It is a consummate and compelling love story that takes place in the conservative societal arena of modern-day Amman, Jordan. A couple’s forbidden love (she is Muslim, he is Christian, there is hand holding and two kisses, during secret, albeit chaperoned meetings) is discovered by the girl’s family. The young woman’s actions brings dishonor to her entire family. The only way to remove the stain is to kill her. Her father and brother stab her repeatedly, allowing her to bleed out before an ambulance is called.
Published in 2003, Norma Khouri’s Honor Lost was released at the right time for such a tale. The war in Iraq was on and all eyes were suddenly turned to the Middle East—especially Western eyes—hungry for such an inner glimpse into the “realities” of the region. However, an 18-month investigation revealed that what originally sold as a memoir recounting her childhood friend’s murder at the hands of the girl’s father actually was fiction. Born in Jordan, Khouri moved to Chicago with her family at age three, later married and birthed two children, and in 1999 fled for Australia with the FBI reportedly at her heels regarding a series of possible criminal property transactions.
Contrasting with Khouri’s fiction is the large body of investigative work on the issues surrounding honor killings done by Jordan Times journalist and human rights activist Rana Husseini over the past 15 years. Ironically, a parting note in Khour’s book heralded Husseini as an important force who helped to shed light on Jordan’s honor killings and reprinted—without her permission—her e-mail address. Receiving e-mails from concerned people worldwide, Husseini read Khouri’s book and immediately flagged numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods. Taking her findings to the Jordanian National Committee for Women (JNCW), Husseini was asked to spearhead a page-by-page investigation which eventually uncovered dozens of serious errors with Khouri’s book. These revelations came after Honor Lost sold over 200,000 copies in Australia alone and had been translated into 17 languages.
The JNCW sent the results of the investigation to Khouri’s publishers in the US and Australia. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Random House Australia replied: “Following our discussions with Norma we are satisfied that, while some names and places have been changed to protect individuals’ identities, [Khouri’s book] is a true and honest account of her experiences.” Husseini’s own fact-based book (Murder in the Name of Honor, to be released in the US later this year), submitted to the same publishers before Khouri completed her fictional memoir, was flatly rejected.
Her very first article about an honor killing appeared on October 6, 1994, in which Husseini told the story of a young 16 year-old murdered by her older brother. She had been raped and impregnated by a younger brother, then forced to marry a man who divorced her six months later. When she was sent home, her brother tied her to a chair in the family kitchen and stabbed her repeatedly, according to a cultural tradition that says blood must be shed in order to cleanse the family name.
Investigating the murder, Husseini interviewed the girl’s uncles—the actual plotters of the murder—who claimed that the girl had seduced her brother. When questioned as to why the girl would have done such a thing, the uncles attacked Husseini’s Western attire, her college education in America, and accused her of clouding the issue with her Western beliefs. That didn’t stop Husseini. Disturbed by the honor killings, their exceptionally violent nature, and their underlying stories, and incensed to learn that the killers were consistently given lenient sentences, if any at all, and the fact that women who survived honor-related attacks were put in Jordan’s Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center—a prison—for their protection, she turned her focus to Jordan’s judicial system.
In Jordan, a country of approximately six million people with a relatively low murder rate, one-third of all homicides are perpetrated on females in order to cleanse a family’s honor. According to the United Nations, every year 5,000 women—13 per day—are killed for this reason around the world.