Verbatim | Fabricating Honor Crimes

“If Bush and Blair can spin the truth about WMDs to justify bombing innocent people, then why can’t I spin Dalia’s story to save women from being murdered on a daily basis?”Norma Khouri on fabricating her novel “Forbidden Love” about honor crimes in Jordan.

This quote comes by way of a review of the documentary film “Forbidden Lie$”, published recently in the Los Angeles Times. People probably still remember Norma Khouri for writing “Forbidden Love”, a “non-fiction” book depicting the honor killing of her best friend in Jordan – a tale that turns out was completely fabricated. The 2007 documentary depicts both scenes from the novel as well as the short-lived media controversy that surrounded Khouri’s fabrications, including snippets from her personal life such as being wanted by the FBI for real-estate fraud in Chicago. Khouri takes the filmmaker to Jordan in an attempt to prove her story to be true, but ends up (apparently) exposing her lies even further. The film is only now coming to North American shores.

I have neither read the book nor seen the documentary but if anyone has either I’d like to look at them and maybe write a proper review (especially the film).

However, remembering the controversy that surrounded this piece of work, the above quote got me thinking. Most were annoyed at how Khouri’s book essentially discredited or insulted the work of activists against honor crimes, as well as the real victims, as opposed to the fictitious. Since publishing the book, Khouri has been officially labeled as a literary con artist – no more no less. Her intentions have been deemed sinister, especially by claiming the story to be true.

But, the question I pose is whether it’s right to make up a story in the name of doing something “good”. The literary equivalent of a “white lie”. If there is a genuine desire to shed light on a subject that isn’t getting the attention it deserves, would making up a story, even as a declared fictitious piece of work – would that benefit the cause?

Khouri has been known to dig her own grave and the analogy she draws on in this quote is representative of that: who in their right mind, and in the name of vindication, attempts to compare themselves to Bush, Blair and Iraq?

Nevertheless, I’m forced to wonder if “white lies” are beneficial to causes, and more importantly, if intentions play a role.

In other words, let’s suppose that Khouri was a well-respected activist against honor killings in Jordan, much like say, Rana Husseini – and in her desire to highlight the cause and bring it to the world stage, she writes a work of fiction in which she declares her intentions behind doing so: would that change things?

Would intentions change the outcome?

Would the outcome serve the cause?

What do you think?

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On a side, but relevant note: Rana Husseini has a book on the subject coming out next month.

25 thoughts on “Verbatim | Fabricating Honor Crimes

  1. I full on truth is the best way to battle. Fiction helps when it is called fiction. I’ve tried writing about composite characters for victims of abuse, it just doesn’t impact like truth does.

  2. In crimes such as honour crimes, fabricating the story doesn’t help a thing, saying the truth is a better solution for it so that at least people would acknowledge the victims of these horrible crimes

  3. Urgh, Norma is a piece of work. I interviewed Anna Broinowski shortly after the documentary first came out, which was a couple of years ago. Rana Husseini ended up being interviewed for that piece as well. What’s amazing about Norma’s idiotic delusion (is it a delusion or a clever trick? Does she believe herself when words come out of her mouth?) is how she turned the tables on Broinowski – and claimed that Anna simply wasn’t trustworthy enough, hence MORE lying.

    If you’re interested, here is “The Long Strange Trip of Norma Khouri.”

    You can’t change the world with lies, I don’t think. It’s like Dostoevsky’s question in The Brother Karamazov – can you build a perfect world if one child needs to be tortured to death for its sake? No, no, no.

  4. Our writers in the Arab world have always turned to fiction to better describe political and social issues they were unable to properly address in public. Mahfouz’s cairo trilogy (set in mamluk egypt but actually referring to much more recent political eras) is an excellent example.
    so in general, i am a supporter of taking social issues to the fields of art and trying to find creative solutions for them there.
    Norma Khoury’s book is NOTHING like that. i read the book and have it (you are more than welcome to borrow it anytime) and it becomes very clear very quickly that her intent wasn’t in offering jordanians a cultural social critique to help them recognize their problems or understand the issues surrounding the crimes. all she wanted to do is discredit jordan and jordanians. u should see the lies she had in there between what she was first claiming to be fact (smth about christians in jordan not being allowed by law to have houses that are as high as muslim houses ?!?!?!).

  5. I guess it will help shed the light more on such issues, I know that many people still don’t realize how much a big problem it is. And having more media attention by publishing a book or making a movie will surely help.

