Right off the bat, the moderator agreed they were about to discuss “not too pleasant a topic for a sunny Sunday afternoon” – domestic violence and its ugly extreme, honor killings.
Domestic violence involves one person out to control another, said Deborah Schnitzer, the domestic violence coordinator and a counselor at the YWCA of the Tonawandas and an adjunct professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work. The control starts with expressions of love and caring and then gets nastier, until all charm disappears – and the cycle starts over again, she said.
Throw in some misinterpreted religion, the misplaced notion of honor and an attempt to control the rest of the family, and you approach honor killings, explained matrimonial mediator and UB Law School professor Nadia Shahram, who moved to the United States from Iran in 1980.
Schnitzer and Shahram were among a panel of four women who spoke Sunday in Cheektowaga’s Millennium Hotel to an audience of about 70 people, most of them women, to call attention to extreme violence against women and to see how they and the crowd could prevent it, at least in and around Buffalo.
“There is a big distinction between domestic violence and honor killings,” Shahram said. “Domestic violence is about, of course, power and control over the victim, no question ...
“But not all domestic violence ends in the killing of the victim, whereas honor killing is about killing the victim – not to teach the victim a lesson, because the victim is dead. Honor killing is about teaching your immediate household, your extended family, the community that you are living at, how girls and females should behave.”
In the area’s best-known honor killing, Muzzammil Hassan beheaded his wife, Aasiya, in Orchard Park the week after she filed for divorce in 2009. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In another upstate example of “honor” violence, a 22-year-old man living in the Rochester suburb of Henrietta stabbed his 19-year-old sister for wearing immodest clothing and attempting to move to New York City in May 2008. Waheed Allah Mohammad, who according to media accounts called his sister a “bad Muslim girl,” is serving a prison sentence for attempted second-degree murder.
Religion, Islam in particular, often gives rise to honor crimes, the panelists acknowledged. But nothing in the Quran “directs a believing man or a woman to commit such horrific acts against any other human being, even on their own family members,” said Shanaz Tejani-Butt of Philadelphia, Pa., a professor and an adviser to community service organizations.
“There is no recorded quotation nor practice of Prophet Muhammad that sanctions such crimes,” she said. “The teachings of Islam are intended to create peace and order, not chaos and violence, no matter whether you are talking at the individual level, the communal level or the global level.” She said she knew of no religion that condones such violence.
The speakers eventually turned to the audience to ask for suggestions on how to push back against violence against women. Schnitzer said some of the ideas could become the focus of a gathering later this summer.
Out came suggestions about better education and promoting awareness, especially with young men. But one woman said she would eagerly make her home into a safe house for as many as 10 women seeking refuge from violent domestic partners. She suggested a network of such havens.
One of the roughly 15 men attending the event suggested a change in terminology. When considering that no religion condones domestic violence or honor killings, Othman Shibly of Amherst suggested retiring the term honor killings. It should be replaced with “dishonor killings,” he said.