The Blame Game

[Trigger warning.]

There is in the news at the moment a terrible story about a man who beheaded his wife, reportedly after she asked him for a divorce following several calls to police about domestic violence. This case has captured the attention of a bunch of bloggers on both the left and the right, bloggers who don't generally blog about violence against women, because of this detail: The murderer is a prominent Muslim.
Muzzammil Hassan was charged with second-degree murder after police found the decapitated body of his wife, Aasiya Hassan, at the Bridges TV station in the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, said Andrew Benz, Orchard Park's police chief.

…Hassan went directly to the police station after his wife's death and confessed to killing her, Benz told CNN. Benz declined to give further details.

…He had two children, 4 and 6, with his wife. He had two other children, 17 and 18, from his previous marriage.

He launched Bridges TV, billed as the first English-language cable channel targeting Muslims inside the United States, in 2004. At the time, Hassan said he hoped the network would balance negative portrayals of Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Particularly in comments threads on posts about this story, there are a lot of jokes about how Hassan sure isn't improving Muslims' reputation by beheading his wife, all predicated, of course, on that most basic foundation of prejudice: The insistence that one member of a group represent the entire group. Certainly, I understand the source of the potential irony, but it's contingent on reducing Hassan to one piece of his identity—his religion—and suggesting that his religion is uniquely (or mostly) responsible for his crime. Which, as it turns out, there are people quite eager to do, too.

The thing is, it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

Now you know the woman who constantly says like a broken record "This shit doesn't happen in a void" isn't about to argue that Hassan was not a product of his environment; I will, however, note that Islam was only one part of his environment. He is also an American resident, which made him the beneficiary of all the patriarchy-conferred privilege inherent to that environment, too. He is a member of a family, which likely granted him a higher status for being male. He is/was a businessperson working in corporate America, which favors and privileges men. Et cetera. In most or all of these overlapping and intersecting environments, violence against women will have been tacitly—and sometimes overtly—condoned via media imagery, advertisements, "jokes," turned blind eyes, public religious admonishments from multiple religions, and possibly intimate example.

So how much sense does it make to blame his religion, exclusively or even primarily?


Which means that anyone who isn't just cynically using the occasion of a woman's gruesome murder by her husband's hand to advance an anti-Islam or anti-religion agenda needs to rethink their argument—because if they really care about the victim at the center of this crime, or any of the millions of women hurt or killed by domestic violence every year, they won't mask the real culprit behind a cheap, and misplaced, shot at a single religion.

The real culprit is undeserved male privilege and the resulting second-class personhood of women.

Patriarchal religion of any stripe is merely a symptom of that global menace. And using it as a scapegoat, or suggesting somehow that if the religion itself were eradicated it would take gendered violence with it, effectively provides an excuse for not looking the source dead in the eyes. It's a handy way of absolving oneself of any responsibility, too—it's just that religion; there's nothing I can do about it except hate that religion.

I suppose that's what the blame game's all about, isn't it? Never having to look too closely at how very much your own environment resembles that of a man like Muzzammil Hassan, lest you feel obliged to lift a teaspoon rather than simply point a finger.

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