Concern trolls, FGM, and “honor killings”

Judy Warner and Ann Corcoran are insidious concern trolls, individuals who feign concern over the welfare of a person or group of people as a means of advancing an agenda to harm the individual or group in question –in this case, Muslim refugees, and Muslim women generally.

Why do I even entertain them? A couple of reasons.

1)    Google “refugee resettlement.” RRW is the third site that comes up. I cringe just typing that, but the sooner pro-refugee activists and resettlement workers acknowledge that RRW is a problem and begin countering the misleading and untrue statements (about refugees and resettlement agencies) posted there, the better. People like Ann Corcoran and Judy Warner are a threat to the vital work of refugee resettlement. Though acknowledging that may cause their stony hearts to beat a little faster, it still needs to be done.

2)    I have a lot of writing to do for school these days, as my time as a student wraps up. Blogging helps me break up the monotony and keeps my eyes from glazing over from having read and written about, say, budget offices, for hours and hours on end.

Now, I would like to respond to two issues Judy and Ann (and other concern trolls) go back to again and again: “honor killings” and FGM. I’ll start with honor killings, because, coincidentally, I have to write something about this for class as well. The following is an excerpt from a recent RRW post.

My own opinion is that honor killing is so barbaric that we should cut off immigration from any country where it is practiced, with very few exceptions made, only for those who have shown they are reformers, by deeds as well as words. I mean, of course, Muslim immigration, since honor killing is now practiced all over Western Europe. We don’t have to keep out Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, though it would be a good thing if he took more notice of it than he has. –Judy Warner

Judy quotes an interview by Katherine Jean Lopez (yes, the same blogger who infamously mocked Jessica Valenti of Feministing for wanting a feminist wedding) of psychotherapist and professor Phyllis Chesler, who recently wrote an article titled, “Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?” in which Chesler concludes –using methodology any college freshman social science major would recognize as hopelessly flawed– that no, honor killings are very different, and much worse (in Chesler’s view) because; non-Muslim men who beat or kill women in their lives for reasons not related to personal or family “honor” feel bad about it afterwards, whereas Muslim men who kill feel no guilt whatsoever; non-Muslim batterers don’t kill their daughters, only their wives (whew!); and spousal murders by non-Muslim are pretty tidy affairs, unlike grotesque and bloody “honor killings.” And there are a bunch of other patently ridiculous claims in there, as evidenced by this table from Chesler’s article in the The Middle East Quarterly (a rightist screed masquerading –poorly—as a scholarly journal).

Table 1: Differing Characteristics of Honor Killings and Domestic Violence

Honor Killings

Domestic Violence

Committed mainly by Muslims against Muslim girls/young adult women.

Committed by men of all faiths usually against adult women.

Committed mainly by fathers against their teenage daughters and daughters in their early twenties. Wives and older-age daughters may also be victims, but to a lesser extent.

Committed by an adult male spouse against an adult female spouse or intimate partner.

Carefully planned. Death threats are often used as a means of control.

The murder is often unplanned and spontaneous.

The planning and execution involve multiple family members and can include mothers, sisters, brothers, male cousins, uncles, grandfathers, etc. If the girl escapes, the extended family will continue to search for her to kill her.

The murder is carried out by one man with no family complicity.

The reason given for the honor killing is that the girl or young woman has “dishonored” the family.

The batterer-murderer does not claim any family concept of “honor.” The reasons may range from a poorly cooked meal to suspected infidelity to the woman’s trying to protect the children from his abuse or turning to the authorities for help.

At least half the time, the killings are carried out with barbaric ferocity. The female victim is often raped, burned alive, stoned or beaten to death, cut at the throat, decapitated, stabbed numerous times, suffocated slowly, etc.

While some men do beat a spouse to death, they often simply shoot or stab them.

The extended family and community valorize the honor killing. They do not condemn the perpetrators in the name of Islam. Mainly, honor killings are seen as normative.

The batterer-murderer is seen as a criminal; no one defends him as a hero. Such men are often viewed as sociopaths, mentally ill, or evil.

The murderer(s) do not show remorse. Instead, they experience themselves as “victims,” defending themselves from the girl’s actions and trying to restore their lost family honor.

Sometimes, remorse or regret is exhibited.

In the Lopez interview, Chesler writes:

Although most Muslim organizations claim that such honor killings have absolutely nothing to do with Islam, many scholars and critics of Islam strongly disagree.

Right. Because when it comes to Islam, non-Muslims and “critics” know better than Muslims. That makes perfect sense.

Muslim countries do not often prosecute honor killings. More progressive countries, like Jordan, deal with the intractable problem of honor-related violence against women and honor killing by locking up the potential victims, often for as long as a decade.

Jordanian feminists are tackling this issue head-on, and Jordanian Queen Rania al Abdullah frequently speaks out on the need for better access to justice for Jordanian women.

Sharia law believes in fathers’ and husbands’ physically punishing disobedient women. It does not clearly admonish its followers not to kill women who are viewed as “dishonoring” their families.

Look, I’m no fan of religiously-based law of any kind, but Chesler’s either really misinformed or really intellectually dishonest here. I defer to Krista at Muslimah Media Watch (MMW) on this one:

Even the most extreme and violent (mis)interpretations of Shari’ah don’t allow for beheading a woman who divorces her husband.  The way that Shari’ah gets talked about in relation to this case [the recent murder of Pakistani-American TV executive Aasiya Hassan by her estranged husband in Buffalo, NY] – usually without a direct link; the word just gets thrown in there to imply a connection – is really worrying, and puts the blame on Islam for something that would be clearly condemned within an Islamic legal framework.

As for Chesler’s claim that Muslim communities are psychopathically a-ok with violence against women in their midst and stubbornly unreflective about the issue…

Faith: The second issue that this tragedy brings up is the Muslim community’s complicity in domestic violence against women. Muzzammil Hassan was supported by various Muslim organizations in the U.S., including ISNA, despite the fact that all three of his wives left him because of domestic violence. He had a reputation for being violent and abusive, yet he still managed to gain a platform at major Muslim conventions throughout the U.S. because he founded Bridges TV. Abusers should not gain the support of Muslims, yet too often we are silent when they are among our mist. I hope that this tragedy really makes Muslims take a cold, hard look at how we treat domestic violence and abusers in our community. Not just speak about the issue, but actually stop embracing and sheltering abusers and take actions to help victims of abuse.

Sobia: What heartens me is the response from mainstream Muslims to fight intimate partner violence. Just as after the tragic Aqsa Parvez murder, this time again mosques across North America delivered khutbahs against domestic violence, explaining how un-Islamic such terrible actions are. It appears the Muslim community is stepping up to the plate in North America and, as such, showing Aasiya Hassan respect.

In an earlier post, the MMW bloggers posted official responses by Muslim community organizations, and they were mostly along the following lines:

We must make it a priority to teach our young men in the community
what it means to be a good husband and what the role the husband has
as a protector of his family. The husband is not one who terrorizes or
does harm and jeopardizes the safety of his family. At the same time,
we must teach our young women not to accept abuse in any way, and to
come forward if abuse occurs in the marriage. They must feel that they
are able to inform those who are in authority and feel comfortable
confiding in the imams and social workers of our communities.

Community and family members should support a woman in her decision to
leave a home where her life is threatened and provide shelter and
safety for her. No imam, mosque leader or social worker should suggest
that she return to such a relationship and to be patient if she feels
the relationship is abusive. Rather they should help and empower her
to stand up for her rights and to be able to make the decision of
protecting herself against her abuser without feeling she has done
something wrong, regardless of the status of the abuser in the

Of course, the likes of Judy Warner, Ann Corcoran, Katherine Jean Lopez and Phyllis Chesler are too busy accusing Muslims of not caring and not speaking out against violence against women to pay attention to what Muslims are actually saying and doing on the issue.

