Honor And The Media: Steyn v. Friedersdorf

Phyllis Chesler at Pajamas Media:

I am talking about how rarely the American mainstream media covers honor killings committed in North America.

For example, there was no mention of the 2006 honor murder of 20-year-old Canadian-Afghan Muslim, Khatera Sadiqi, and her fiancée, Feroz Mangal, by her brother, Habibullah, in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, or the Wall Street Journal.

Alright, this took place in Canada, not in the United States. That might explain it. Ah, no so fast.

One could only read about the very high profile 2008 Dallas-based honor killings of the two Egyptian-American Muslim Said sisters, Sarah and Amina, in a single paragraph of 60 words, which was buried in a piece of 911 words in the New York Times. There was nothing in the Los Angeles Times and nothing in the hardcopy version of the Washington Post, although some blogs appeared at their website which referred to another newspaper article which had mentioned these murders in passing.

Guess what? The Wall Street Journal was out to lunch on this one too.

To their credit, Fox News systematically reported on the Said sisters and also ran a documentary devoted to their case. And, of course, to our credit, the blogosphere was lit up like Times Square about this case. Special kudos to Pajamas Media, FrontPage, Newsrealblog, Islam in Europe, Europe News, Human Rights Service, War to Mobilize Democracy, Atlas Shrugs, Jihad Watch, and all the many other blogs that have been tracking honor killings worldwide.

Nevertheless, the father-murderer of these two young girls who were murdered for being “too western” remains safely at large, probably back home in Egypt raising another family or two.

The New York Times also failed to cover the 2008 honor killings of American-Pakistani Muslim Sandeela Kanwal in Atlanta, Georgia, and American-Ethiopian Muslim Hawlett Mohammed, in Alexandria, Virginia — but they covered, at length, the 2008 murder of Hindu-American Monika Rani, who was burned alive in Oak Forest, Illinois, by her father because she married below her caste. This honor killing merited 470 words in the Gray Lady.

I am not surprised because when it comes to honor killings the mainstream media is far more attentive to Hindu than to Muslim honor murders. (Most Hindu caste-related honor killings seem to occur in India, not in the Indian diaspora in the West).

Mark Steyn at The Corner:

I’ve noted this phenomenon many times: See, for example, here at NR, “Noor Ignored“, “Watery Graves“, “The Stranglehold of Political Correctness“, and “Headless Body in Legless Story“. But nothing changes. Multiculturalism trumps feminism, and so the media accept a two-tier sisterhood in which Muslim girls are run over, stabbed, strangled, drowned and decapitated for wanting to live like the women they read about in The New York Times and The Washington Post. No matter how novel or arresting the details of a story are, the PC blinkers go on immediately. As Miss Chesler adds:

In 2009, the gruesome beheading of Aasiya Z. Hassan was covered only five days later by the New York Times—and then mainly to explain that Islam had nothing to do with it and that anyone who believes to the contrary is misguided or prejudiced.

The media’s attitude to “honor killings” is not only shameful and dishonors the dead; it’s also part of the reason why America’s newspapers are sliding off the cliff: Their silence on this issue is merely an especially ugly manifestation of how their news instincts have been castrated by political correctness.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic:

Let’s survey “their silence on this issue,” shall we?

In The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, a quick search reveals a June 20, 1999 story titled “For Shame: A Special Report. Arab Honor’s Price: A Woman’s Blood.” It is 3,941 words.

That same year — the first of my search — a story about the complexity of growing up Muslim in New York City mentioned the practice in passing. A March 2000 story about Unicef efforts to fight violence against women mentioned honor killings among other forms of extreme assault. In May 2000, a 1200 word story focuses on an honor killing perpetrated by a Dominican man. The editorial page inveighed against honor killings in November 2000. Honor killings are mentioned in this 2001 piece, which begins, “Islam preaches equality, yet in most Muslim countries a woman’s place is determined by a man’s will. It’s the law.” A 2002 piece titled, “In Pakistan, Rape Victims Are the Criminals” begins:

The evidence of guilt was there for all to see: a newborn baby in the arms of its mother, a village woman named Zafran Bibi.

