bullies at home. Men who treat their friends just fine can become violent with their intimate partners. Men (and yes, women, too) who haven’t learned how to deal with personal conflict may resort to violence as a means to resolve their problems or to exert control over their partners. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s important to understand where this violence comes from.

According to experts, young children who have witnessed violence, or been victims of violent acts, are at even greater risk of committing violence in their own relationships — girls can grow up believing the abuse is their fault because of something they did (did I burn the toast?), and boys can grow up feeling it is their prerogative to control the women in their lives. And perhaps excusing that kind of violence in other relationships as well, judging from some of the blog comments. It looks like the cycle of violence played out in this relationship:

In 2007, Chris Brown gave an interview to Giant magazine in which he recounted the extreme violence he witnessed in his own home: "He made me terrified all the time, terrified like I had to pee on myself. I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, ‘I’m just gonna go crazy on him one day…’ I hate him to this day."

Rihanna told the same magazine about her own turbulent family life, including her father’s drug abuse, her parent’s marital problems, and the terrible headaches she developed as a result of the stress.

For once, the media ‘s penchant for rooting around in celebrities’ personal lives might actually be adding context to the story. But the media should take the next logical step and discuss how these childhood experiences and this most recent (and still alleged) event demonstrate a long-observed cycle of violence (namely that children who witness violence at home are more likely to be victims of partner violence or perpetrate it as adults) and then ask domestic violence experts: how do we stop the cycle once and for all?

One bright spot in the media coverage was MTV, which quickly examined the implications in an online story, and then put together a half-hour special that focused particularly on teen dating violence, an increasing problem. They did such a good job that I even saw my 16-year-old daughter watching it — the first time I’ve seen her sit still for a show about domestic violence. Now if only their other programming didn’t objectify women…

That Rihanna is working with the police is an encouraging sign. It can be difficult for women to leave violent men, to report their abuse to the police and follow through in seeking justice. But women must do it — for themselves, for those who come after them, and in this case, for all the young women and girls who look up to them. And we must provide the societal resources to ensure their safety.

At the same time, it’s up to groups like NOW to help identify the influences that combine to create this epidemic of violence against women: One, a society that often relies on violence to solve its problems; two, a popular culture and media that are obsessed with violent crime and its victims; and three, persistent sexist attitudes toward women and outdated gender roles that still set up a male/dominant, female/submissive equation.

Aasiya and Muzzammil

Since I started working on this column last week, countless more women have been beaten and killed. Just in the last week: A Virginia woman was fatally shot in an apparent domestic dispute that also injured her husband. A woman in Washington state wa
s killed by her boyfriend. A man was charged with killing his wife and two stepchildren in their Virginia home. And on and on.

But after Rihanna and Chris, the one that got the most media attention was the most gruesome. The co-owner of an Islamic television station in Buffalo, New York — prepare yourself — cut off the head of his wife, Aasiya Hassan. She had filed for divorce from her husband, Muzzammil, and he was enraged.

Indeed, we know that the most dangerous time for the woman is not during a violent relationship, but after she leaves. The loss of control infuriates an already violent man. This pattern has been observed for many years, and is true regardless of the race, religion or nationality of the man. We also know that unemployment and business reversals increase the likelihood of violence, and reports indicated that the Hassans’ television station wasn’t doing well.

Despite these patterns that are typical of spouse abuse and murder (only the manner of killing was atypical), most of the conservative commentary has focused not on male violence toward women (surprise, surprise), nor on the importance of protecting women who have separated from a violent relationship (another surprise) but has focused instead on attacking the Muslim community. Although the crime was quickly decried by Muslim groups, many talk shows and blogs used the horror of Muzzammil’s act to indict an entire community — in a way that they would never have accused the entire Christian religion because a Methodist man murdered his estranged wife in a horrible way. Three weeks ago, a Chinese graduate student at Virginia Tech cut off a female friend’s head with a knife. Not a single news outlet referred to his religion.

Is a Muslim man in Buffalo more likely to kill his wife than a Catholic man in Buffalo? A Jewish man in Buffalo? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that there is plenty of violence to go around — and that the long and sordid history of oppressing women in the name of religion surely includes Islam, but is not limited to Islam. We need to call out the repression of women whenever and wherever we see it, while recognizing that the roots of violence are long and deep, and require a concerted response from every community.

What Next?

As we work to educate people about the cycle of violence, and urge women and men to help break the cycle, we must also make sure that the necessary resources and services are there. This is why we have been advocating for decades to enact and fund groundbreaking legislation like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and to reauthorize its funding. More recently, we worked to keep VAWA funding in the economic recovery package, because we know violence increases during the stress of economic hard times.

Violence against women is horrific no matter who it happens to, and it happens to many, many women and girls. But these high-profile cases may bring much needed attention to the issue; these stories may bring courage to women who haven’t yet taken action to stop the violence in their own lives; and it might even help promote justice for the millions of women and girls who suffer ever day. That is, if we take these stories seriously and don’t treat them as just another salacious celebrity scandal, or something that only happens in "other" communities or religions.

