‘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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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • Martha

    The press seems to be confused about who is who here; there’s a bit of a difference between your “room-mate” and your “boyfriend’s mother”, and if the young woman is living with her boyfriend and his mother, does that mean that the couple are living together without being married?

    Not to make excuses for running over his daughter, if that is what he did – but was it a deliberate act on his part, was it all part of a row about “I want you to come home right now” and she ran in front of the car to get away, what went on?

    All we have is “accused” and until the women who were injured and the man himself give their accounts of what happened, we won’t know if it was an ‘honor killing’, a deliberate attempt to maim, an accident, or what went on.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    It is important for reporters to note how “honor killing” is supported in Islam — under Islamic/Sharia Law, parents who kill their own children are not prosecuted for murder.

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  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Perpetua, can you give an authority for that claim? Indeed, that’s an issue with all stories of this type: exactly who is the religious authority that is giving these reporters their version of what the law is.

  • Peggy

    I notice that the old chestnut “no compulsion in religion” is being trotted out once more. Yawn.

    One verse is supposed to contradict the entirety of the shame based culture that Islam fosters? I think not.

    What exactly does compulsion in that verse mean? It appears to means whatever the Islamic apologist needs it to mean given the context.

    So on the one hand we have a verse which is conveniently vague enough to serve in the defense of Islam in any situation and on the other hand the entire history and theology of Islam which equates such things as the state and religion and public order with such things as (the Islamic concepts of) purity, honor, observance of Sharia. You have the theology behind the veil which equates the hijab with personal purity and the love of God ie good girls who love God wear it. What does that make girls who “choose” to wear it?

    The fact is that there is so much pressure in the actual practice of even normative and historical Islam, that the verse is a meaningless contradiction unless it is interpreted strictly to mean that a person can’t be forced to convert to Islam. Once a person is a Muslim, it becomes an entirely different story.

    Of course, Islam has a sneaky way of forcing conversions too. Mohammed would give pagans the ultimatum to convert of be slaughtered. Sharia was set up to heavily favor Muslim and to penalize non-Muslims “for their protection.” Jewish and Christian communities were decimated by such practices. Who doesn’t want to be a part of the higher class with all the advantages if all you have to do is say the shahada?

    In short, even in this Islam makes a travesty of the concept of choice in every way and empties the verse let there be no compulsion in religion of any meaning it might have had.

    I realize that there probably isnt the time to give all the background that I just gave in a typical news story but the lie of the verse does need to be exposed somewhere somehow.

  • Jerry

    Clearly Perpetua disagreed with Terry because Terry correctly wrote:

    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.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    According to the famous manual of Islamic law certified by Al-Azhar as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, Umdat as-Salik wa ‘Uddat an-Nasik (Reliance of the Traveller and Tools of the Worshipper):

    “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.” However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Yes, that is one important document. That’s important. But that is not all of Islam, either.

    This is why the press can’t run FROM questions about the father’s religious views and practices, out of fear of offending Islam. You have to find out what FORM of Islam he thinks he is practicing, in order to keep all of Islam from being blamed in the confusion caused by the silence.

    It’s journalism. Readers need some facts.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    Hi Terry,

    It is one branch of Sunni Islam, but it covers 26% of the world’s Muslims. Do you know which branches of Islam disagree with this, if any?

  • Dave

    We may be approaching this from the wrong direction. We know there are local, gendered customs such as wearing burqas or female “circumcision” that are attributed to Islam by those who practice them but are not in fact required by Islamic writings. Such may be the case with the arranged marriage/honor killing nexus in Iraq. We should not be too quick to attribute to Islam a custom that may predate it in tribal lore — let alone demand that the press elaborate upon the attribution. Rather than the press not getting religion, perhaps it is we who are not getting anthropology.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org Fatemeh

    I want to bring up an issue that I don’t believe anyone else has breached. There are plenty of Iraqi Christians in the diaspora–I worry that this article and the article it’s based on are both making assumptions about this family’s faith. Their names are Arab, but not specifically Muslim, and I think there’s a very good chance that they could be Iraqi Christians.

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