When I was deciding on a husband, one of my criteria was that my spouse be the kind of guy who'd never hit me. A calm temperament was absolutely essential. My husband claims I had low standards. "Wouldn't you expect personal safety in any marriage?" He teased. Growing up in India in the 90's, news reports of brides being torched to death by their in-laws for bringing an insufficient dowry and maids being slapped around by their drunken spouses were commonplace. Alas, marital violence really wasn't something unheard of.
Last week, with Aasiya Hassan's frightful beheading at the hands of her husband, Founder and CEO of Bridges TV, my fear seemed reasonable once again. My South Asian community is in shock. Blogs are abuzz claiming that this is yet another example of how barbaric Muslims are and how my kind shouldn't be allowed into the USA -- Their venomous rantings leap off the screen.
Anger rises in my chest. Aasiya Hassan's murder is not about Muslims or Pakistanis or South Asians. It's about domestic violence. Each day, more than 600 families call the National Domestic Violence Hotline in America. They all can't possibly be Muslim, can they? Why don't people focus on the issue, instead of making this about ethnicity and religion? I want to scream.
Domestic violence happens among American Christians, American Jews, American Atheists, as much as it happens in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or among American Muslims. I could roll statistics off my tongue, but even as I recall those numbers I know I harbor a dirty secret. Aasiya Hassan's murder is not about the teachings of our faiths, but it is about the way that many, in both the Muslim and Hindu communities, treat domestic violence.
Yes it's true that domestic violence cuts across all barriers. But, we as a community are guilty of averting our eyes, labeling domestic violence a "personal" problem, advising our girls to be "patient" and "work it out". Leaders in the community, especially women leaders, lecture women ad nauseam on the values of covering up a husband's faults. We teach our daughters that some marriage is better than no marriage. Muzzamil Hassan had been divorced twice before, both times on the grounds of domestic violence. Was there no one in the Muslim community who could have spoken up to warn Aasiya ? Or, like some parents, were Aasiya Hassan's folks just eager to get a daughter off their hands.
When South Asian women do muster the courage to complain of abuse, they are not always believed, or they find they don't have their family's support. Some learn that they are bringing shame to their parents and families. Even educated, earning women are taught to fear what society will say, and are told to worry that their children will be seen as offspring of a broken home. Self-sacrifice and martyrdom are glorified.
Watching Changeling, I couldn't help but think how one mother's heartbreak eventually led to so many positive changes. Aasiya Hassan's murder is horrific, but perhaps her story will give our community reason for pause and encourage countless other women to journey out of violence.
Ms. Naazish YarKhan is an editor and writer, living in Glendale Heights. She is the founder of Writers Studio, www.writersstudiowo rkshops.com, where she coaches students for publication, and several have won international and national writing awards. Her by-line has appeared in over 31 publications including the Chicago Tribune, and her commentaries have aired on NPR and Chicago Public Radio. She has completed work on her first novel.