by Geoffrey Clarfield (December 2010)
If you are thinking of smoking a joint and escaping from the ongoing depressing news in the Middle East, you may want to think twice, for in smoking that joint or wedge of hashish you may be inadvertently funding Hezbollah.
As the Bekaa valley is now firmly in the hands of Hezbollah and beyond the control of the weakening central government of the besieged Lebanese State, the news agencies who report on that part of the world are curiously silent about what many people do in the Bekaa valley to make a living, who profits from these activities and where do the profits go.
Decades ago the Bekaa valley was a fertile breadbasket watered by the mountains of Lebanon. During the last few decades over two thirds of its arable land has been converted to producing cannabis and the poppies that are at the base of the marijuana and heroin trade.
Some experts believe that the profits from the drug trade in Lebanon could be worth 6 billion dollars. The estimated street value of the drugs when they finally reach Western cities is thought to be 150 billion dollars. All of this trade had the blessing of the late Sheikh Fadlallah, the spiritual head of Hezbollah, as well as Hassan Nasrallah, its military and political leader who is a native of the Bekaa valley and who did much of his theological studies there.
By the way, during all the excitement of the last war in southern Lebanon it must be remembered that Hezbollah now has members of parliament in the Lebanese government. It is now near impossible that any Lebanese administrator would speak out about this private drug empire as they have taken the government hostage through threats of actual and planned communal violence.
According to a Paraguayan interior minister, Julio Cesar Fanego, during the three year period from 1999-2001 Hezbollah received anywhere from 50 to 500 million dollars from their activities in the tri border area. One of the suspects in this smuggling ring fingered by the Paraguayan police is a Hezbollah operative who sent half a million dollars to Hezbollah related bank accounts in Canada, Chile and the US.
Despite the widespread corruption in so many South American governments, some are making an effort to clamp down on the drug trade that fuels Middle Eastern terrorism. In 2005 the Ecuadorian police broke up an international cocaine smuggling ring led by a resident Lebanese restaurant owner with ties to Hezbollah. The Ecuadorian investigation led to the arrests of 19 people in neighbouring Brazil and the United States who were involved in the ring.
“Crystal meth,” or “ice,” is often called “poor man’s cocaine.” It is based on refining pseudo ephedrine. In 2002 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the US government arrested a group of men in the U.S., all of them from the Middle East, who had been smuggling large amounts of pseudo ephedrine through Canada to the United States. “Operation Mountain Express” found 36 tons of pseudo ephedrine, 179 pounds of methamphetamine, over four million dollars in cash, eight properties and 160 cars that supported the smuggling and illegal sales ring. Many of the over one hundred people arrested had direct connections with Hezbollah.
The customs of many of the Shia Muslims who dominate Hezbollah discourage premarital sex and many Shiite women there have been killed by their own family members for having sex, or on suspicion of having had a sexual relationship outside of marriage. Experts at the Office of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service believe that honor killings are most prominent among the poorest levels of society in Lebanon to which the Shia belong. They suggest that there are at least three cases of honor crimes every month during the year. Given the amount of underreporting that goes on concerning the status of women in Lebanon, one can only imagine what the real murder rate is.
However that seems to be changing quickly. On February 12 2009 at six thirty pm, Mr. Muzzammil Hassan arrived at the police station in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. According to the CNN he told the police chief, Mr. Andrew Benz, that he had killed his second wife, 37 year old, Aasiya Zubeir, and that her body could be found in the hall of his office. The police then found the decapitated body of his wife in the hallway of the television station that he had founded and ran for the last few years. 44-year-old Mr. Hassan was then charged with second-degree murder and was taken to the Erie County holding center.
For some time, Mr. Hassan and his wife had not been getting along. His wife had filed for divorce on January 6. Previously, the police had been called to their home on a number of occasions due to reported domestic violence. The couple has two children age four and six and Mr. Hassan is the father of two older teenagers from a previous marriage. Corey Hogan, Ms. Zubeir’s lawyer had arranged for an order of protection that had barred Mr. Hassan from the family home as of February 6. Despite this, it would appear that he may have managed to kill her at his office. It is unclear whether Ms. Zubeir went there willingly or unwillingly.
This tragic death, most likely a crime of passion, would normally go unnoticed if it were not for the nature of her death and the nature of Mr. Hassan’s work. He is the founder and CEO of Bridges TV, a cable TV company that he and his late wife founded in order to highlight the diverse lives of American Muslims and to fight the negative stereotypes that non-Muslim Americans may have of their fellow citizens of the Islamic faith, especially after 9/11.
Unfortunately, death by decapitation is widely practiced by the religious and traditional authorities of a number of Islamic countries. It is a trademark of the Taliban’s extrajudicial murders and it is common among the large number of domestic murders that are found in the Islamic world. It is an expression of a set of values that allow for the use of lethal domestic violence to deny a woman her absolute and inviolable human rights, as defined in documents such as the Constitution of the United States or the Canadian Charter of Rights.
One would assume that Mr. Hassan, who graduated magna cum laude with an MBA from the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester in 1996, would have left behind the outmoded tribal practices of his country of birth, Pakistan, except for the fact that anthropologists tell us that our basic attitudes towards right and wrong, freedom and bondage are wired into our brains at an early age.
Unfortunately, for Ms. Zubeir, Mr. Hassan came to America as a teenager. In Pakistan and across the Islamic world, it is quite common to kill a sister or a female spouse if for some reason she is not conforming to your concept of proper behavior.
Anthropologists call these murders “honor killings” and that is the kind of murder that it appears Mr. Hassan has perpetrated.
Human Rights Watch definition of honor killings is as follows:
Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce – even from an abusive husband…The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.
Honor killings are sanctioned by both custom and religion. In that demonstrably conservative Islamic state, Saudi Arabia, legally sanctioned public beheadings are approved punishment for homosexuality, apostasy, armed robbery, sodomy and illicit love affairs. In 2002 alone, 2 women and forty-five men were beheaded while in 2003; fifty-two men and 1 woman were beheaded.
In Pakistan, the birthplace of Mr. Hassan, honor killings have reached epidemic proportions. Between 1999 and 2004, 4,000 women in Pakistan died because of honor killings. In 2005 some sources suggest that ten thousand honor killings were committed in Pakistan. Sociologists explain that in a society where men view women as property, there will be honor killings. Surveys in Pakistan suggest that honor killing is supported by a wide cross section of the population, despite the protests of a few human rights organizations.
On July 23, 2008 the New York Post published an article titled “An American Honor Killing.” It described the murder by strangulation of 25-year-old Sandeela Kanwal by her father, Chaudry Rashid, because she wanted to divorce her husband who she had been forced to wed in an arranged marriage by her parents. Her father killed her to “avenge his honor.”
It would appear that Mr. Hassan killed or arranged for the murder of his wife because she had dishonored him. It is clear that he only acted the way he would have had he been back home. He paid no attention to lawyers or police and honorable man that he is; he has reported his own crime to the police. He was clearly acting with honorable intentions. The only problem was that his code of honor, is in murderous opposition to that of the average American, who believes that all men and women are created equal and that American honor means treating women as the masters of their own destiny.
This is something that Mr. Hassan clearly never believed in. It is hoped that the late Ms. Zubeir’s lawyer will insure that the courts will serve Mr. Hassan with the full force of the law.
Geoffrey Clarfield is an Anthropologist at large.
To comment on this essay, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this article and would like to read more by Geoffrey Clarfield, please click here.