Her crime: she had been raped. Her sentence: death by stoning.

In October 2002 Nick Kristoff mentioned honor killings in a column about the repression of women in the Middle East. A February 2003 essay centers on an honor killing a Muslim girl witnessed and its impact on her life. The headline on a 2003 Dexter Filkins piece: “Honor Killings Defy Turkish Efforts to End Them.” An excerpt from a long 2003 opinion piece from Bagdhad:

Even these brutalized sisters are luckier than many women in Iraq. They have no adult male relatives, and thus are not at risk for the honor killings that claim the lives of many Muslim women here. Tribal custom demands that a designated male kill a female relative who has been raped, and the law allows only a maximum of three years in prison for such a killing, which Iraqis call ”washing the scandal.”

”We never investigate these cases anyway — someone has to come and confess the killing, which they almost never do,” said an investigator who looked into the case and then dismissed it because the sisters ”knew one of the men, so it must not be kidnapping.”

This violence has made postwar Iraq a prison of fear for women.

Another 2003 story tells Times readers about an inquiry into honor killings in Pakistan. Several 2004 stories mentioned honor killings while reporting on Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union. Here is one. This lengthy magazine piece from 2004 mentions honor killings as one thing an upstart Arab news station wanted to cover. It came up elsewhere in the newspaper that year, but we’ve got a long way to go, so let’s just skip to the fact that they were also mentioned in this lengthy 2005 magazine profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “Turks to Fight Honor Killings of Women,” another headline blared later that year, during which Nick Kristof mentioned honor killings in at least three more columns.

Columnist Roger Cohen got in on the act too: “Six recent ‘honor killings’ in Berlin, where about 10 percent of the 2.5 million Turks in Germany live, have focused attention on a culture of violent male repression of women in some Muslim immigrant communities in Europe,” he wrote. “The most talked-about case is that of Hatan Sürücü, a 23-year-old single mother, gunned down near her Berlin home in February.”

[…]

llustrating the depth of Mr. Steyn’s wildly inaccurate characterization has taken quite awhile, so I’m afraid I haven’t got the energy to delve into the archives of other major American newspapers, though a quick Google search yields the 2009 USA Today piece, “Honor Killings in US Raise Concerns,” a Boston Globe column titled “The Islamist War on Muslim Women,” the Denver Post version of widely syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts’ column “Honor Killing Comes to the US,” a column by Rod Dreher, then columnist and editorial board member at the Dallas Morning News, a Los Angeles Times story about honor killings in India… the list goes on and on.

Let’s recap, focusing on the New York Times alone. Over a period of roughly a decade, the newspaper ran everything from major internationally reported stories on honor killings in its glossy magazine to a crime story about a local honor killing on its New York regional page. It covered honor killings in Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

The topic garnered attention from magazine editors, freelancers, staff reporters in the newspaper, writers on the book review and arts pages, and multiple op-ed columnists from across the ideological spectrum. One of those columnists wrote multiple items about honor killings across several years (and even mentioned them in a couple columns that won a Pulitzer Prize!). Considering the magazine stories on honor killings alone, the Times must have spent tens of thousands of dollars at minimum covering the subject in its Sunday glossy. Honor killings were also deemed important enough to frequently appear in the World Section briefs.

So what on earth is Mark Steyn talking about? Having reviewed the incomplete summary of honor killings coverage in the New York Times alone, could any rational, informed person honestly characterize American newspapers and their handling of this issue as he did?

Let’s look again at his conclusion: “The media’s attitude to ‘honor killings’ is not only shameful and dishonors the dead; it’s also part of the reason why America’s newspapers are sliding off the cliff: Their silence on this issue is merely an especially ugly manifestation of how their news instincts have been castrated by political correctness.”

