by Phyllis Chesler
1. When Is The Aggressor Not The Aggressor? When He Has Been Forced to Defend Himself and His Lost Honor
On February 12, 2009, immediately after stabbing his unarmed wife 40 times with two large hunting knives and then brutally beheading her, he became calm, relieved. For the first time in years, he felt “peaceful.” Only then did he feel “safe from the Evil Dragon Terrorist” which is how he referred to Aasiya Zubair Hassan, the wife he had viciously battered for seven years.
Muzzammil Syed Hassan quietly told the police that he had killed his wife—but he immediately pleaded “not guilty” to second-degree murder. In fact, he told the police and the media what he is now telling the judge, prosecutors and jury in a Buffalo courtroom: that he, not she, was the “abused” and long-suffering spouse.
How is this possible? How can a man with a long and terrible history of physically and psychologically battering three wives and physically and psychologically abusing his children as well—he once punched his 13-year-old son in the nose—say this and believe it with his whole heart?
In pre-trial interviews, Hassan insisted that he suffered immense psychological abuse and humiliation during his seven year marriage to a woman who publicly nurtured a false image as a kinder and more sympathetic woman.
“All abuse happens behind closed doors, thus NO witnesses,” Hassan stated in his most recent letter. “All abuse is psychological, emotional wounds are not visible, thus NO evidence. . . . What a perfect crime! Only the poorly trained abusers use physical violence and get caught, for physical abuse leaves behind evidence.”
In the hour leading up to the murder, Hassan sent Aasiya text messages saying:
I am a good man, Aasiya…a humble and decent man, made some mistakes, please don’t punish me so hard. God likes forgiveness…I have not done anything to hurt you since Sunday…
Like other batterers, he is not merely saying that Aasiya “provoked” him to kill her but that she had been torturing him for seven years: cleverly leaving no marks, while he had been suffering the torments of the damned. Finally, afraid of being exposed—either as a batterer or as a battered spouse, both humiliating possibilities for a leader of the Muslim-American community—he said that he “snapped.” He could take no more. He had to kill her to restore his peace of mind.
And so, he took control.
2. Where Else Have We Heard Such Reasoning?
An Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Muslim Brotherhood leader will insist that his campaigns of murder and propaganda are really campaigns of “self defense” against the Zionist, infidel, Nazi, Apartheid Enemy. Since their holy Muslim lands (which they define as part of their honor and often as the entire world, which is, psychologically, their missing phantom limb) have been taken and occupied by infidels, Westerners, and Zionists, they must send suicide killers so that what belongs to them is returned, so that they are made whole and no longer humiliated in history.
Thus, Islamist acts of beheading (journalist Daniel Pearl, would-be businessman Nicholas Berg, civil engineer Kenneth Bigley, contractor Eugene Armstrong, engineer Jack Hensley, engineer Paul Marshall Johnson, Jr., etc.), blowing up innocent civilians on aircraft, at cafes, on the streets, at work in the World Trade Center, are not “aggressive” acts, but are, rather, “defensive” acts, desperate attempts to ensure that the impure infidels will flee, so that their Muslim property, purity, and honor can be restored.
Blowing up Israeli civilians is even more an act of “self-defense,” since, as they see it, there are no innocent Israelis, all are complicit in the “genocidal crimes” against the Palestinian and Arab people. Blowing up other Muslim civilians, using children as soldiers—well, some Muslims are not “true” Muslims, some Muslims are working with the enemy infidel, some Muslims are whores—and they all deserve to be killed anyway.
Before we get into Muzzammil’s personal history, we need to understand something about the country he comes from: Pakistan.
3. Where Could Muzzammil Syed Hassan Have Learned That Extreme Violence Towards Women Is Normal, A Man’s God-Given Right?
For the first seventeen years of his life Hassan grew up in Pakistan, where the level of violence towards girls and women was and still is barbarous and quite unbelievable.
In 2009, I received an extraordinary report which documented honor killings in Pakistan. My Pakistani informant, of the SW Community Development Department, in Sind, Pakistan, sent me an unpublished paper in which he describes and explains a murderous Pakistani culture very carefully. He writes:
Women in Pakistan live in fear. They face death by shooting, burning or killing with axes if they are deemed to have brought shame on the family. They are killed for supposed ‘illicit’ relationships, for marrying men of their choice, for divorcing abusive husbands. They are even murdered by their kin if they are raped. The truth of the suspicion does not matter — merely the allegation is enough to bring dishonor on the family and therefore justifies the slaying. The lives of millions of women in Pakistan are circumscribed by traditions which enforce extreme seclusion and submission to men. Male relatives virtually own them and punish disobedience with violence.
According to my informant, of all of the honor killings in Pakistan, most go unreported and even more go unpunished.
The isolation and fear of women living under such threats are compounded by state indifference to and complicity in women’s oppression. Police almost invariably take the man’s side in honor killings or domestic murders, and rarely prosecute the killers. Even when the men are convicted, the judiciary ensures that they usually receive a light sentence, reinforcing the view that men can kill their female relatives with virtual impunity. There are few women’s shelters, and any woman attempting to travel on her own is a target for abuse by police, strangers or male relatives hunting for her. For some women suicide appears the only means of escape.
He continues: “In [Pakistani] communities an ‘honor killing’ is considered a just punishment, not a crime. This view is also shared by many Pakistanis who do not belong to tribal societies.”
In these communities:
Male control does not only extend to a woman’s body and her sexual behavior but all of her behavior, including her movements, her language and her actions. In any of these areas, defiance by women translates into undermining male honor and ultimately family and community honor. Severe punishments are reported for bringing food late, for talking back or for undertaking forbidden trips, etc. A man’s honor defiled by a woman’s alleged or real sexual misdemeanor or other defiance is only partly restored by killing her. He also has to kill the man allegedly involved. Since [the woman] is murdered first, the [man] often hears about it and flees, aided by the fact that unlike the woman, he is both familiar with the world outside the house and can move freely in it. But [men] who escape will not be able to return to normal life. Nobody will give such a man shelter; he remains on the run until he and his family are ready to negotiate with the victim, the man whose honour the [man] defiled. The balance is restored by negotiating compensation for damages.
Moreover, there are few safe places for a woman to escape to. Seeking help outside the family is fraught with danger for a woman. Not only does society blame a woman for being targeted for murder–the popular perception being that she must somehow deserve it–but by seeking outside help she risks being sent back to her husband or father in whose custody she is perceived to belong. Most important by seeking help outside, she adds shame to her husband and his family by making the issue public. No Kari [“black” woman marked for honor-killing] who escapes is ever forgiven, even if her innocence is recognized; some men are known to have traveled hundreds of miles to find and kill Karis, even years after the alleged misdeed.
According to my informant, “The sheer scale of the phenomenon in Pakistan makes it a case apart.” In his view, although such crimes of honor are a pre-Islamic practice, the increase in religious fundamentalism has led to an increase in honor killings. Honor killing victims “remain dishonored even after death. Their dead bodies are thrown in rivers or buried in special hidden Kari graveyards. Nobody mourns for them or honors their memory by performing their relevant rights.”
This is the culture that nurtured Muzzammil Hassan, the culture that also nurtured his wife Aasiya—which explains why, after she obtained an order of protection and had Muzzammil ejected from their home (his home, his land, his property), she still did his laundry and indeed, was bringing him clean clothing to his office at Bridges TV, where he lay in wait for her with his two pitiless hunting knives.
4. Can Living in America Erase the Pakistani Within?
In America, he liked to be called “Mo” and “Steve,” which were short for Muzzammil Syed Hassan. The Big Guy—and he was a big guy who weighed nearly 300 pounds, or twice his wife’s weight–just wanted to fit in, be a regular American. After all, he came here when he was 17 and excelled admirably. In 1996, he received an MBA from the Business School at the University of Rochester, and he then became a banker in Buffalo, New York. Big “Mo” was ambitious. He wanted to present Muslims in a positive light. Thus, in 2004, together with his wife Aasiya, they founded Bridges TV, an English-language Islamic network to combat alleged anti-Muslim bias in the American media. He found several million dollars in backing.
But Hassan could not stop being a Pakistani Muslim man. What does this mean? It means that he still felt entitled to control, monitor, harass, and physically batter his wife. When he physically punished her, it was viewed as “correcting” her mistakes. When she went to the hospital and filed a police report—when she had black eyes, bruises, cuts—he viewed her exposing him as “humiliating attacks,” indeed, as “terrorist attacks.” When she said that she was going to file for divorce, he viewed that as “killing him;” in addition, he began to fear that these police and hospital reports plus a divorce with such facts stated might jeopardize his dream of a pro-Muslim television network. Her attempts to defend herself from his physical violence, e.g. sitting on her, trying to run her car off the road (2007), beating her so viciously that his son from a previous marriage who lived with them had to use a whole roll of toilet paper to stanch the flow of blood, dragging her across their driveway, blackening her eyes, breaking windows (2009), etc., were seen by him as “abuse.”
In other words, her attempt to defend herself against his violence was something he experienced as “abusive” to him.
