The Victims of 'Victimhood'

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Norma
Khouri’s international best-seller Honor
Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan
is an indictment
of “honor killings”: the practice of killing women whose behavior
has shamed the family. Khouri’s lifelong friend Dalia, a Jordanian
Muslim, was murdered in Amman by her father for falling in love
with a Christian.

Fearing
for her life, Khouri fled Jordan to asylum in Australia. The sensation
caused by the book is flawed by one thing — the story may
be a lie from beginning to end.

An
18-month investigation of Honor Lost (titled Forbidden
Love outside the U.S.) was conducted by the Australian Sydney
Morning Herald and Amal Sabbagh — the Secretary-General of the
Jordanian
National Commission for Women
.

On
July 14, the resulting expos rocked the literary world.

Khouri’s
book is riddled with factual errors as well as what Sabbagh called
a general “lack of knowledge of Islam and of Jordan.” For example,
the book refers to Kuwait as Jordan’s neighbor when the two countries
share no border. It describes the Jordan River flowing through the
capital of Amman when no such tributary exists. These are strange
errors from someone who hails from Amman.

More
damning was the revelation that Khouri had left Jordan at the age
of three and lived in Chicago for almost 30 years.

Lying
for fame and fortune
is nothing new. The intriguing aspect is
how our society has become so gullible as to gulp down claims of
victimhood without pausing for evidence.

It
could be argued that any book from a major publisher has automatic
credibility. In Australia, where Forbidden Love became a
runaway hit, Khouri was published by Random House. In America, the
publisher of Honor Lost was Atria,
an imprint of Simon & Schuster
.

Publishers
Weekly, a touchstone of publishing credibility, reviewed the
book as, “The timeless tragedy of Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers
… [a] deeply affecting story of a Catholic man and a Muslim
woman secretly in love in contemporary Jordan.”

The
book’s acceptance by major publishers and reviewers merely highlights
the original question: why does society no longer require evidence
before believing almost any claim of victimhood?

Khouri’s
hoax is a dramatic illustration of how harmful such gaping incredulity
can be to real victims and honest dialogue. Malcolm Knox, Literary
Editor of SMH, commented that Khouri “spent much of 2003
retelling this story, reducing listeners to tears and anger, in
interviews, book festivals, bookshops and other events … Khouri
became a standard-bearer for oppressed Arab women and triggered
a publishing trend of similar books.”

Meanwhile,
Sabbagh — a woman who has fought on the front lines for the
real victims of honor killings — stated: “We feel defamed
by this book.” She feels defamed because Jordan has courageously
opened up the topic of honor killings for global examination. Now
the issue is being defined by sensationalized fiction, not reality.

Rana
Husseini
is an investigative journalist at the English-language
newspaper Jordan Times. Husseini has written tirelessly against
honor killings and must be credited with pulling the issue into
the media’s spotlight.

Husseini
has produced a list of 73 clear errors in Honor Lost. For
example, Husseini writes, “She [Khouri] talks about a jury
and we [in Jordan] don’t have juries; she talks about killers
being bailed out, but killers are never bailed out in Jordan.”

Husseini
is understandably resentful of Khouri. With courage and persistence,
she has battled to spotlight a hideous crime against women: honor
killings. Now a con artist seems to be distorting and exploiting
the pain of murdered women.

The
irony is heartbreaking. Jordan is one of the most “advanced” Arab
nations; it leads the Muslim world in officially and publicly condemning
honor killings. But now the world’s image of Jordan and its acknowledged
problem has no relationship to those realities.

Why
would the world allow a con artist to define an international issue?
To put it quite simply, no one is willing to demand evidence. As
a columnist, I routinely require evidence from alleged victims.

I
do so without accusation or rancor simply because I think facts
are essential before reaching a conclusion. Evidence is rendered
more essential by two circumstances: 1) where there is a victim,
there is also an accused who deserves the light of inquiry; 2) an
open accusation is a public matter.

Accordingly,
I intimately know one reason why probing questions are not asked.
Those who ask them are automatically accused of vicious motives.
If a reviewer had quizzed Khouri, she would have been accused of
apologizing and enabling Islam’s violence against women. If the
reviewer had been a “he” … well, forget about it.

Emotional
rhetoric replaces fact in virtually all reporting of victimhood.
How could a request for evidence possibly compete with Khouri’s
media spots which reportedly reduced “listeners to tears and anger”?
The audience would have automatically lashed out at anyone who asked
for such a presumptuous thing as substantiation.

The
sad Khouri saga is not an indictment of honor killings. It is an
indictment of how society has so fallen in love with victimhood
that it took 18 months and an international effort to debunk a claim
that should have immediately collapsed of its own weight. But, then,
that would have required asking a question.

November
25, 2004

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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