Does the coverage you’ve seen dishonor the dead? Does it betray an unwillingness to cover this issue due to political correctness? Can the charge of “silence” possibly go uncorrected in the pages of NRO?

It’s a good test. Perhaps Mr. Steyn was just woefully mistaken about the willingness of an American newspaper to cover honor killings. Now that he and the editors at National Review know better — I’ve e-mailed this post to Kathryn Jean Lopez — will a correction be forthcoming so that their audience isn’t misled?

Steyn responds:

I don’t often respond to Conor Friedersdorf, usually because it would require me to read him, and to be honest I don’t quite get the appeal of a guy who writes so portentously that you wonder if it’s some Guinness Book of Records stunt for the World’s Most Tightly Wound Bow Tie.

Evidently, my old friends at The Atlantic Monthly feel differently. From that perch, Mr Friedersdorf takes issue with my observations on “honor killings”, and has written to NR’s editors demanding a “correction”. The executive honchos in turn passed his demand on to me, and suggested I take a look at it as they’d been unable to get through it. So help me, I’d rather be fired – or honor-killed – than have to plough through another Friedersdorf post, but here goes.

So here’s how my piece began:

When you look at all the formulaic sludge that wins the Pulitzer Prize for Most Unread Multipart Series, it is striking that not one of the major newspapers has done an investigative series on the proliferation of “honor killings”, not in Yemen or Waziristan but in the heart of the western world.

In other words, Phyllis Chesler and I are writing about how “honor killings” have migrated from the distant horizon to The New York Times‘ backyard. All the examples she and I cite and link to are from North America. That’s what we’re writing about: Dead Muslim women in New York, Illinois, Texas, Quebec. Our neighbors.

Conor Friedersdorf demolishes our argument by pulling up yellowing Times thumbsuckers from ten years ago about “honor killings” in the Arab world, Turkey, Pakistan – and, eventually, Berlin.

I think Friedersdorf, in his usual pedantic way, has not refuted my point but reinforced it: The Times was more enthusiastic about covering “honor killings” when they were way out on the fringes of the map and could be used for a distant anthropological study of remote tribal cultures. Now they’re happening down the block in Buffalo, Peoria and Kingston, Ontario, and raise complicating questions for the prevailing pieties on diversity, multiculturalism, immigration, assimilation et al, questions for which most of the liberal press has no stomach.

So, no, there won’t be a “correction”. I’ll stand by what I wrote, this morning and last year:

If there were a Matthew Shepard murder every few months, Frank Rich et al would be going bananas about the “climate of hate” in our society, but you can run over your daughter, decapitate your wife, drown three teenage girls and a polygamous spouse, and progressive opinion and the press couldn’t give a hoot. Indeed, as The Atlantic notes, it’s merely an obsession of us right-wing kooks.

Why aren’t Noor Almaleki and Aasiya Hassan as famous as Matthew Shepard? They weren’t in up-country villages in the Pakistani tribal lands. They were Americans – and they died because they wanted to live as American women.

Ah-ha! says Friedersdorf, triumphantly. But The New York Times ran a piece on honor killings in Syria in 2007!

Oh, well, everything’s fine and dandy then…

Freidersdorf responds:

On The Corner, however, Mr. Steyn objects that his post was only talking about the “silence” of American newspapers when it comes to honor killings in the United States — apparently their proclivity for dishonoring the dead, being politically correct, and bowing to multiculturalism stops at the water’s edge.

What Mr. Steyn neglects — beyond stories cited in my original post, like the Denver Post column titled “Honor Killing Comes to US” and a USA Today story titled “Honor Killings in US Raise Concerns” — are two facts: 1) newspapers are covering the issue abroad more than at home because it is relatively rare here, unlike in Syrian or Turkey or even Germany; 2) but even if we restrict our analysis to cases he mentions, his original item is still wrong.

