July 14, 2010

"Nobody will understand what went on in this house to drive my dad to this level of insanity"

noor almaleki.jpglet me take a shot

An article in Marie Claire making the rounds via Jezebel and wherever binary political judgments are favored.

This is a version:

Around the sprawling, sunbaked campus of Dysart High School in El Mirage, Arizona, not many people knew about the double life of a pretty, dark-haired girl...

At school, she was known as a fun-loving student who made friends easily. She played tennis in a T-shirt emblazoned with the school mascot -- a baby demon in a diaper. She liked to watch Heroes and eat at Chipotle. Sometimes she talked in a goofy Keanu Reeves voice. She wore dark jeans, jeweled sandals, and flowy tops from Forever 21. She texted constantly and called her friends "dude." In other words, she was an American girl much like any other. 

But at home, [she] inhabited a darker world.

I'll fast forward to the end: her father runs her and her 43 year old female friend over with his Jeep in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant.  He then swings the Jeep around for a second pass.  When he's done, he flees to Mexico.

No need to speculate on Mexican illegals; lesbians, drugs or mental illness, or other go-to media explanations.  In this case, everything you need is right there in the title:  An American Honor Killing.  Yeah, they're Iraqi.


The fact that the Almaleki family is from Iraq is integral, by which I mean incidental, to the story.

But honor killings in America are a chilling new trend. In Texas, teen sisters Amina and Sarah Said were shot dead in 2008, allegedly by their father because they had boyfriends...25-year-old Sandeela Kanwal was allegedly strangled by her father for wanting to leave an arranged marriage... Aasiya Hassan, 37, was murdered in perhaps the most gruesome way imaginable: She was beheaded [by her husband]... for reportedly seeking a divorce. And this past spring, 19-year-old Tawana Thompson's husband gunned her down in Illinois, reportedly following arguments about her American-style clothing.

None of the people in that paragraph are Iraqi.  The Saids are Egyptian.  Kanwal and Hassan are Pakistani; Thompson's husband was black and a convicted drug dealer who killed her, their 7 month old and two nieces, 3 and 16, apparently on the advice of voices in his head.  If you can spot what they have in common, call me.

"They're all Muslim, dummy."  Oh, the religion takes precedence over everything.  So that's why Iraq and Iran get along so well.


No, I didn't turn Left at the internet, I am not gunning for a spot in The Chronicle of Higher Education [sic.]   Of course it has to do with their being Muslim, but not in the easy way the article wants it to be.

First Law of Media: offer the reader the opportunity to debate the conclusions, but force him to accept the form of the argument. 

You get to argue about whether Islam allows honor killings: "religion of peace!"  "No, religion of hatred!" or whether this is generalizable to all Muslims, as long as you accept their premise that she did something that deeply offended her father and Islam.  Put it in the article with an apologetic cop-out:

Although honor crimes aren't officially sanctioned by Islam, they're associated with predominantly Muslim countries
They're not associated with Muslim countries, that's what they're called when they are associated with Muslim countries.  When they're associated with rich black guys, they're  called OJ Simpson.


An aside: if you're going to argue about something solely on the basis of your personal prejudices, at least pick the side whose consequences support your worldview.  So a practical reason why you don't want this to have anything to do with religion is that it is very easy to make the explanation for a murder become the excuse for it as well.

Imagine that by calling this an honor killing, you make it impossible to give him the death penalty because the defense can argue that this is really an anti-Muslim political show trial. I realize that sounds far fetched. 

[Arizona Republic:] "An open process provides some level of assurance that there is no appearance that a Christian is seeking to execute a Muslim for racial, political, religious or cultural beliefs," (public defender) Little wrote, referring to [prosecutor] Andrew Thomas' Christian faith.

The debate stopped there. On Tuesday, [prosecutors] filed a motion indicating prosecutors would not seek the death penalty... a spokesman for the County Attorney's Office declined to comment on the decision.
In law, like in anything else, you get what you pay for.


The problem with the "Muslim honor killing because she turned her back on traditional values and wanted to be more American" logic is that she was already an American, Americanized, eyeballs deep in Americana well before he killed her.  Nothing in the article suggests that her life was ruled by a strict Muslim code.  The father recently became an American citizen; the kids went to regular schools, texted, MySpaced, listened to Oasis (why?), worked at Chipotle.  This is her brother's profile on Facebook:

noor maleki's brother.jpg

I guess it's possible an Iraqi "fundamentalist" could wear U.S. Army camo pants because  Sharia law doesn't preclude irony, but a more likely reason is he isn't a fundamentalist.  Just guessing.

But the article insists that this is about straying from her expected Muslim path.  e.g., in her senior year, 2007:

Noor would hint at threats from her father to send her back to Iraq (where, he said, she would "learn to be a good girl"), but no one really took him seriously.... Friends say her father had had enough of Noor asserting her independence and talking to American guys, so he and her mother tricked her into traveling to Iraq, telling her they needed to visit a sick relative. Only upon arrival did Noor learn of the real reason for their trip: to marry her off.

This is a typical paragraph from the article, all which try to paint the picture that her Dad wanted her to be a certain Muslim way, she didn't, and so he killed her. 

