To mark the two-year death anniversary of Du'a Khalil Aswad on April 7th (http://www.redroom.com/blog/ellen-r-sheeley/the-dishonor-killing-dua-khalil-aswad), I recently re-read Norma Khouri's Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan (a.k.a. Forbidden Love in some countries). I'd first read it in 2004, before working and living in Jordan. In the meantime, it had become the subject of controversy (http://www.redroom.com/blog/ellen-r-sheeley/literary-hoaxes-and-memoirs-please-weigh-in) and taken off the market by its publisher.
The book was sold as a memoir about the dishonor killing of a young Muslim woman named Dalia, supposedly Norma's best friend from childhood. The back cover of my book is clearly marked fiction, though there is copy that refers to the account as being true. As the story goes, Dalia had fallen in love with a Jordanian Christian man named Michael, with whom she'd met surreptitiously for dates, but not had intercourse or anything close. When Dalia's father and brothers became suspicious, they allegedly fatally stabbed her 12 times.
Controversy arose about this international best seller when activists in Jordan noted and documented obvious inaccuracies in the book. In my first reading, I caught only a few of them, all very minor in my opinion. In my recent re-reading, I caught many more of them, still quite minor in the scheme of things. For example, the countries that border Jordan, according to Norma, are clearly wrong. Norma mentions women going to the neighborhood mosque for prayers, but mosques in Jordan are for men only. Dalia may or may not have existed. Perhaps she's a composite. But the story at the core of Norma's book rings painfully true. Dishonor killings do occur in Jordan, more or less as Norma describes in her book.
Coincidentally, as I was re-reading Honor Lost, there were two more dishonor killings in Jordan. On April 5th, a 21-year-old woman was stabbed in the torso 10 times by her 18-year-old brother (http://www.jordantimes.com/?news=15693). Her autopsy revealed she was not sexually active.
About a week later, the Associated Press reported that a 28-year-old married woman--five months pregnant with a male fetus--was stabbed 35 times in the face, neck, abdomen, and back, slashed across her neck, then hacked into pieces with a meat cleaver (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/12/jordan-honor-killing-man-_n_185977.html?show_comment_id=23004376#comment_23004376). The killer was her 24-year-old brother. He'd heard she was going out with men other than her husband. Rumor alone is enough to get a woman killed.
Given such realities on the ground, the controversy over the possibly fictional dishonor killing of Dalia seems like a distraction. Norma's account of how she was killed is the way these crimes actually do go down in Jordan, time after time. It seems petty to quibble about the facts that Kuwait doesn't border Jordan, the Jordan River doesn't flow through Amman, and women can't go to mosques when the heart of the story, the extrajudicial slaughter of females, is true. Norma's book was a missed opportunity for activists to raise international awareness of these heinous crimes, to fund raise, and to begin to take concrete actions to better the situation on the ground.
This is not to smear all the activists in Jordan. Some are doing good work, quietly, day in and day out, with their heads down and noses to the grindstone. But unfortunately there isn't a cohesive, coordinated women's movement in Jordan. It's a tragedy all around. I don't think men are suddenly going to offer greater respect and rights to women. Women are going to have to ask for them. . .and take them, if necessary.
Causes Ellen Sheeley Supports
For All Women Foundation