  6. Khouri should have marketed her book as an autobiographical fiction or simply a fictional novel from the start rather than a memoir.. that could have changed a bit of the reception of her book and her “supposedly” critique of honor crimes, but still she had committed so many many errors (historical/geographical/cultural/ social) in that book to not be discredited.
    Spinning a lie–actually a BIG-FAT lie and then lie after lie after lie–and stapling the whole thing as truth isn’t acceptable in literary circles (literary techniques of both forms extremely differ ) nor among the common readers or anybody with common sense, especially when it tackles a very sensitive social issue like honor crimes. So no, she is a liar and should be only treated as such despite whatever “good” or “sincere” intentions she had by wanting to bring the issue honor crimes to the fore.
    It becomes very clear and obvious once reading the book that all Khouri wanted to do is sell a story to the West, slandering Islam (she actually labeled honor killings as Islamic practices) and Arab culture at large, claiming that women are majorly abused and silenced if claiming any agency whatsoever.. now if that doesn’t reflect any sinister intentions, what does?
    This Khouri is just a miniature Jordanian copy of Ayan Hersi Ali at best who even fails drastically at lying.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to read Rana Husseini’s book since she is highly credited in terms of her honor crimes reportings and she sincerely has dedicated the majority of her life to the cause.

  7. I saw the documentary. She came across as a complete pathological liar. She seemed to enjoy being confronted with all her discrepancies and trying to talk her way out of it. Everthing about her, not just her book makes her a con artist.

  8. I have read the book and watched the documentary. I read the book before she got discredited internationally and i felt anger and sadness reading it. Anger of course from the slandering of Jordan/Arabic/Muslim cultures. Sadness from the story of dalia.

    I don’t think its justifiable. When you read a book or watch a film and somewhere it says “based on a true story” that by itself affects the way you react to the story all together. So

    From one hand, with all the sadness of these crimes there are enough real stories to write and make films about, that are much more effective in gathering awareness that leads to change. Yet writing fiction about this issue and declaring it as such is effective if needed.

  9. Read the book felt the author was clueless about Jordan and insulting us… as if she never came here. All lies, but i believe we should fight such crimes but not by insulting a whole country

  10. I read that book when it first came out a friend of mine sent it to me from abroad…
    I was livid, and insulted.
    If tha Sociopath Norma wanted to tell a story tell a story but she should’ve have used Hollywoods tagline “Inspired by true events” which gives you a leeway to lie lie lie. I am sure she could’ve dusted up a couple of stories to affirm her stories.
    But whatever the case may be she did more damage by her self-serving book.
    I am looking forward to read Rana’s book. I know Rana quite well, went to school with her, and she has always been a straight arrow, a gentle soul who will not back down when she knows she’ right! Kudos to her for keeping the stories of these unfotunate women alive.

  11. @ neighbor: Yes , you heard me right. She is actually a big fat “Liar”; an opportunist who first left her country of Somalia to Holland on the premise of several “LIES,” at times claiming she fled because of civil war in Somalia, and others claiming she was forced into an arranged marriage–even if true or let’s say it was true this is beyond the point i was making in my first comment– she still manipulated facts to gain asylum. So, those are two different narratives, which render her a “liar,” right? Then, to be granted citizenship in Holland, she fabricated her name and age. what do you call that? “lying,” right?

    Once setting foot in America, she spitefully knows how to appeal to those Islamophobes who are eager to embrace and promote her because for all they want is claim moral superiority and bash Islam using a cheap escapee; you know, she does the dirty job for them while at the same time they won’t be called Muslim bashers because it’s her saying it, not them directly. I bet they even specify what they want to hear from her over and again, scheduling tours for her to speak at every Islam and Muslim bashing setting/meeting.

    what does she actually want? she only spews venom calling for eradicating the whole Muslim population around the world! Oh, but i thought she was a genuine Muslim feminist, ugh!

    next, what do you know? this cheap escapee becomes the voice of wisdom, speaking on behalf of us, oppressed Muslim women, what a joke? Ayan Hersi Ali and her likes aren’t genuine reformers nor honest Muslim feminists who seek to better the status of Muslim women, they are rather cons who subscribe to a bigoted, Islamophobe ideology in the West and America where it is actually very easy to bash Islam and Muslims and be rewarded by certain American media (example, FOX news loves interviewing her and her likes) and Islam/Muslim bashers.

    and oh yeah, Neighbor, she also subscribes fully to Zionist ideology, hence is promoted largely my Zionist organizations in America and the West.

  12. Fabricating honor crime stories is a really good way to switch public focus from from the deserving subject of actual honor crimes and their victims to debates regarding the controversy of fabricating honor crime stories…..as we’ve engaged in here (nothing personal Nas). I agree with some of the other commenters who suggested she should have published it as a fictional novel. I don’t understand why she didn’t do that from the beginning. There are lots of fictional masterpieces, and even not so great ones, that have educated people.

