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February 21, 2009

A Free Press Frightened

"Gruesome killing poses another test for US Muslims" is the headline in an AP story about the praiseworthy reaction of many American Muslims to the recent beheading of a woman by her husband in Buffalo. Domestic violence is all too wide spread among all ethnicities and religions but this post is about shoddy and perhaps fearful reporting, not about either violence or Islam.

Here's a quote from the story. But there's something missing:

Asra Nomani, a Muslim journalist, author and activist from Morgantown, W.Va., challenged Muslims who say the murder has no link to Islamic teachings. While Islam does not sanction domestic violence or murder, a literal reading of a controversial verse in the Quran taught in some mosques can lead to honor killings and murder, she said.

"It's sort of like the typical reaction to terrorism in the community, where people want to say, 'This had nothing to do with Islam,'" Nomani said. "Well, it doesn't have anything to do with your interpretation of Islam that teaches you can't kill innocent people. But terrorism, violence, honor killing — they are all part of ideological problems we have in the community we need to eradicate."

The passage — Chapter 4, Verse 34 — has been widely translated to sanction physical discipline against disobedient wives. There is disagreement about to what degree and whether it's punitive or symbolic.

The verse is cited "all the time" to justify domestic violence, just as people of other faiths cite scriptures to support oppression of women, said Salma Abugideri of the Peaceful Families Project, which offers training and workshops to combat domestic violence in Muslim communities.

What's missing is Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Quran itself. How could that possibly not be relevant as part of the third paragraph above? Here it is:

"Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great."

I have no idea whether it should be taken literally or symbolically. It is less blood-thirsty than much of the old testament sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It certainly doesn't say anything about beheading. But the point is that it belonged in the AP story and was either left out by a reporter (who already knew the chapter and verse) or deleted by an editor. This is similar to the stories about the Danish cartoons of the prophet which somehow never managed to show the cartoons themselves.

We can't afford not to have a free press. We won't bridge the gaps between religions, ideologies, and ethnicities unless we can talk about them. Self-censorship is condescension, not consideration.




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