The FBI removed all mention of the controversial term “honor killing” from the wanted poster of a double-murder suspect after FOXNews.com ran a story announcing the use of the term.
Yasser Abdel Said, wanted for the murder of his two daughters, has eluded authorities for almost a year. The bodies of the young women — Sarah Said, 17, and Amina Said, 18 — were discovered in the back of a taxicab in Irving, Texas, on New Year's Day.
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According to family members, Said felt he was compelled to kill his daughters because they had disgraced the family by dating non-Muslims and acting too "Western."
The girls’ great aunt, Gail Gartrell, has always called the case an “honor killing.” And for a few days — until last Friday — the FBI publicly agreed.
“The 17- and 18-year-old girls were dating American boys, which was contrary to their father's rules of not dating non-Muslim boys,” The FBI "wanted" poster read early last week. “Reportedly, the girls were murdered due to an 'Honor Killing.'”
Some Muslims have objected to the term "honor killing" because they say it attaches a religious motive to a crime, which could lead to discrimination against Muslims.
The FBI said Tuesday that it had deleted the term because the FBI never meant to attach a label to the case. Special agent Mark White, media coordinator in the bureau's Dallas office, told FOXNews.com that the FBI changed the wording “because the statement was not meant to indicate that the FBI was ‘labeling’ anything.
"The person who wrote it up did not see the misunderstanding that [the original wording] would create,” White said.
White added that the FBI should not be in the business of calling cases anything that is not described in law.
“It’s our job to find the fugitive. It’s not our job to label this case anything other than what it is, what it is from a criminal perspective,” he said, noting that there was no legal definition of an “honor killing” and that such a motive had not yet been proven in court.
“That will come out in the trial, and the jury can decide that,” White said.
White also addressed criticism that the FBI was willing to label “hate crimes,” where a racial motive is suspected, but not culturally motivated incidents such as "honor killings." He said the difference is that “hate crimes” are defined by law, whereas “honor killings” are not.
“It is inappropriate for us to create [a term] like that by labeling a case,” he said.
But Gartrell was outraged by the change and called White’s explanation semantics.
“It’s wrong," she said. "Everybody knows this is an honor killing, but even our own law enforcement and the FBI succumb to the pressure?
“In the end, it may be our own justice system that prevents these girls from getting justice,” she said, pointing out that there have still been no leads after almost a year.
Mustafaa Carroll, the executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Dallas, said he agrees with the FBI’s decision.
“I’m glad they took it out until they find the guy, find the motive, and prove it in court,” Carroll said. “I’m happy in that this works against some of the stereotypes out there. … I appreciate [the FBI] reconsidering.”
He said that CAIR often shared concerns with the FBI, but that he had not talked with them about this particular case. White confirmed that, saying that he had received no complaints about the poster and that they made the change on their own initiative after seeing media reports about their poster.
Gartrell said she thought the FBI’s move was based on a desire to be politically correct. Dr. Phyllis Chesler, author of several books including "The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom," agreed that this was a plausible motive. And if cases like this continue to happen, she said, policy will have to change.
“They’re lucky they haven’t had to deal with many honor killings compared to places like the United Kingdom,” she said. “But if and when America begins to see more honor killings, maybe then the FBI will realize the importance of treating these cases differently.”