    So yes, it’s harmful to the cause. It’s posed as a huge distraction from the more important issue at hand.

    What the author did reminds me a lot of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and Herman Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence. All three were fabricated stories passed off as truths. The sad thing is they all dealt with great human tragedies (honor crimes, addiction, the holocaust) and thus the controversy spurred after the authors were outed took the focus away from the actual tragedies to scandal gossip worthy of air time on Entertainment Tonight.

    Why couldn’t they have just been fictional stories in the first place?

  13. Sorry to stray away from the actual debate, but I’ve never read the book or seen the documentary. Does anyone know where I can get it?

  14. I have just finished reading ‘Forbidden Love’, and am shocked to find myself so taken in. I did not find the execution of the book that thrilling, however, my interest was held, as I believed it was a true story. Jean Sasson’s quote, printed clearly on the cover, states that this is an ‘…extraordinary true story…’.

    I cannot believe that the publisher’s made no effort to corroborate her story! Surely the editor will have had to check up on basic facts such as geography before they would even consider publishing it??

    Having read the book, I decided to find out a little more about the supposed campaign being carried out on the back of this book. As five years have elapsed since it’s publication, I thought it would be interesting to see how things may have changed. I was perplexed to find that not only does the website ‘www.honorlost.com’ not (no longer?) exist, but the name Norma Khouri supplies plentiful entries that include the words ‘lies’, ‘fraud’ and ‘hoax’, when simply googled.

    I love to read fiction based in history and other cultures, and am keen to learn about these while enjoying a good story. I appreciate that ‘literal licence’, as Norma was quoted calling it, is a necessary part of such works, however I would hope that unconfirmed ‘facts’ were extrapolated from historical records mixed with the writers feel for the characters and the time, place and culture. In fact, in many good books that I have read, there has been a large addendum before or after, where the writer explains to the reader what liberties he or she has taken in trying to create a good story, and what genuine research this was based on.

    ‘Forbidden Love’ has tainted my enjoyment of books such as this, as I will be sceptical now when reading, detracting from my immersion in the story, which is a shame.

    If Norma had wanted to make a genuine contribution to a real cause, she would have contacted the lobby and support groups involved and worked with them – and gained true statistics of the problem, which could be verified and examined.

    In retrospect, is it apparent that Norma has no understanding of living in a patriarchal society, as she does not express the depth of anguish caused by the conflict between her need to conform to the indoctrination of her upbringing, and her wish for freedom and change. There is no balancing of the condemnation with an explanation of how the ‘evil’ protagonists have become as they are or justify themselves, beyond shallow repetition. The story lacks almost any reference to any positives, or even heartfelt affection for her homeland and family.

    I feel soiled and used for having been conned in this way, and sorry for all of the genuine writers of true accounts, because they will find their reception that much cooler because of it.

  15. Midddle east arrabian males, they are raelly shame to all mankind lives in this world. They havent any heart, thats why they are doing such a barberian things. Their brain & mind are not growen up.
    Its really painfull story. We wish that every arrabian males grow up soon

  16. @secratea: you always make interesting and insightful comments on these blog posts. In fact, i’ve been wanting to read your blog for a while but don’t have access and was wondering if perhaps you could include me on the list? …sorry to be asking you this on here, but I wasn’t sure how else to go about it

  17. For foolish unhuman beings

    anyone don’t have any right or autority to kill another human.undestand!all have the right to live. when other one is going to manage other the violance began.and also woman must have their own life. it musn’t under males hands. hate that kind of heartless people.

  18. Now forget NORMA KHOURI. She has already been discovered to be a fraud. There is a much bigger, more cunning hoax author out there who, after almost 20 years writing one book of lies after the other, she has so far not been openly named and shamed. HER name to fame was the best selling book: PRINCESS, the first of a trilogy. Granted, Norma Khouri, James Frey, etc… etc, they all wrote her own brain’s lies, while the culprit Jean Sasson actually STOLE an Austrian womans unpublished autobio. manuescript about her life and marriage to a wealthy Diplomat in Kuwait from which Sasson wrote the PRINCESS trilogy. What a dirty con. artiste!

    JEAN SASSON. JEAN PARKS SASSON.

    Why not somebody, or a couple of somebodies concentrate on bringing her to foot next? Surely, for a hungry investigative journalist there are a lot of $ollars to be had for exposing Jean Sasson for who she is in reality.

    GOOGLE: THE PRINCESS SULTANA HOAX

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