We don't know why Faleh Hassan Almaleki came to this country in the mid-1990s, and it's unlikely he'll be able to tell us anytime soon. He's in jail in Maricopa County, Ariz., at this writing, in lieu of a $5 million cash bond. It hardly seems far-fetched, however, to suppose he emigrated from his native Iraq for the same reason immigrants typically seek these shores: America promises opportunity and freedom.
But one wonders if he truly knew the meaning of the words.
Almaleki is the 48-year-old Glendale, Ariz., man who stands accused of using his Jeep Cherokee to run down his 20-year-old daughter, Noor, and another woman, Amal Edan Khalaf. Khalaf, said to be the mother of Noor's boyfriend, is expected to survive the Oct. 20 attack in the parking lot of a state government building. Noor was less fortunate. She died last Monday.
About her, we know only a few things: She had a page on Facebook and another on MySpace. She was interested in modeling. And at some point she either went to Iraq and got married -- or went there and rejected the suitor her family had arranged for her. Police are still trying to determine which of those stories, both in circulation, is true. Either way, she returned to the States, where she moved in with her boyfriend and his mother.
Something else we know: Almaleki felt his Facebook-using, husband-rejecting daughter had become too "westernized." His son, Peter-Ali, told a local TV news station that tensions ran high between father and daughter. Noor, he said, went "out of her way" to disrespect their conservative Muslim father.
And where Almaleki comes from, it is standard practice that the daughter who disrespects or brings shame upon her family is subject to what they call an honor killing. Repeating for emphasis: Almaleki is alleged to have run down two defenseless women as a matter of honor. While you absorb that, let me tell you a few things I believe:
I believe that in most cases, I have no right to judge your culture by the standards of mine.
I believe what seems exotic to me might be enlightened to you.
I believe no culture has a monopoly on morality.
But I also believe you don't run down your daughter because she has a page on Facebook and won't marry the guy you choose.
That is not honor. It is, in fact, the opposite -- an act of appalling cowardice suggestive not simply of religious extremism, but of a people in fear of the sexuality and independence of women. It tells you something about a culture's lack of faith in its own mores any time it feels compelled to use violence to enforce those mores upon its people. And it tells you something about Almaleki's "honor" that he bolted like a scared rabbit after allegedly running the women down. It took more than a week for authorities to capture him.
The U.N. Population Fund estimates that more than 5,000 women a year die in "honor" killings for such "crimes" as speaking to unrelated men or being raped. Take it as brutal evidence of the way half the human race continues to oppress the other half.
It is disgraceful that such a thing happens anywhere, but it is especially galling that it has happened here. Not just because this is home soil and such things are alien to most of us, but because it suggests, poignantly, that Faleh Hassan Almaleki did not truly understand the vastness of the hope that brings immigrants like him here. If America promised him freedom and opportunity to remake his life as he saw fit, he was apparently too short-sighted and concretized in old ways to see the obvious corollary.
It promised his daughter the same.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.