17 February 2009

The Case of Muzzammil Hassan: Why Should You Care?

On the local branch of Craigslist today, where my colleague Chrymethinc discovers fresh evidence of bigotry and pure idiocy every day, someone posted a query: why wasn't the media giving more coverage to a murder case in the Buffalo area, where Muzzammil Hassan, an entrepreneur dedicated to combating stereotypical images of Muslims, allegedly cut his wife's head off with a sword when she presented him with divorce papers? The automatic assumption by some people was that the "liberal media" was attempting to suppress the story out of some sense of political correctness, lest it incite more hatred of Muslims. The attitude of some of the Craigslist posters seems to be that further publicity would spread the "truth" about Muslims, for whom further hate would be justified. Meanwhile, the head of the New York branch of the National Organization for Women, a notorious blowhard who last year called Senator Kennedy a "traitor" for not endorsing Senator Clinton for the Presidency, has also decried what she considers inadequate attention to the crime, which she characterizes as an "honor killing."

I can see where these different people are coming from, but let's ask some questions. First, unless the defendant intends to plead some kind of religious right as a mitigating circumstance, or challenges the jurisdiction of the local court, who cares whether it was an "honor killing" or not? A crime is a crime, and Hassan's alleged offense should be no more shocking than the last time some Christian parent killed his or her child because the devil seemed to be in it. Second, why should I care about a murder at the other end of the state at all? The complaint on Craigslist has been, in part, that this crime has received less attention in the national media than other murder cases. But why are any of these stories worthy of national attention? How does someone's violent death in California or Florida effect my life in New York or someone else's in Texas? Too many people take for granted the media's emphasis on sensationalism and cheap "human interest" when they should ask how media resources could be used to better inform the public on issues that really matter to the nation. Instead, they speed up the downward spiral by asking why this or that crime isn't covered or insisting for vague political reasons on intensive coverage of what may prove to be nothing but a culturally-accented crime of passion. Third: would there even be as much fuss as we've seen so far if the murder weapon was a gun instead of a sword? Guns don't signify religious identity the way swords seem to. Nobody calls it a Christian thing if some raging Baptist violates a restraining order and blasts his wife to kingdom come. What would he have to do before someone thought so -- crucify her? To assume, then, that there is something essentially Islamic about what Hassan allegedly did is itself a form of bias. I'm not asking anyone to think that Islam is innocent or nice. I'm just suggesting that this story is just another murder, and unworthy of anyone's attention outside the victim's family or the town the crime took place in. I apologize for the paradox, but I wanted to bring this story to your attention so you can ignore it in the future.

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