Chesler’s reaction to the Hassan case is really telling of this mentality, and total disregard for research. It’s also vicious and incredibly condescending.

[…] in the wake of the alleged Hassan honor murder, Muslim leaders are insisting that the Hassan case cannot be an honor killing because it does not fit the description of a classical honor killing as per above. It does not, but it is similar to some other cases of Muslim wives in the West. But, in the past, these same leaders characterized the classical honor murders as “only domestic violence,” or as “teenager problems,” or as “immigrant problems.”

[Members of the Buffalo, NY Muslim community] should stop “protesting” so much. Perhaps Hassan was a serial wife abuser. Perhaps this last failed marriage and this last wife who walked out on him was too much shame for him to bear and he reverted to his empowered, barbaric Pakistani ways. There should be some communal humility. Some sorrow. (I believe there is some, by the way.) And some acceptance of responsibility for having looked the other way and rewarded a monster with so much funding and honor. What I am seeing instead, is an attempt to cut him loose, to say that Hassan is not really one of us, that he is not a “good” Muslim.

Faith at MMW made an excellent point when she wrote:

I am troubled by the focus on “honor killings” as a phenomena of certain ethnic groups instead of “honor killings” being one of the many manifestations of how patriarchy can lead to violence against women. The way “honor killings” was reported in the story and the way it is reported in general, “honor killings” are often disconnected from the larger issue of patriarchy (which affects all women) and instead focused on as a purely localized issue that affects certain racial groups. I would like “honor killings” to be focused on as part of the global fight against violence against women.

Chesler’s singular focus on “honor killings” is perplexing and disturbing. She writes:

Domestic violence is not the same as femicide, which is what an honor killing is. Clearly, both phenomena are reprehensible, but they are not exactly the same.

Well, ok, so-called “honor killings” are a subset of femicides, and they’re both part of the broader, global problem of violence against women. Chesler’s “scholarship” (see that table again) would seem to imply that she does think “honor killings” are worse than other femicides.

She claims that five thousand women are killed in “honor killings” every year. That may be true, but misses the point. The point is violence against women, perpetuated by patriarchy. In Russia every year, fourteen thousand women are murdered by their intimate partners.

A Russian women’s rights activist puts that number in perspective:

“The number of women dying every year at the hands of their husbands and partners in the Russian Federation is roughly equal to the number of all soldiers who died in the 10-year war of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan,” says Natalya Abubikirova, executive director of the Russian Association of Crisis Centers. The Moscow-based umbrella organization of 32 groups advocates for women’s rights and seeks to raise awareness to prevent discrimination and violence against women.

To give a few more examples from non-Muslim majority countries: in India, thousands of Hindu women die in gender-based violence, much of it related to dowry and marriage, and the scale of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is truly nightmarish. In the US each year, more than a thousand women are murdered by their intimate partners. In all of these places, local activists are working bravely to tackle local manifestations of the global problem of violence against women. (Here is a great series on how Congolese women are working to stop rape.)

I’ll conclude by addressing the RRW post that “inspired” me to write all this in the first place. Again, Judy wrote:

My own opinion is that honor killing is so barbaric that we should cut off immigration from any country where it is practiced, with very few exceptions made, only for those who have shown they are reformers, by deeds as well as words. I mean, of course, Muslim immigration, since honor killing is now practiced all over Western Europe. We don’t have to keep out Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, though it would be a good thing if he took more notice of it than he has.

A few problems with this argument:

1)     How exactly does one prove “by deeds” that she or he is against “honor killings”? That’s like the Belgian Government (I lived in Belgium during my study-abroad semester) asking me to prove that, as someone born in a country with high rates of gun violence, I not only condemn gun violence, but have taken action to stop it. I don’t own a gun? Too passive! I’ve written that civilians in a liberal democracy should not need fire arms to defend themselves against the state or each other? Mere words!

