This week, an American court convicted a Pakistani-born man of decapitating his wife. While there has been great chatter surrounding the role of religion in this case, it has overshadowed the larger issue here: that no one succeeded in helping this woman and her children safely escape the torments of this unstable and extremely violent man. Even in the United States of America.
Aasiya Zubair knew little of Muzzammil Hassan when she married him in October of 2000 in Karachi. Some reports indicate that they had met online a few months earlier, others seem to indicate an arranged marriage. What is certain is that he lived in the United States and she lived in Karachi and neither had known each other very well or very long when they married that fateful day. Their union was nonetheless characteristic of an arranged marriage: wherein parties are joined in matrimony based on superficial resumes of information (some of which is simple fabrication) that have nothing to do with the intangible qualities that are required of a healthy marriage. If she had actually known Muzzammil, it seems impossible that she would have willingly married him.
But she did and it was nothing but ordinary in a society where arranged marriages are still commonly found. Her family certainly didnt put a stop to her marrying a man she or they barely knew. Within two months, according to her own divorce affidavit filed in an American court, she moved to the United States where the superficial knowledge that she had of her husband proved true: he was a moderately successful businessman with American citizenship. She was soon to learn the ugly truth, too. Her divorce affidavit is rife with examples of the abuse she and her children endured at the hands of an extremely ill man who she herself diagnosed as a classic example of severe narcissistic personality disorder in an email to her sister a few years before her death. Muzzammil, it turned out, was twice divorced both times because his wives left him due to severe emotional and physical abuse.
According to numerous news reports and accounts of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and co-workers, Muzzammil was known to have been abusive to his previous wives and his abuse against Aasiya and their children was also known. But nobody did anything about it and this poor woman was left to fend for herself against this dangerous individual. Even after a trip to visit family in South Africa resulted in nearly three thousand US dollars being spent on medical treatment for bodily injuries she had endured at his hands, her family did not succeed in saving their daughter and sister from returning to the hands of her abuser. Neither did her co-workers, her religious leaders, or her friends.
Once, during a visit to his family in Texas, Muzzammils violence against Aasiya resulted in such serious physical injury that his own brother helped take her to the police station to file a report. But, according to her divorce document, the family elders soon forgot the incident and merely told [Aasiya] that Muslim women do not answer back, and that it was [her] own fault that this had happened to [her]. Alone in a foreign country, with two children and two stepchildren to care for, time and again Aasiya chose to forget the incidents, too.
Domestic violence is a worldwide phenomenon that is exclusive of religious belief, level of education, and culture it happens everywhere to all sorts of people, though more often women and girls than men and boys. And though there are laws in most countries against it and in prosecution of it, they are useless in the face of inadequate support and safety systems in a persons family and friend network that can help extract her from her abusive situation. In short, more than laws, victims of abuse need people who care enough to save them from themselves from that thing in them, whatever compulsion or reason it may be, that keeps forgetting, keeps forgiving, keeps staying in the abusive situation.
Though many people claimed to love Aasiya and claimed a close relationship with her, none of them did enough if anything at all other than offer cursory advice to actually remove her from her horrific situation and help her put in place the legal protections which expert after expert says she could have achieved if only she had taken even one of the police reports and followed it up with an actual charge.
There are millions of Aasiyas in the world. Look around you at the women in your life and ask yourself if there is someone who could use your help, someone who could die without it.
The writer is US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi