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July 8, 2010

An American Honor Killing

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the parking lot where noor almaleki was killed by her father

Noor Almaleki was walking across this lot last fall when her father ran her over.

Photo Credit: Brent Humphreys

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"I’m not a criminal. I didn’t kill someone randomly. I didn’t break into someone’s house. I didn’t steal,” Noor’s father protested to his wife in a November jailhouse phone call, recorded by the police. Suggesting that his wife get protestors to demonstrate at an Iraqi consulate, he added, “For an Iraqi, honor is the most valuable thing.” Later, he lamented, “No one messed up our life except Noor.... No one hates his daughter, but honor is precious...and we are a tribal society. I didn’t kill someone off the street. I tried to give her a chance.”

“Honestly, you rushed into it,” his wife countered. But later she agreed with her husband, telling him, “You are not a criminal. I know how good-hearted and compassionate you are.”

Faleh suggested that his wife look for a “loophole” for his defense: “You know, clans, tribalism, something like that.”

“I hope we can say you have a psychological problem,” she replied. “You have to tell them, ‘I’m suffering because of the war’ and stuff like that.”

As of press time, Faleh Almaleki was in jail awaiting a trial date, charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault, and leaving the scene of a serious-injury accident — charges to which he has pleaded “not guilty.” His wife and son Ali, as well as his cousin Jamil, faced possible charges for aiding a fugitive. (Faleh told police that Jamil had sent him money in Mexico, a claim Jamil denies.) Amal Khalaf was still recuperating from a fractured pelvis.

Noor’s brother Ali, in a Facebook discussion group about his sister, says, “The media has drawn this image that Noor, RIP, was a saint, and my Dad was the Devil. Don’t believe the reasoning behind this as ‘Too Westernized.’... Nobody will understand what went on in this house to drive my dad to this level of insanity.”

In fact, there are many aspects of Noor’s story that millions of immigrants in America would understand. The story of the next generation shedding the customs of the old country is part of the American experience. Rudabeh Shahbazi, an Iranian-American TV personality in Phoenix, knows this all too well. She grew up in the U.S. but spent summers in her father’s homeland of Iran. “It’s hard to know what’s appropriate in both worlds,” she says. “Are you too American, or not American enough?”

Noor’s MySpace page remains frozen in time. Beneath her portrait, there’s a frowning emoticon, next to the words “Mood: disappointed.” Her last update to the site came just five days before her father ran her down. Says her friend Nuha Serrac, an Arizona State University student, “I sincerely believe Noor would have forgiven her father. One of her most amazing characteristics was her kindness.”

Noor’s legacy lives on, via the Web.

Natasha Yousif, a student at Arizona State, is a member of Noor’s Facebook group, and was so moved by her story that she decided to get a small tattoo in her honor. I meet with Natasha before I leave Phoenix, and she lifts her blouse to show me a crescent moon and star on her upper abdomen, with Noor’s name in Arabic underneath.

“‘Noor’ means light in Arabic,” she tells me.


Abigail Pesta is the editor-at-large of Marie Claire.


Join Human Rights Watch and Marie Claire in a campaign to renew the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, which funds lifesaving shelters for women, but expired in 2008. Click here to send a letter to Congress.


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