...by May 2008, the family was in full crisis. Noor's father had found a photo of her with male friends on MySpace, and he didn't like it. The situation became so heated that she started talking about moving out. One day, when Noor took the family car to visit a cousin, her father reported it stolen. When she learned what he'd done, she left the car on the side of the road and walked away. According to police records, her father wanted to file criminal charges against Noor to "teach her a lesson," telling police she was "disgracing the family" and that it didn't "look good" that she was moving out. Eventually she did move in with a friend. But after repeated run-ins with her father, and after learning that her mother was casting "spells" on her host family, she gave up and returned home.

...And in the spring of 2009, Noor got her own apartment... The next few weeks brought happier times... To pay the rent, Noor worked at a local Chipotle; she'd also begun attending Glendale Community College.

When Noor's parents learned where she was working, they started showing up and insisting that she move back home, so she got a job... as a hostess at Applebee's. They turned up there too, leaving her no choice but to abandon that job as well. With no source of income, she was forced to return home once more.

There is nothing in those paragraphs that would explain what would enrage the father so much as to want to kill her; or, put differently, all of these things already happened and he didn't try to murder her.  What here requires him to kill her?


If you need cognitive anchor for interpreting this article, here it is: people routinely scrutinize every word of a New York or Washington Times article for bias, yet an article in Marie Claire is taken to be the whole story.


The moment you say,  "wait a second, this is for Marie Claire readers?" you start to see the sentences differently.  They are phrased in such matter of fact, Marie Claire simplicity that you miss that they are asinine.  You buy into them immediately.

The final blowup came that summer. In June 2009, longtime family friend Amal Khalaf awoke to find Noor sleeping in the family's van, parked in the driveway. Noor said her parents had hit her; Amal, a mother of four, took her in. To Noor's family, this was the ultimate indignity: Their daughter had chosen to live with another Iraqi family instead of her own.

Why would living with another Iraqi family be the ultimate indignity?  I'm not even clear why it would be an indignity at all, but the ultimate?  Worse than moving in with a Jewish boyfriend?  But on passive reading "living with a different Iraqi family" somehow makes sense and you stop there.  You don't think to ask if there was not something else that was enraging about it, you go along with the Marie Claire, "she offended her father and his values of Islam" theory.    And there was something else but the article barely mentions it, let alone explores the intricacies of it.  6 pages, 5000 words long, and this is all they say:

It's unclear whether a wedding actually took place. Some friends say she only attended an engagement ceremony; others tell me they believe she did get married, albeit against her will. Still others say Noor was given a choice of five brothers, but her parents didn't like the one she chose, so the wedding was called off. Noor's parents, in police documents, maintain that a marriage did, in fact, occur. Whatever the case, Noor returned to Arizona a few months later without a husband, and moved back in with her family. She missed her younger siblings, friends say, and her parents needed help caring for them.

Why didn't he kill her when she when she first started talking to boys?  Why didn't he kill her when she started wearing American clothes at age 4?

The answer is: they lived in America for 16 years, where that behavior doesn't shame him.  He may not like it, but there is no one who would look down on him here.  Shame is exposure, and as long as all these behaviors stay in Phoenix, no one knows what "s/he's" done.

It all fell apart because he sent her to Iraq. When he committed to the all-in, hail mary plan of sending his daughter to Iraq to get married, where she either rejected five men as unsuitable(!) or worse, got married to one of them and then went on cavorting with men in the U.S. (!!!!)...

... never mind what Allah thinks, now everyone in Iraq knows what kind of a man he is.


The article doesn't mention any such communications; it barely references the marriage.  The article wants it to be about a woman finding herself, and struggling to separate from her father.  In other words, it's a domestic abuse story that they package as a honor killing story.

If you are an immigrant or of immigrant parents then you'll know:  that man was in daily communication with people in Iraq thanks to the stupid internet and mobiles. He was better connected to some Iraqi 3rd uncle than he was to his next door neighbor.  And, especially after his daughter returned, those communications were torture.  Explaining what went wrong with his daughter, why she wasn't being honorable, why he couldn't control her, how it was his wife's fault, his sons' faults-- in short, constantly on the defensive about how he couldn't keep his house in order, constantly subject to the criticisms and patronizing responses of an extended family that is so much a part of his identity and so little a part of  hers.

Not only was he ashamed, but worse, she was not ashamed at all.  She didn't even care what they thought!   How could this animal not understand that how relatives In Iraq she never met viewed her was far more important than any internal sense of self-worth?

And more practically, how do you explain to her "husband" and his family, back in Iraq, that his daughter is an adulteress?

That's got to be frustrating.


