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Krystina Friedlander

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Who Is to Blame?

Posted: 07/03/2012 10:05 am

Chris Boyette at CNN reports that a New Jersey court delivered a 17 count indictment of Kashif Parvaiz for killing his wife Nazish Norrani with the help of Antoinette Stephen, a female friend, while Parvaiz and Norrani were out walking with their three year old son last summer. Stephen then shot Parvaiz, which Parvaiz attempted to use to claim that anti-Muslim "terrorists" were behind the murder.

A release from the prosecutor's office said that while being treated for his wounds, which were not life-threatening, Parvaiz had described the shooters as three men who shouted "slurs about terrorists" at the couple before fleeing on foot.

The case-referred to by anti-Muslim bloggers as another "honor killing" incorrectly equates a horrific and bizarre incident of domestic violence with Islam. The past ten years have seen an increase in coverage on Islam, but a marked decrease in standards of journalism. The question is, who here is to blame? Parvaiz, after all, attempted to cover up his crime by capitalizing on the potential for current anti-Muslim sentiment to spill over into violence, as it may have been the case in the murder of Shaima Alawadi. (In that case, it has yet to be proven as a hate crime, similarly dubbed "honor killing," or murder motivated by familial conflict). The risk here is that, painted as a "Muslim" killing, readers may understand something about Parvaiz' Muslim-ness as being the culprit for his heinous actions, rather than the troubled man himself.

Problematically, Boyette refers to the killing as having taken place during a "Ramadan stroll," and the very fact that the murder took place during Islam's holy month of fasting made the case more interesting to prosecutors.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi said at a news conference shortly after the killing that the fact that Noorani, a Muslim, was killed during the holy month of Ramadan "made this case especially compelling to us."

This "especially compelling" interest in the timing of the incident is at odds with the understanding and doctrine surrounding the month of Ramadan in terms of Islamic law. During Ramadan, Muslims not only abstain from food and drink, sexual activity, cigarettes, etc, they are urged to abstain from all negative thoughts-especially anger. "Fasting" during Ramadan is one of the five guiding principles of the Muslim faith, and violence during the holy month is highly upsetting if not anathema to the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Within this context then, the use of the words "Ramadan stroll" draw a direct but contradictory connection between Parvaiz' faith and his crime.

The bottom line is that there are so many incidents of domestic violence -- the Domestic Violence Research Center reports that one in four women are victims of such abuse -- that news of domestic violence is sadly uninteresting to most readers. The fact that the perpetrator is Muslim piques people's salacious interests. Selling the story as the "Ramadan Stroll Murder!" is even sexier.

Not all journalists covering this story played up the Islam angle, and they are to be commended for their honest journalism. Ben Horowitz at the New Jersey Star Ledger makes one reference to Islam by noting that the killing took place during Ramadan, while the Associated Press only referred to the couple as "Pakistani-American."

To be fair, Boyette is not solely at fault for associating Islam with the killings, as both Parvaiz and Bianchi made the connection themselves. However, Boyette intensified those associations instead of adding nuance and value to the story. The truth is, Islamophobia is a real and dangerous problem which the media can either abuse or allay. A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report cites a threefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States in 2011 alone. One simple thing that Boyette could have done is to explain what Ramadan is, what Islamic law asks of Muslims during the holy month, and highlight that the case is particularly unusual and tragic because of the emphasis on abstaining from anger and violence. Otherwise, readers might understand that Ramadan is some sort of Muslim domestic violence month.

An earlier version of this article appeared at Islawmix

 

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