While the world has been transfixed over the reelection of President Obama and the scandal currently surrounding General David Petraeus, two important legal decisions were rendered in cases of honor abuse and killings here in the Southwest of the United States.
The first was the disappointing and frustrating decision on November 6, by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer, to accept a weak plea agreement negotiated by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office in the case of Aiya Altameemi (19). The plea sentenced Aiya’s parents and sister to two years’ probation with domestic violence terms. For those of us entrenched in work to counter ideas that feed pathological cases like this, this plea deal sends absolutely the wrong message.
Aiya’s family was arrested in February for two separate incidents where the family had beaten their adult daughter Aiya for speaking to a boy, gagged and bound her hands and feet, cut her lower neck with a knife and burned her face and chest with a hot spoon. The family reportedly was upset over Aiya’s desire to get out of an arranged marriage with a 38-year old man.
While honor violence is not accepted or prescribed by moderate interpretations of the Islamic faith, Aiya’s torture and oppression at the hands of her family is an all too familiar story in too many Muslim and Middle Eastern communities around the world. The plea deal that was approved by the judge and the prosecutors ignores the very likely possibility that Aiya will probably face severe recrimination from her family that could include further violence and will likely include ostracization, banishment and potentially the forced marriage that was the initial reason for the violence.
The family’s meager punishment diminishes the import of this case and the suffering of women in our communities. It oddly seems more in line with what one would expect in Pakistan or Jordan where honor violence is accepted and pushed under the rug, but not in the United States where our legal system is supposed to protect the rights of all people and lady justice is blind. Honor violence cases are accelerating in the United States. We need our legal system to educate itself on the seriousness of these crimes and render punishments that are commensurate with the crime.
As we saw with Faleh Almaleki, and the honor killing murder of his daughter Noor, the perpetrators of these crimes hold their supposed “family honor” in much higher regard than human life and the U.S. judicial system. The future Noors and Aiyas of the world cannot afford to depend upon a judicial system that tells the men in their world that it will make allowances for “cultural” variations.
The sentence in Aiya’s case will reunite this very young 19 year-old with a family who do not believe that they have done anything wrong or violated any laws. The legal slap on the wrist will do little to keep this family from further harming their daughter, whether physically or mentally.
We can only hope that Aiya does not end up like Shaima Alawadi who in March was allegedly murdered in her home in El Cajon, CA by her husband Kassim Alhimidi, for petitioning for a divorce. Shaima’s story sparked national attention when a note was found next to her body that read “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
Despite circumstances that clearly pointed to her husband’s involvement in the crime, national Muslim organizations used the killing as an opportunity to drive a message that America is victimizing American Muslims, calling the killing a hate crime.
One blogger went as far as claiming that because El Cajon has a significant military community that an “Islamophobic veteran” had committed the crime. Linda Sarsour, Director of the Arab American Association of New York, dismissed concerns over honor violence and instead used Alawadi’s story to draw parallels on CNN with the Trayvon Martin story which was grabbing attention at the time frame.
With no evidence Sarsour had the audacity to draw a line between Martin’s Hoodie and Alawadi’s Hijab reinforcing a message of racism with no real evidence to drive the claim.
On November 9, 2012, after eight months of no justice for Shaima, El Cajon police arrested Kassim Alhimidi for her murder calling the case a clear issue of domestic violence and not a hate crime.
This delay begs the question if prosecutors in this case were slow to arrest Alhimidi because of the reaction of American Muslim organizations and fear that if they did not exhaust all avenues, they would be crucified for being politically incorrect.
The actions of these Muslim leaders and the delay by the El Cajon police department again diminish the import of this case. Shaima Alawadi died for exerting her basic human rights of wanting to live her life as a free woman. She was violently bludgeoned by her husband for this crime.
Our society was built on embracing the rights of everyone to be free. It is incongruous with our values to blindly coddle a medieval mindset that relegates women to second class citizens and believes that a man or a family’s honor is more valuable than the life of a daughter or wife.
Our judicial system needs to view these crimes for what they are. Shaima Alwadi’s death was a hate crime – but it was a hate for the equality of women in our society. The beating that Aiya Altameemi suffered from her parents and her sister were not a cultural difference as the family and even Aiya tried to explain.
It was a fundamental indifference for the basic human rights of a young woman which God has given to all people. The punishment sought by the prosecutor and rendered by the judge should have set a higher bar that our society will not tolerate such behavior.
Probation and the unqualified return of Aiya to that home excuses the behavior and encourages its continuance. We can only hope and pray that Aiya’s case not end the way some others have sadly ended.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. He is the author of Battle for the Soul of Islam. Dr. Jasser served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy and was Staff Internist for the Office of the Attending Physician to the U.S. Congress.