This is what her brother wrote on Facebook:

What grabs the most attention from this situation is the fact that this is a Middle Eastern family. This happens quite often in the U.S., parent(s) hurting or killing their child(ren). The "Freedom of Speech" given to you guys, have made you all senseless, arrogant, mindless pricks. Everyone just talks, and has NO IDEA what they're talking about. The media, has drawn this image that Noor, RIP, was a saint, and my Dad as the Devil. Don't believe the reasoning behind this as "Too Westernized." As I have said before, me, my two younger sisters, and my three younger brothers are all "Westernized." Goes with the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." One of the biggest problems with society is that they believe whatever they see on the tube. "Too Westernized" has absolutely nothing to do with this. I'm not advocating what my Dad has done.
Another thing people don't understand is the fine line between Islam and Iraqi Culture. Iraqi Culture is misconstrued and manipulated form of Islam, that is strict on every level, and much harsh on women. 
This wasn't an "Honor Killing." Media just pulls fiction out their asses. This wasn't planned.
You guys be careful what you say, that's my father you're talking about. And my father is a loving man. He loved Noor. That may raise eyebrows, and you guys are asking "Why would he do this if he loved her?" He lost his mind. Nobody deserves this, and this never should've happened. And nobody will ever understand the kind of pain my family is enduring.
As I said, the only reason this situation grabbed attention for so long is because where my family comes from. Nobody will understand what went on in this house to drive my dad to this level of insanity. You guys keep talking, your words mean nothing to me. I know what happened, I know the truth.
I lost MY sister, and am losing MY father.


Go back to the asinine statement of living with another Iraqi family being the ultimate indignity.  In fact, that statement was dead on though I doubt intentionally so.  If she had moved in with a Jewish boyfriend he would have been horrified and enraged, but moving in with the Iraqi Muslim family was immediately worse because-- and this is the entire point-- now everyone in Iraq is going to know.  And since those people are his whole identity, he's screwed.

This is why discussions about honor killings get mired in a nonsensical theory debate about whether Islam promotes this.  Even if it did, the part that requires the violence isn't some internal sense of right and wrong or "against Islam", but exposure to other human beings who will look down on them.  

He doesn't care that she's Americanized or even an adulteress.  He cares that people are laughing at him. 

This is narcissism, and here I do not hesitate to spell it out explicitly.  The obvious is that he sees her only as an extension of himself, only as she impacts his own existence and not as an independent entity.  He's not better than her, she's just not a fully formed character, she's an extra.   But the more telling and scary part of the narcissism is that he thinks that by killing her, he has not merely stopped her but fixed things, erased his shame, as if it never happened.  As if the people back in Iraq aren't still snickering, as if human nature and reality are subservient to the magical thinking of a man who believes a Jeep can alter what God already saw.


Two constants in stories about honor killings. First, some ridiculous multicultural idiocy that honor is extremely important in such societies.  The word is incorrectly used, because it means different things to West and East.  Honor in a western sense something earned (even by dynasty), like a hero might have.  It is internal, and while honor can be tarnished it had to be acquired first.  No one would say that the Chrysler mechanic downtown is honorable, you'd just say he's a good guy, etc.  But the word "honor" as it applies in "honor killings" denotes an absence of shame.  Honor in that sense is a baseline, under constant threat of exposure and entirely at the discretion of everyone else.

Partly this is a function of education, partly of culture, partly of religion, but inevitably the result of shaky identity that draws its strength in the way other people see them.

The second constant is the shocked surprise that the mother or brothers helped the man get away with it (or commit it.)  Why would that be surprising?  If his family didn't understand, if his family would be shocked and horrified and appalled at what kind of a man would murder his own daughter, then he wouldn't be doing it.  Again, he's not doing it out of internal sense of justice, he's doing it to alter how he is viewed by others around him.


I am aware of the obvious links between honor killings and Islam and I am aware of the various arguments concerning the extent to which this is cultural, tribal, religious or educational.  I don't care.  Practically, when you link honor killings with Islam, you make it impossible to stop them because either a) people are thrilled at the chance to attack Islam, which allows the rebuttal, "oh, you just hate Islam!" or b) people are too nervous to attack Islam, so it goes unchecked.

The first step in preventing these murders isn't targeting the potential murderer, but everyone else around him.  You don't debate the cultural aspects or the nuances of Muslim theology because those are red herrings, and treading carefully on cultural sensitivities makes it that much easier for the son of a potential honor killer to say, "I don't condone it, but I understand, and you don't, you're not Muslim."

Change the form of the argument.  You have to make the narcissistic honor killing a thing of even greater shame; you have to speak their language.   Don't say it's wrong-- they don't care if it's wrong-- don't say it's against Allah, don't say it's tribal, don't say it's a backwards practice, none of those things matter.  Say it is a sign of weakness and impotence.  Keep repeating that they aren't signals that you were strong and steadfast in your faith, but signals that you so petty and unfocused such that you had to resort to this.  Remind them how stupid it is to think that people are now going to forget that you're the father of a harlot and you're a cowardly murderer.  No Iraqi will send his sons over to the U.S. to marry your other daughter, and for sure no American will.  Keep saying that, not so the potential murderer hears it but so the kids hear it.

You might think that the American internet is the obvious place to do this, but it's not.  Consider Metafilter, the online forum where no topic is too controversial for an opinion grounded in either reason or expletives.    What did the community that fears neither God nor the NSA have to say about this case?

This post was deleted for the following reason: This is awful, but we've had posts discussing honor killings in general and specific incidents before and I'm not sure what good is going to come from this one.-- [moderator]

That's why it's going to happen again.


Another Honor Killing, this time in Iraq.