Honor killings in America: in Marie Claire, of all places

I was amazed to see a cover story about honor killings in America in Marie Claire. I hardly ever look at the magazines at my hairdresser’s,  but this jumped out at me so I read the article, An American Honor Killing by Abigail Pesta. Pesta is an editor of the magazine, and this was clearly a big investigative project.

It’s the story of Noor Almaleki; Ann has reported on the case in several posts. It begins:

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 named Noor Almaleki.

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, Noor inhabited a darker world. She lived a life of subservience, often left to care for her six younger siblings. Noor’s father, 49-year-old Faleh Almaleki, was strict and domineering, deeming it inappropriate for her to socialize with guys, wear jeans, or post snapshots of herself on MySpace. Her responsibility was to follow orders, or to risk a beating. From her father’s perspective, the only time Noor’s life would ever change would be when she married a man he selected for her — back in his homeland of Iraq. Noor, however, had a different vision for herself. Having lived in the U.S. for 16 years, she held dreams of becoming a teacher, of marrying a man she loved, and, most importantly, of making her own choices.

So her father ran over her with his SUV crushing her face and her spine. She died of her injuries.

The fact that this was an honor killing was minimized in the media that reported on the crime. But the Marie Claire article confronts it.

Local police characterized the incident as an attempted “honor killing” — the murder of a woman for behaving in a way that “shames” her family. It’s a practice with deep, tenacious roots in the tribal traditions of the Middle East and Asia. (The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women die annually from such crimes.) Women are stoned, stabbed, and, in the recent case of a teenage girl in Turkey, tied up and buried alive. 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. 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.

Amazingly, honor killings in the U.S. have been largely ignored by the national media. That’s because these incidents are typically dismissed as “domestic” in nature — a class of crime that rarely makes the headlines. Since the murderer is a member of the woman’s family, there’s no extended investigation to capture the public’s attention. Also, the family of the perpetrator rarely advocates for the victim, due to either fear or a belief that the woman got what she deserved. “From the family’s point of view, if the goal is to end rumors about their female relative, the last thing they want is to have the press talk about the case,” says Rana Husseini, a human-rights activist and author of Murder in the Name of Honor. Still, the lack of media coverage or public outcry cannot erase the evidence: Honor killings have washed up on our shores.

They don’t emphasize the Muslim aspect, but they don’t completely ignore it. Their main emphasis is the crushing of a girl who wanted to become American, and the reaction of her friends and acquaintances. One friend established a Facebook group that now has almost 4,000 members, in Noor’s memory and to discuss honor killings.

My surprise at this article might be unfair — since I’ve never read Marie Claire, for all I know they might cover significant issues regularly. But to get this kind of mainstream coverage for the horrifying issue of honor killings is a big step. This is the kind of thing feminists should be covering, and I’m glad they’re starting to.

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