A beheading; not an "honor killing"

dis-honor-killing1The first time I read this Los Angeles Times feature story, I had some questions. However, since my questions were linked to THE major theme of the story, I kept trying to forget about them. I couldn't do that. I still have the same questions. But first, you need to see the top of the story:

The mourners carried her severed body inside the white brick mosque on a frosty morning before the sun rose, before the children arrived for school.

Removing their shoes, wives and mothers shrouded in black passed through the women's prayer area, cordoned off from the men's with white drapes, and made their way to the washing room. Once inside, they slipped into sandals and, in observance of Islamic tradition, gently bathed her body on a bone-colored tile table the size of a casket to prepare it for burial.

From a distance, a woman named Samia, round-cheeked with thick eyebrows, who cooked meals at the mosque, watched the procession with horror in her heart.

Samia could not bring herself to enter the washing room or look at the victim, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, a woman she had known informally in life. She was too shaken to attend the funeral.

The two wives were connected by the close-knit Muslim community in western New York, including Buffalo, about 400 miles from New York City. But unbeknownst to each other, both shared a secret -- marriages stained by abuse.

Samia got help. Aasiya died before help came.

She was stabbed several times before being beheaded Feb. 12, inside a dull yellow warehouse that served as headquarters for the Muslim television station she founded with her husband, Muzzammil Hassan.

Now, the key to this story is that early mainstream news coverage connected the murder to an explosive term -- "honor killing" -- with clear religious overtones. Muslims protested, saying that it was merely a case of fatal domestic violence, a problem that is not linked to Islam, alone.

This is where my questions come in.

First of all, the story never defines the term "honor killing," as it would be defined in the Muslim cultures in which it is used. Thus, I was left with this question: What were the characteristics of this crime that made people think that it was an "honor killing" in the first place, other than the fact that this tragedy took place in the context of a Muslim marriage? If it wasn't an "honor killing," why not? I wanted to know some facts about this term and this case.

My other question is quite blunt and this was the one that, frankly, I have been afraid to ask: If Muzzammil Hassan stabbed his wife to death, why did he then behead her? What did that action mean to him?

Late in the story, there is a hint of a motive for the killing. Was this the source of shame for the husband (who appears to have been quite secular)?

On Feb. 6, she filed for divorce and obtained an order barring him from their Orchard Park home. Six days later, Hassan reported his wife's death to police.

A month later, wet rose petals wilted in the bushes in front of the television station, which was lined with gray satellite dishes. An ink-smeared note plucked from the prickles of the shrub read: "Aasiya ... May Allah be with you."

You see, it was the wife who was both a modern woman and, from all reports, a devout Muslim.

Tragic. Agonizing. And for me, the story is frustrating, even infuriating. It raises gigantic questions and then seems determined not to answer them. It appears that the journalists involved in this project thought it was important not to try to seek answers. Why?

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