As an example, take Noor Almaleki, whose father ran over her with a car near Phoenix, Arizona. Were American newspapers silent? Let’s take a look at The Arizona Republic to find out. The Gannett paper, the largest in Arizona, published the following coverage about the case:

10/24/09 — Lifestyle May Have Put Woman in Hospital.

Police interviews with friends and family revealed that Faleh, a Glendale resident, had threatened his daughter before for becoming “too Westernized” and failing to live by traditional Iraqi values.

Social experts say that a long history of tribal cultural tradition dictates that women who live outside the group’s moral code dishonor the entire family. For many, it’s a terminal offense, leading to an “honor killing.”

10/29/2009 — Subtracting ‘honor’ from ‘honor killing.’

10/30/2009 — Glendale man accused of running over daughter found.

11/02/2009 — Woman in Suspected Honor Killing Dies.

11/06/2009 — Glendale honor killing victim, 20, just wanted to be normal.

12/21/2009 — Glendale dad accused in honor killing faces murder charge.

01/13/2010 — Religion issue raised in case of Glendale man in ‘honor killing.’

02/19/10 — Dad accused in ‘honor killing’ will not face death penalty.

04/10/2010 — Police: ‘Honor Killing’ suspect may have been aided by family.

There are other mentions too.

Mr. Steyn cites Noor Almaleki as an example of American newspapers going silent when honor killings happen in their backyard. But obviously that isn’t the case — when an honor killing happened in its backyard, The Arizona Republic covered the case exhaustively. As I asserted in my original post, Mr. Steyn’s writing on this subject gives his readers a misleading impression of reality.

Andrew Sullivan:

Steyn’s notion that he was only concerned with MSM “silence” on honor killings in the US is pedantry when you read the post, and his previous fulminations. But even if we concede this tap-dance, he’s still flat-wrong. The reason that Noor Almaleki and Aasiya Hassan are less famous than Matthew Shepard is because almost no murder victim is as famous as Matthew Shepard – well, maybe Natalee Holloway. They’re white, Mr Steyn. That’s why they’re more famous. Unfair and wrong – but fame in America is often like that.

Tom Maguire:

Having reviewed the Times coverage as presented by Mr. Friedersdorf, I don’t think any rational person could conclude that Mr. Steyn is wrong in claiming that the Times, as a proxy for the MSM, has waltzed away from the coverage of honor killings in its own backyard.

[…]

If Conor Friedersdorf wants to hector others about their close-mindedness, he will have more impact if he first listens to what they are saying.

HOW DO WE SCORE THIS:  What is the baseline for the “correct” level of coverage of honor killings in North America?  Who knows?!?  This NPR story mentions a global problem and links to two stories about honor killings in North America.  Hey, that is big-time coverage in defiance of the Steyn Assertion.  On the other hand, the second NPR story describes four honor killings in North America, including two in New York State; the NY Times, in accordance with the Steyn Assertion, does not mention either of those.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

I’ve been debating those subjects with Mark Steyn — if you click over to my latest post, links to the rest are provided.

I’m also putting up a half dozen posts a day at The Atlantic’s Ideas Blog. Please visit! It runs for another several weeks. After that you’ll see me back here a bit more for some non-political posts I am planning.

UPDATE: In comments, Mike Farmer writes, “I believe your campaign to bring down conservatives is causing a type of blindness which is morally selective and fails to express moral outrage over self-imposed limits to your discernment.”

Interesting, the assumption that I am engaged in an effort to “bring down conservatives” when my modus operandi is actually just to disagree publicly when a conservative writes something that I find to be wrongheaded or inaccurate. Imagine that I triumphed entirely in my exchange with Mr. Steyn — that I persuaded him of my position, that he issued a correction at National Review Online, and that his future efforts to draw press attention to honor killings proceeded from assumptions that I believe to be more accurate.

In what sense would I have “brought him down”? He would remain a well-paid, widely read writer. His success at effecting the change he wants to see w/r/t honor killings would be enhanced, not diminished. Forceful disagreements can leave even the loser better off. Discourse among professional writers isn’t a zero sum game.

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