It’s time for a national debate on how to stop this epidemic of violence against women. Patching up and sheltering the survivors and their children isn’t enough — we must put real resources and the power of every major institution behind stopping the cycle.

More Information:

Violence Against Women in the United States: Statistics

Irshad Manji speaks at the 2008 NOW Conference about the conflict between women’s individual rights and the "right" to oppress women in the name of religion/culture

Statement from a coalition of American Muslims

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  1. Greenconsciousness said, on February 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    But Islam institutionalizes violence against women. Sharia is law — there are religious police in Islam. In Islam your own family assists your husband in killing you — or your father does it to preserve his honor. Women are punished for rape. Yes, this does happen in all societies but it is not condoned and excused under LAW as it is in Islam. Don’t make the ignorant response of the indoctrinated before you read the links I am providing. Saying Islamic oppression of women is no different than western oppression is patriarchal propaganda. It is a betrayal of the women who are executed by the state for resisting. Everything is not the same. I am so disgusted by this attitude I can only give you links to real feminist analysis. I take the time to do this because I do respect your work and hope your mind is not so corrupted by patriarchal left cultural relativism that you can hear what these women are teaching.

  2. Greenconsciousness said, on February 25, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    The Left and a Woman’s Severed Head By Phyllis Chesler The Left and a Woman’s Severed Head By Phyllis | 2/25/2009 Within hours of the news of Aasiya Z. Hassan’s February 12th beheading, allegedly by her husband, Muzzamil Hassan, in Buffalo, American-Muslim organizations and individuals began a dirge bemoaning the existence of domestic violence. But thanks be to Allah, they affirmed, such violence exists among all faiths and ethnicities. Such family violence, they insisted, had nothing to do with Islam. Muslim leaders emphasized that honor killings were “anti-Islamic” or “un-Islamic,” a holdover from “pre-Islamic times.” They vowed to preach against it in the mosque. All well and good. That Mr. Hassan beheaded his wife–well, that simply wasn’t dwelled upon. Muslim religious feminist, Asra Nomani, and Irshad Manjie, both referred to the Buffalo beheading as an “honor killing” and despaired of the silence which still surrounded this form of domestic violence against Muslim girls and women. As Muslim women, they were not as squeamish about condemning violence against Muslim women by Muslim men and by Islamic culture. Zarqa Abid, a soulful-sounding religious Muslim woman claimed that her cousin was once married to this same Hassan, and she denounced Hassan as a “monster.” Abid also criticized the Islamic community for having refused to listen to her when she attempted to alert them to Hassan’s criminal nature and deeds. Instead, they shunned her and continued to shower him with their money and to honor him. Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, a Muslim author and activist, said that “there is so much negativity about Muslims (this beheading) sort of perpetuates it. The right wing is going to run with it and misuse it. But we’ve got to shine a light on this issue so that we can transform it.” Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, of Sterling, Virginia, vice-president of the Islamic Society of North America, said that “violence against women is real and cannot be ignored.”Nevertheless, Muslim organizations are relatively silent about this atrocity, given how vocal they usually are when Islam or Muslims are involved. A Google search of CAIR and beheadings only revealed that CAIR had given the alleged murderer an award.”Alright, some Muslims are calling it an honor killing, most are insisting that it is not an honor killing and that it has nothing to do with Islam; some Muslims are admitting that, like other groups, Muslims also have a serious problem with violence against women. Progress, of sorts.What did American feminists have to say? Well, I’m certainly one, and I have been on record a long, long time opposing Islamic gender and religious apartheid, both in Muslim lands and in the West. I write about this subject weekly, often daily. Nonie Darwish, a Muslim-born Palestinian-American feminist, has condemned Sharia law as dangerous to women and other living beings. Now, for the first time, an American non-Muslim feminist has joined us.On February 13, 2009, Marcia Pappas, the President of NOW-New York State, hit the ground running. She was quoted world-wide, even as far away as India. Pappas bravely asserted that the Buffalo beheading was a domestic violence murder that smacked of terrorism and jihad. The February 16, 2009 NOW-New York State press release quoted her as saying: And why is this horrendous story not all over the news? Is a Muslim woman’s life not worth a five-minute report? This was, apparently, a terroristic version of “honor killing,” a murder rooted in cultural notions about women’s subordination to men. Are we now so respectful of the Muslim’s religion that we soft-peddle atrocities committed in its name?