2)    “I mean, of course, Muslim immigration…” Ah, there we go. See, Judy? Honesty isn’t so hard. It doesn’t make you less of a bigot, of course, but…

Bringing this back to refugees.

Resettlement is stressful for all refugees, of all religions and nationalities. Stress and isolation can increase the risk of violence in refugee families. Resettlement workers understand this and act accordingly. When I worked full-time in resettlement, I ran seminars on family life and legal issues for refugee women and men (seminars for both sexes were held separately). In these seminars, I made sure my clients understood the basic letter of the law, and what support options were available to them if they ever found themselves being abused or threatened with abuse.

Violence against women is never, ever ok, under any circumstances. It’s reprehensible and tragic. If people like Warner, Corcoran, Lopez, and Chesler had even a shred of real respect and empathy for victims and survivors, they wouldn’t use them to cynically advance anti-immigration and anti-Muslim agendas.


Female Genital Mutilation:

[Female Genital Mutilation] is supposedly a cultural (cultural relativism is crap) and religious (Islamic) obligation which destroys the sex drive and helps assure men get their sexual pleasure but that their women then don’t stray too far.  But it does more than that, it is the worst form of child abuse wrapped in a veil of secrecy often dooming girls to a lifetime of pain and psychological trauma. –Ann Corcoran

1) FGM is a regional and cultural practice. It has nothing to do with Islam, and is nowhere mentioned in the Koran.

2) If FGM was part of adherence to even, to borrow Krista’s words from a different context, “the most extreme and violent (mis)interpretations of Shari’ah,” it would be rife in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Instead, it’s unheard of in those countries.

3) FGM is widely practiced among Christians in the same areas of Africa where it is practiced by Muslims. Take Ethiopia for example. Eighty-five percent of Ethiopian women are estimated to have undergone some form of FGM, yet just about a third of Ethiopians are Muslim. (Stats and map.)

4) FGM is practiced for various reasons, and there are multiple kinds/degrees of FGM. In Sierra Leone, for example, it is a womanhood initiation rite. In Iraqi Kurdistan, people aren’t sure why they do it, except that it’s been done for as long as anyone can remember.

5) Activists in countries where FGM is widely practiced are working hard to put an end to it through community education and alternative livelihoods for women who make their living carrying out the procedure.

6) When working with refugee from countries where FGM is widely practiced, resettlement workers do their best to make sure  their clients understand that; A)  FGM is illegal in the US, B) medical options are available to women who had it done in the past, and C) parents who inflict FGM on their daughters in the United States will lose custody of their children and almost certainly face criminal prosecution and possibly deportation.

To conclude this post, let me make one, overarching point. It is not only unfair, but also bad policy, bad advocacy, and bad scholarship to make assumptions about individuals based on population level statistics, and to make sweeping generalizations about whole categories of people based on individual examples.

8 thoughts on “Concern trolls, FGM, and “honor killings”

  1. Congratulations on giving a wonderful justification for ignoring the murder and enslavement of women by the totalitarian ideology of Islam. When you next hear of the next strangling, beheading, stoning, whipping, genital mutilation or ritual rape that is known as child marriage, you can know that you played your part in keeping these crimes from being traced to their source. A toast to you! You have contributed marvelously to the effort to hide in the fog of denial the fact that Islam is the inspiration and justification for the most savage and pervasive oppression of women in the earth today. Islam teaches that women are to be beaten by their husbands, Sura 4:34, can be imprisoned for life for adultery or “whatever else Allah alows”, Sura 4: 17, that women are deceitful, are most of the population of hell, are not to be trusted and are property like a horse. The Koran also teaches that Christians are to be subjugated, however Jews are not to be permitted to live. They are to be annihilated. This is the Koran which you claim has no link to the scourge of death and suffering that is the fate of Muslim women.
    The life of Mohammad is replete with murder, rape and exhortations to kill women. Yes, he specifically urged the murder of those women who dared to oppose him. Perhaps a little research might help you, but then it would make your task of obfuscating more difficult. I admire your display of sang froid, where you dismiss the genital mutilation endured by Muslim girls as due to some archetypal “culture” that has nothing to do with Islam. Never mind that this occurs across continents, wherever Islam is present, and that girls are not considered marriageable without this mutilation. Should we mention that the mutilation is the severing of their clitoris, or do you think that would draw too much attention to the suffering of little girls? Never mind. You have achieved the main thing, which is to protect Islam. If you keep this up there is sure to be a professorship for you at a university with a large endowment, perhaps from the Saudis or Jordan. No, you will not have to leave the country. Muslim investors are buying the objectivity of American scholars at an astonishing rate. You have a wonderful future ahead of you, and it only cost you your integrity and the lives of a few women and girls. Don’t fret, though. They were only Muslims.

