Muzzammil Hassan reported his wife’s death to police on Feb. 12. Police found Aasiya Zubair Hassan decapitated at the office of the Orchard Park, N.Y. television station where she and her husband worked. Aasiya had served Muzzammil with divorce papers and an order of protection the week before her death. Her husband, the founder and CEO of the station, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Muzzammil is Muslim. He founded his station, Bridges TV, to broadcast positive portrayals of Muslims. The assumption became that if he had killed his wife, it was an "honor killing" in the face of their impending divorce. Never mind that Muzzammil was previously married. The media latched onto the "honor killing" aspect of the murder, but that's mere speculation—and founded in cultural and religious prejudice.
An Associated Press wire story declared, "The crime drips with brutal irony." Muzzammil's religion is inconsequential for his trial, but the lead of the AP wire story indicates how the media has placed Islam as paramount in coverage of Aasiya's death. New York regional paper The Buffalo News ran the story with the headline "Possibility of 'honor killing' mulled in Orchard Park slaying." Even Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz' comments are being used to extrapolate a cultural motive from the unusual nature of the murder. "I don't know if (the method of death) does mean anything," Benz said. "We certainly want to investigate anything that has any kind of merit. It's not a normal thing you would see."
The media has already reported the crime as an "honor killing" committed by a Muslim.
Muzzammil's lawyer James Harrington said culture and religion were not part of the case. If Muzzammil is convicted of killing his wife, his reasons for doing so would impact only the charge—which is second-degree murder—and only then in order to determine premeditation. His conviction shouldn't, as Harrington points out, hinge on his religion. But the media has already reported the crime as an "honor killing" committed by a Muslim.
Muslims decry "honor killing" as archaic, irrelevant and racist. The New York Times interviewed Dr. Sawsan Tabbaa, a Muslim community leader, who said "no way" did the murder have to do with faith. Feminists used the case to fuel debates regarding women and Islam. The National Organization for Women-New York State President Marcia Pappas condemned prosecutors who referred to the death as domestic violence. In the same NOW-NYS news release, she called for the media to "shine a light on" this "apparently terroristic version of ‘honor killing,’ a murder rooted in cultural notions about women's subordination to men.” She finishes: “Are we now so respectful of the Muslim's religion that we soft-peddle atrocities committed in it's name?”
Major media attention has been limited, but the little coverage Aasiya's murder received has Internet pundits arguing from all sides—some hung up on the Muslim stereotypes being perpetuated, others trying to delicately gloss over the murder to avoid the same stereotyping.
The crime is reprehensible, but Muzzammil hasn't been convicted—unless you count what's happened in the press. But if it bleeds, it leads. Still, even with that motto, the news here should be that a man has been charged with killing his wife, not that a Muslim committed an honor killing.