MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
A warning here: This next story contains some very disturbing elements. The tragic facts are not in dispute.
Muzzammil Mo Hassan has been charged with murder, a charge that was filed after police found the beheaded body of his wife at the TV station owned by the Hassans. The death in suburban Buffalo, New York, was reported by Mo Hassan himself, just days after Aasiya Hassan had filed for divorce.
Four years ago, the Hassans received quite a bit of national attention when they launched a cable channel called Bridges TV. It was aimed at breaking down Muslim stereotypes. In fact, this program aired a story about Bridges TV back in December of 2004. Here's some of what Mo Hassan told us then.
MUZZAMMIL HASSAN: The main mission of the network is to build bridges of friendship and understanding between mainstream America and American Muslims. And we hope long term, Bridges TV can help create better understanding between America and Islam.
NORRIS: That was Mo Hassan. He's now charged with killing his wife.
Carolyn Thompson is following the story for the Associated Press in Buffalo, and she joins us now.
Carolyn, it sounds like there's a debate about whether this is a domestic dispute with awful results or if it was an honor killing, a controversial practice condoned under some interpretations of Islam as revenge for a woman who brings dishonor to her family. Is there evidence that this was an honor killing?
CAROLYN THOMPSON: Well, it was the National Organization for Women, I believe, who first raised this idea of it being an honor killing, you know, and rooted in cultural notions about women's subordination to men; and one expert who described honor killing as something that is justified in cases where a man feels betrayed by his wife. And in this case, Aasiya Hassan had filed for divorce from her husband, and I'm told that this could be considered a betrayal.
On the other hand, religious leaders are really cautioning against jumping to the conclusion that culture or religion played any role in this woman's death or in the way this woman was killed.
You know, Islamic leaders have pointed out that there really is no justification for a killing like this in the Islamic religion.
NORRIS: One leader there in the Arab community said that the main concern of the Muslim community right now is that whenever a Muslim does something wrong that Islam seems to go on trial. They're saying that as horrible as this crime was that it brings up the very stereotypes that Bridges TV was trying to combat.
THOMPSON: That's right. It's really - the irony of this case is, you, know, that the Hassans were so vocal about wanting to dispel all those stereotypes, and that was really the reason behind starting this Bridges TV to begin with.
NORRIS: What are the facts surrounding this case? Mo Hassan reported that his wife's body was back at the TV station he owned. Did he actually admit to the crime when he went to the police station?
THOMPSON: No, he only told them that his wife was dead. And at that point, the officers said where; and he said, you know, the television station; and officers did go and find Aasiya's body in the hallway there.
NORRIS: What has been the reaction to the story there in Buffalo?
THOMPSON: Well, the community really has been stunned by this, although this crime received relatively little attention the day it happened. That happened also to be the day that the Continental Commuter Flight 3407 crashed onto a house in another of Buffalo's suburbs. So you know, the community was already trying to cope with that news when this emerged.
I think that the community is - does feel like they've really just been hit with all of this bad news. And, you know, the Muslim community, especially in the wake of this is really coming forward and stressing the fact that, you know, domestic violence does occur in any community. And there was an open letter from the Islamic Society of North America that encouraged Muslim leaders to take very seriously women who report physical abuse or seek a divorce because of physical abuse. So that seems to be the message that is being sent from this.
NORRIS: What will happen now to Bridges TV?
THOMPSON: Bridges TV has vowed to continue in Aasiya's memory. And in her honor, it was off the air for a couple of days. I'm told it is back on the air now. Whether they're producing new programming or not I think is still in question, that still may take some time. But they do vow to continue.
NORRIS: Carolyn Thompson is a reporter with the Associated Press. Carolyn, thank you very much for speaking with us.
THOMPSON: You're welcome. Thank you.