Whether or not the recent beheading of Aasiya Hassan in New York at the hands of her husband was in fact an honor killing or “just” a horrific incident of domestic violence has become the subject of heated debate across the country. This issue is part of an ongoing controversy in America that affects public policy and law.
Reports indicate that Aasiya recently filed for divorce and had likewise obtained a restraining order against her husband, Muzammil Hassan. There have been statements to the press from individuals in the position to know alleging that Aasiya feared for her life. In that regard, she was no different than thousands of other women in the United States who suffer domestic violence daily at the hands of their spouses. However, should it be determined during the investigation and adjudication of her husband that her death was in fact the result of an honor killing it would be a grave disservice to the public for it to be deemed anything but that.
Some individuals believe that the criminal statutes in this country are sufficient to cover all crimes. That premeditated murder is premeditated murder and that any consideration of thoughts or ideas possessed by an offender over and above the requisite evil heart necessary to prove intent is an attack on free speech, has the potential to chill free speech or as has been alleged in this case, perpetuates a harmful stereotype against persons of a particular cultural group or ethnicity. Compare the following hypothetical statements: “I killed her and I meant to do it” to “I killed her because she became too westernized, had the audacity to file for divorce, humiliated me in public and brought shame to the family for which she had to die in defense of honor, thereby restoring honor to us all.”
Other individuals believe that there are thoughts and beliefs possessed by certain types of criminal offenders which should be taken into account during the course of a criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution. That while we are free to think and vocalize our most hateful thoughts and beliefs or smear them onto signs and take to the streets, the manifestation of those thoughts and beliefs into motive for killing (as well as for other crimes) must be taken into account and used to enhance criminal penalties when warranted.
Hate crime legislation has been passed in all but five states to varying degrees. Each covers race, religion and ethnicity. Additionally, some cover gender, some age, some sexual orientation, so on and so forth. The vehicle by which honor killing could be classified as a hate crime exists and must be explored to its fullest potential given the frequency with which these crimes are occurring within the United States.
Recognizing an honor killing as an honor killing in no way minimizes the deaths of those women whose murders will not be characterized as such. Being killed because of an extremist view held by one’s husband is different than being killed because dinner was cold – again; in the same way that being beaten by a carjacker who wants the vehicle differs from the beating someone might take strictly for being the “wrong” color. Because punishment at the end of the day must be about the mindset of the offender, the effect the source and reason for his motive to cause harm has on society and on individuals and for the protection of other women similarly situated.
Insofar as the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes is concerned, I remain ever confident in the ability of good men and women to separate the wheat from the chaff.