'Traditional Iraqi values' in the news

ht_almaleki_091022_mnQuite a few newspapers and television stations across America have posted various versions of the following short Associated Press story on their websites. For the sake of clarity, here's the whole report:

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Police in a Phoenix suburb are looking for a father suspected of running down his daughter because she was becoming too "Westernized" and was not living according to their traditional Iraqi values.

Police say 48-year-old Faleh Hassan Almaleki of Glendale allegedly ran his daughter down Tuesday at an Arizona Department of Economic Security parking lot in Peoria.

The victim, 20-year-old Noor Faleh Almaleki of Surprise, remains hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. A second woman, 43-year-old Amal Edan Khalaf, also of Surprise, suffered non-life threatening injuries. Police say the women are roommates.

What's the first thing that leaps into your mind when you read that? The question that hit me was this one: What, pray tell, are "traditional Iraqi" values? Believe it or not, the early coverage from the Arizona Republic also tap-danced around that issue.

As you can see, the AP report does not even raise the issue of whether this incident is linked to Islam. Surely someone asked if the father is part of the local Sunni or Shiite community? And what about the other victim. Note the ages. What is going on here? Might this have been an attempt at an "honor killing"?

Well, it seems that journalists are asking some of these questions over at ABC News and they may be catching flak for doing so.

Here's a link to the story. Now, when you move your mouse over the URL, or open it in a browser, look at the original title for this news story. The URL says it right up front:


And it appears, in my browsers, that the "tab" headline at the top of the page still says this: "Arizona Police Hunt for Muslim Father Who Ran Over 'Westernized' Daughter."

But when you open up the story, the headline says this: "Arizona Police Hunt for Dad Accused of Running Over Daughter -- Police Say Faleh Hassan Almaleki Believed His Daughter Was 'Too Westernized.' " That's an eye-opening piece of editing, to say the least. Meanwhile, the top of this story by Sarah Netter contains a crucial new detail:

Police in Arizona are hunting for an Iraqi-American father who they say ran over his daughter with his car to punish her for becoming "too Westernized" and rebuffing the conservative ways he valued.

Faleh Hassan Almaleki, 48, was last seen fleeing the parking lot of the Department of Economic Development in Peoria, Ariz., Tuesday after hitting his 20-year-old daughter and her boyfriend's mother with his Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Noor Faleh Almaleki is in "life-threatening condition," Peoria Police spokesman Mike Tellef told ABCNews.com today. Her boyfriend's mother, 43-year-old Amal Edan Khalaf, is also still hospitalized, but with non-life threatening injuries. "It occured because her not following traditional family values. We've been told that by everybody," Tellef said. "He felt she was becoming too westernized and he didn't like that."

So, did this take place because the daughter was dating the wrong kind of Muslim? Or was she dating a young man from a family that was from the same branch of Islam, but was practicing a more modernized, pro-Western form of the faith? It is also possible, but the odds would be against this, that the boyfriend's family had converted to another faith.

However, ABC has another detail that clearly points toward an "honor killing" theme.

Noor Almaleki had backed out of an arranged marriage about a year ago, police learned, and had been living with Khalaf and her son in a nearby town. Tellef said the young woman dressed in American clothing and was wearing typical Western attire when she was struck.

said_sisters_1To the newsroom's credit, ABC directly addresses the subject of "honor killings," including a candid source that shows why reporters really need to be careful. Once again, there is no one, all-powerful Islamic authority on this kind of topic, no dogma that applies to all Muslims. But is there any way to cover this without discussing what SOME Muslims believe, while others disagree? No way.

Thus, we read:

Ibrahim Ramey, human and civil rights director for the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, told ABCNews.com that whenever this type of crime involves a Muslim it can serve to elevate the fears of people who may already harbor misconceptions about Islam.

"It's reprehensible," he said of honor killings. "It's wrong."

Ramey pointed out that a verse in the Koran specifically states that there is no compulsion in religion, meaning that people can not be compelled or coerced into being Muslim or adhering to a certain set of rules.

Yes, the ABC News report links this to the on-going coverage of Rifqa Bary, a 17-year-old convert to Christianity who fled her home in Ohio, believing that her life was in danger because her new faith would bring dishonor on her parents. Then there was that 2008 case in Texas, involving the deaths of Amina and Sarah Said of Lewisville, Texas (second photo).

If anything, the ABC News report is unbalanced because of its lack of authoritative voices that can explain that "honor killings" are real, if rare, and the cultural and religious circumstances that produce them (the rejection of arranged marriages being a common theme). Still, the story at least names the issue and discusses it in a sensitive manner.

In far too many reports, readers were left to ponder the content of the phrase "traditional Iraqi" values and whether that means what they probably thought that it means.

Photos: Faleh Hassan Almaleki, in a photo released by the Peoria Police Department. Amina and Sarah Said of Lewisville, Texas.

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