…What is this deafening silence? And exactly what do orders of protection do? Was Aasiya desperately waving the order of protection in Muzzamil’s face when he slashed at her throat? Was it still clutched in her hand when her head hit the floor? You of the press, please shine a light on this most dreadful of murders. In a bizarre twist of fate it comes out that Muzzamil Hassan is founder of a television network called Bridges TV, whose purpose it was to portray Muslims in a positive light. This is a huge story. Please tell it! Alas, other than Pappas, and the feminists who supported her privately, most feminist leaders either attacked Pappas or remained silent. News of the beheading became public the evening of February 12, 2009. Eight days later, on February 20, 2009, more than a week after NOW-NY State President Pappas began talking to the media, and four days after Pappas released a press release, President of the National Organization for Women, Kim Gandy, finally published a column in which she stated that the beating of pop music star Rihanna is every bit as bad as the beheading of Aasiya Z. Hassan. Or the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Gandy joins many of the Muslim groups in failing to differentiate the difference between a terrible, humiliating beating, (Rihanna), and being stabbed many times and then beheaded while you are, quite possibly, still alive, perhaps even conscious. Yes, I agree, and I share Gandy’s concern: Domestic violence against women is an epidemic. Although we have laws against it, police officers and judges ready to arrest and prosecute, as well as (too few) shelters available for those intended victims who manage to escape–still, we have not managed to abolish the scourge of domestic violence. Gandy is, understandably, frustrated. Many women, (the statistics vary), are killed by their intimate partners. Amy Siskind, at The Daily Beast, tells us that “Sadly, this type of tragedy is hardly unusual in our country, where each and every day three or more women are murdered by their husband or boyfriend. In fact, statistics tell us that in the ten days since Aasiya died, 30 or more women in America have been murdered by their husband or boyfriend. The attention on this case comes as a result of the gruesome way in which Aasiya was murdered-torture and then decapitation-and what a beheading symbolically means.”Yes, I agree. However, Gandy and her supporters still refuse to consider that Muslim women and immigrant women in general probably face much greater danger, both in terms of being beaten and being killed than do non-Muslim women; that Muslim women in Muslim countries are prey, targets, human sacrifices, every single day; and that if we do not stop the forces of jihad that are headed our way that many more women will be beaten, veiled,and killed both at home and on the street.Feminist women. Educated women. Christian and Jewish women. Yes, even me and Kim Gandy. Gandy rejects focusing on Aasiya Z. Hassan’s beheading because it might play into the hands of conservative “racists;” it might lead to “profiling.” Wait a minute. NOW has conducted a serious campaign against religion, mainly against Christianity and Judaism. Why the sudden respect for Islam, a religion which is, in reality, not a religion at all but is rather, a totalitarian political ideology which has undergone no evolution for 1400 years and which is dangerous to women and other living beings?Gandy fears that we might only focus on Aasiya’s beheading or even on Rihanna’s beating as entertainment, escape, lured by such sensational or celebrity cases. It’s possible, but, perhaps it is equally possible to learn from such cases precisely because they’ve grabbed our restless attention spans. Let me repeat: Apples are not oranges. Domestic violence is not femicide. Let’s be careful not to mix the two up. And, western-style domestic violence/femicide does not often end with an Islamic-style beheading. I am saying that we must make these distinctions, not be blinded by political correctness. For those American feminists and Muslim-Americans who still insist that beheadings and domestic violence/femicide against Muslim girls and women has absolutely, definitely, positively, nothing to do with Islam or Muslims: I dunno. Ask Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders, read Nonie’s recent book Cruel and Usual Punishment, about the nature of Sharia law and Muslim wom
    en. My God, talk to Muslim feminist dissident-activists like UK-based Maryam Namazie, or the group “Muslims against Sharia Law” which I have now joined. Kim Gandy: Please, I implore you, read what I’ve written about Islamic gender apartheid and its penetration of the West in The Death of Feminism. Read what I’ve written about this Buffalo case, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.Yes, domestic violence exists everywhere, both in America and on every other continent. But it is not normalized nor is it glorified everywhere. In the West, it is now criminalized and increasingly prosecuted, with imperfect but increasing success. In Pakistan, where Mr. Hassan comes from, it rarely is. In Pakistan, girls and women are still decapitated by the Arabized Taliban, buried alive, routinely beaten in childhood and in marriage, (yes, and while they are pregnant); women are gang-raped–and when they legally protest, threatened with death. Women who want a divorce are shot, even in their feminist lawyer’s offices. Muzzamil “Mo” Hassan’s heart and mind remains in the East, in Pakistan. His body remains in custody in Buffalo, charged with second degree murder. Until or unless “torture” can be proved, he is eligible to be tried only for second-degree murder. In my article, “A “Cultural” Offense/Defense-But For the Prosecution. Some Thoughts for the Prosecutor of the Buffalo Beheading,” at Pajamas, I have suggested that the prosecutor consider that Mo Hassan was completely in control. Hassan selected the weapon or weapons. He planned this beheading. He was not out of control when he stabbed and beheaded his wife. He was controlling the situation in a Pakistani male Muslim kind of way: By decapitating the woman, who had once been his wife, who had turned uppity enough to dare to eject him from his own home and who planned to keep his children. Hassan may have been living in America for more than thirty years but he still remains a Pakistani Muslim male through and through. Beating a wife is the “normal” way to relate to her. Killing her for being disobedient, in his mind, was what she deserved.

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