Many Pakistani men in America have killed their wives and their daughters. In my studies published at Middle East Quarterly, I found that honor killing victims comprised two very different groups: One victim group had an average age of 17; the second victim group had an average age of 36. Aasiya was 37 when Muzzammil murdered her. I also found that one feature of an honor killing is “overkill.” The victims are tortuously murdered, burned, raped, mutilated, stoned, even beheaded, as was the case with Aasiya. At trial (which is still ongoing) it became clear that Muzzammil attacked his unarmed wife with two hunting knives and stabbed her at least 40 times before he beheaded her—a signature Islamist-era gesture.
For example, on September 11, 1999 in St. Clairsville, Ohio, 33-year-old Pakistani-American Dr. Lubaina Bhatti Ahmed, a physician, had her throat cut by her estranged Pakistani-American husband because she had the audacity to file for divorce after years of being a battered wife. He also murdered her father, sister, and sister’s child because they were present and morally supporting her decision to divorce him. Talk about overkill! The husband, Nawaz Ahmed, was a former pilot in the Pakistani air force. Ahmed was jailed, tried, and sentenced to death. He remains in the Ohio State Penitentiary.
On July 6, 2008, in Atlanta, 25-year-old Pakistani-American Sandeela Kanwal was strangled to death by her Pakistani-American father Chaudhry Rashid because she wanted to divorce the man to whom she had been forcibly married in Pakistan.
Clearly, female-initiated divorce is not acceptable, neither in Pakistan (where women are killed for less than demanding a divorce) nor in America. Muzzammil Hassan was a three-time loser with a reputation and credibility on the line. If it came out that he beat his wife, badly, and constantly subjected her to psychological torture, he feared he would lose his backers and their image of him as a good, great man.
On February 6, 2009, Aasiya finally obtained an order of protection and had Hassan ejected from his home. In Pakistan, this would never happen. And, if any woman dared do this, her murder would be seen as justifiable. More, Aasiya had been mothering the two children Muzzammil brought from a previous marriage as well as their own two children. She turned to Child Protective Services on their behalf.
5. Is Muzammil Hassan “Crazy” in Western Terms? Is He Culturally “Crazy”? Is he Crazy as a Fox?
Muzzammil is not only a man, he is a male batterer, who is also a Pakistani and Muslim man. What this means is that he has been brought up to believe that he is entitled to whatever he needs, thinks he needs, or wants. Anyone who deprives him of what he needs or wants, is a dangerous “terrorist” enemy, especially if she is a woman—and a woman who wants to leave him exposes his failings to the world.
According to Muzzammil, he and Aasiya made a “contract” which included certain terms, i.e. that she never turn to the police, never threaten divorce, never report him to Child Protective Services. Each time she does so, he is being “killed,” his world is “collapsing,” his pride is wounded, his failure to control his wife has become known. He in no way factors in, acknowledges, relates to the harm he has done to her or to their children.
Indeed, Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable forces him to admit that he was “not in any danger” when he attacked an unarmed woman. And she forces him to admit that he had “killed” his wife. Acidly, and precisely, she notes that “In three-and-a-half days of testimony,” Hassan spent about “two seconds on the actual murder.”
That is because he wanted the judge and jury to hear “his side,” “the whole truth.” And he thus spent all his time trying to arouse pity, sympathy, understanding for how he had suffered, not how his wife and children may have suffered. He is the only one who exists for him in his own world.
Also, Muzzammil takes no responsibility for his actions, how they affect others. Thus, he referred to the murder as “things happened.” As to the 40 stab wounds which preceded his beheading of her, he responds, dully, disassociated, “If the wounds are there, then I did it, ma’am.” But he has “no recollection of specific things happening.” All he knows is that when it was all over, “defending himself,” he felt no “remorse,” but only “relief that he managed to escape a (diseased) terrorist.” He says: “I was face to face with evil.”
Muzzammil Syed Hassan is unapologetic, brash, brazen, belligerent, incredibly aggressive. Acting as his own lawyer, he wanted to personally question the judge, the prosecutors, and his own children on the stand. (He did cross-examine his daughter Sonia, who looked down and at the jury the entire time). Muzzammil admitted that he called the district attorney “dumbo,” his wife “Darth Vader,” a “monster,” and an “evil dragon.” He also called the court “voodoo justice” and a “kangaroo court.”
Muzzammil has the mind, heart, and soul of both an overly pampered baby and a domestic terrorist. But his lack of remorse, concern only for his own image, his willingness to do anything, including murder, to punish those who have tarnished his image teaches us all something about the mind of an Islamist jihadist.
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.