  2. I see that any post with the slightest degree of difference of opinion will not be posted.

    That IS the problem with religion, though, isn’t it?

  3. You know, for awhile, I participated in a muslim online message group. For one thing, I disagreed – and still do – with the war on terror, the Iraqi war, and so on. I discovered that the Muslim men in that group were far more extremist with regard to their views on women than I had imagined. So I read up. As with the “Holy Bible” (including the New Testament) the Q’uran makes women inferior from birth to death.

    I then investigated honor killings – I was somewhat familiar with those since the brother-kills-sister with family’s blessing incident happened very near where I live.

    I discovered myriads of cases all over Europe and the UK, rather distinguished from ordinary domestic violence in that the girls’ mothers and brothers often collaborated in her murder.

    In the course of my activism, I have written letters begging certain governments not to execute women for ‘adultery.’ Those cases are not imaginary – they happen all the time.

    I checked human rights sites and found that many Muslim states executed women for adultery – in justice systems in which the woman’s testimony is worth half of the man’s and a woman is considered an adult (ready for either marriage or execution) at age 13 – or even 9!

    Wherever Shariah – or any theocratic law – prevails, women are second or ninth class citizens. And you can check what the Muslim leader in Australia said about rape and cats!

    You are in denial – unerstandable. You were no doubt raised by kind loving people who only implemented the best their faith had to offer. So was I, as a Catholic.

    It took me awhile to realize that the denigration of women in earlier times in Europe was mostly due to the fact that all of the nations there had state religions. Christian, that is. And Catholic, especially. And that women were generally devalued and demonized under them too.

    Most of Europe has come to take religion with a grain of salt. And while the US is currently a bit overcrowded with Xtian fundamentalists, our Constitution offers a certain protection against the worst of their ideas. That is why so many people flock to the west from intolerant regimes.

    I have spent a number of amusing hours perusing Muslim sites devoted to religious questions and answers, and giggled over the Imam’s answers: No, you can’t marry a djinn; yes, it is permitted to have sex with a slave outside of marriage – you already own her; and my very favorite: You may give your daughter a doll or teddy bear IF you take the head off first.

    Perhaps that is a cautionary measure?

    No doubt, there are many progressive thinkers in Islam who would shrug all that off as fanaticism. There are Jews who would express embarrassment at the biblical injunction to kill a daughter who proved not to be a virgin on her wedding night. There are Catholics who think that the witch hunts were every bit as barbaric as I think they were.

    But we never DO have anything to fear from moderates, do we? Tolerant people will find ways of apologizing for the worst tenets of their faiths, and ignoring the extremes, and of living the ‘nice’ part. Most Christians I know read the Bible VERY selectively and would be shocked to discover that it condones genocide, infanticide, and enslaves women.

    The fact that nice people tend to practice the best of their religion and ignore the more savage passages doesn’t erase those passages. Who would dare to eliminate any verses from a ‘holy’ book? And as long as they are still there, there will be those who take them very seriously.

    I find that most people are decent to the extent that they do not practice their religion.

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