Honor Killings Happening Closer To Home

Illustration for article titled Honor Killings Happening Closer To Home

"The media has drawn this image that Noor, RIP, was a saint, and my Dad was the Devil. Don't believe the reasoning behind this as ‘Too Westernized.'" That's the brother of Noor Almaleki, murdered by their father, on Facebook.


He continued — on a Facebook group devoted to her memory — "Nobody will understand what went on in this house to drive my dad to this level of insanity."

It's not clear what "reasoning" her brother would offer instead of "too Westernized." There is strong evidence that Noor's resistance to an arranged marriage in her parents' native Iraq and her insistence on living a life in Arizona separate from her parents' values and on her own terms, were what led to him brutally mowing her and a friend down in a restaurant parking lot. (The police also called it an "honor killing.")

All of that evidence is amassed in a Marie Claire feature on Noor's life, which also calls honor killings in America a "chilling new trend." The others:

In Texas, teen sisters Amina and Sarah Said were shot dead in 2008, allegedly by their father, because they had boyfriends. That same year in Georgia, 25-year-old Sandeela Kanwal was allegedly strangled by her father for wanting to leave an arranged marriage. Last year in New York, Aasiya Hassan, 37, was murdered in perhaps the most gruesome way imaginable: She was beheaded, allegedly 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.

It is interesting to see a case of a husband murdering a wife in a list of fathers killing their daughters. What makes all this different from the sadly frequent partner violence that ends in death, besides the language of culture sensitivity? In Noor's case, a struggle over the course of two years saw her trying to live an independent life despite her parents' wishes and, eventually, aggressive harassment. Her life ended not long after her father deliberately drove his car into her and a family friend in October of 2009.

Her father escaped to Mexico but was apprehended in London. According to Marie Claire's Abigail Pesta, he eventually told investigators,

...that in his culture, a daughter should not leave home, should not be too "Americanized." The detective reminded him that Noor was an adult and that, by law, she could live where she wanted. Later, Faleh equated Noor to a "small fire" that needed to be extinguished in order to keep the family home from burning down.

"For an Iraqi, honor is the most valuable thing." Later, he lamented, "No one messed up our life except Noor.... No one hates his daughter, but honor is precious...and we are a tribal society. I didn't kill someone off the street. I tried to give her a chance."


In other words, killing someone off the street would have counted as murder. Whereas giving Noor no chance at all was a family thing. Or, you know, a cultural one.

An American Honor Killing [Marie Claire]



While I appreciate some of the aims of this article, I also find them to be incredibly problematic, and quite frankly more harmful than helpful. It's articles like this that strongly reinforce orientalist and racist stereotypes about Arab/Middle Eastern or Muslim men. It is highly simplistic to say that Middle Eastern cultures contain a honor/shame complex, just as it is simplistic to say that African political systems are characterized by a "big man" syndrome or south Asia is overly consumed by caste concerns. Indeed, the creation and geographical bounding of such stereotypes has more to do with colonial forms of control and productions of knowledge than reality, and tells us more about ourselves, and how we construct notions of the savage "other" as a foil to our own "rational" selves. I am not saying that these crimes do not happen, or that notions of honor/shame don't play into actions, but what I would argue is that such crimes are just as prevalent in western societies, only we don't attach honor or shame to the motivations of the killers. We just call them crazy.

It is the constant reproduction of such stereotypes that forever paints the Middle Eastern or Muslim women as oppressed and the Middle Eastern or Muslim man as the oppressor. So please Jezebel readers, read this sort of tale and understand why it is being put forth, and what notions it is reinforcing. Be compassionate, but also be highly critical.