Despite vigorous efforts on the part of Islamists to silence discussion of honor violence in the U.S., the case of 19-year-old Aiya Al-Tameemi has widely captured the attention of the media and public here in Arizona.
In what would be a classic case of honor abuse, Aiya’s family is accused of punishing her for “dishonorable” behavior that included perceived offenses of refusing an arranged marriage and speaking to a boy. According to authorities, the Phoenix woman’s alleged punishment was to be brutalized by every adult member of her family. She was allegedly beaten on multiple occasions; held down by her sister and father, who cut her throat; burned with a hot spoon by her mother and finally tied and padlocked to a bed, authorities said.
As an Arabic and observant Muslim husband and father, and as a physician, I cannot imagine how any person could attempt to justify such brutality. The media coverage of her case has granted us a deeper understanding of Aiya’s situation when she revealed during an interview, “Here it is not allowed … but for me, it’s normal.” Aiya clearly does not know any better.
Those who adhere to a primeval tribal code of “honor,” likely believe that their behavior is an act of love. They think it is their duty to protect daughters from themsleves and the family’s community reputation and stature before God by whatever means necessary.
In the absence of a viable movement to teach the principles of women’s rights and equality, girls like Aiya lose the right to make any of their own choices. They become secondary to the community in this male-dominated interpretation of “honor.” Those who disagree and fight this barbaric system are told that they are “Westernized” and have a deviant value system based on “un-Islamic,” hedonistic Western culture.
While certainly not the norm, Aiya’s case is a sign of a deeper problem, which is often ignored. Our Muslim communities have yet to systematically and openly address abuse in the name of honor.
For every Noor Almaleki (run down and killed by her father in the West Valley in 2009) and Aiya Al-Tameemi, there are hundreds of other cases of honor abuse, from the mild to the extreme, that are often brought on by things like dating, drinking, dressing “immodestly” or rejecting Islam. Muslim leaders often whitewash the problem.
Arizona State University professor Souad T. Ali spoke with 12 News and asserted in Aiya’s case there is “no such thing” as honor beating, and that honor killing itself is “taken out of context.” She later stated that the alleged beating of Aiya on a bed, as described by police, would not be considered abuse by Arabs.
She blamed some problems on “poor translations” and called it all a “terrible misunderstanding” by Aiya of the mother’s intentions.
I was disgusted, as were so many other Muslim women’s rights activists. Moral relativism between “cultures” is a veiled euphemism for bigotry, ignorance or misogyny, which sanctions interpretations of Shariah (Islamic law) that are common in Iraq, Jordan or Pakistan.
Whether by a professor or an imam, downplaying honor crimes makes them complicit in denial and brutality damaging our efforts to confront violence and the subjugation of women in the name of Islam.
It is our moral duty as a society to create a climate that has zero tolerance for a moral relativism that denies our collective responsibility to the Aiyas and Noors of the world. If we shirk that duty, we sacrifice Muslim women to an existence no better than they would experience in a theocratic state.
The media and local authorities have played an important and possibly lifesaving role in the lives of many other Muslim women. I and so many others who love our nation and our faith, and most importantly our daughters, appreciate this.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, is author of “The Battle for the Soul of Islam” due out from Simon & Schuster in June.