Editor's note: The writer obtained unreleased police records for this story. The narrative is also based on interviews, court documents, and internet comments.
Noor Almaleki typed a text message to a friend.
"Dude," she wrote at 1:06 p.m. last October 20, "my dad is here at the welfare office."
Noor, 20, hadn't seen her father, Faleh, since moving out of the family home months earlier. But his presence both startled and alarmed her. She knew he wouldn't rest until he'd regained complete control of her life.
Noor was the firstborn of Faleh and Seham Almaleki's seven children. Her first name means "light of God." The Almalekis had moved to the United States from Iraq when Noor was 4. Noor was thoroughly assimilated into American culture but kept in touch with her Iraqi roots (she was fluent in Arabic) and considered herself a Muslim, the same religion as her parents.
But she had moved away from her parents' home in Glendale, Arizona, in early 2009 after another blowup over how she was living her life — tight jeans, makeup, boyfriends, modeling photos, and an attitude that screamed independence and self-determination.
The clashes had escalated in 2008 after Noor, then 18, left her marriage to an older cousin in Iraq — her father had "arranged" it — and returned to the Phoenix area.
Noor sent her text message from inside a Department of Economic Security office in Peoria, Arizona. Seated next to her was Amal Edan Khalaf, her boyfriend's 43-year-old mother. Amal was there to complete a change-of-address form for welfare benefits. She too is Iraqi by birth but moved to the States only about a decade ago, and her proficiency in English was such that Noor came along to help translate. Noor had lived at Amal's residence since leaving her parents' home after the latest fracas.
It was bad enough that she was living with Amal, whom Faleh and Seham had known for years. They considered Amal, who was separated from her husband at the time, unfit as a mother and wife. But Noor's boyfriend and Amal's son, 19-year-old Marwan Alebadi, also lived there, and the Almalekis were enraged and shamed by the situation.
From their perspective, a man's daughters are his property, and they are supposed to live with him until he decides otherwise. Females who stray from the fold — or are perceived to have strayed — are considered guilty of dishonoring their clans. To some Iraqis, there's nothing worse.
Riffat Hassan, a retired University of Louisville professor and expert on the Koran, tells New Times, "Muslim culture has reduced many, if not most, women to the position of puppets on a string, to slave-like creatures whose only purpose in life is to cater to the needs and pleasures of men."
The Almalekis were proud members of that "Muslim culture." By moving in with Marwan and Amal, Noor Almaleki had made it clear that she would not be her father's puppet, his "slave-like" creature. She was determined to live how, and with whom, she wished.
Some cultures, including the Almalekis', endorse ancient methods of "cleansing" a family's supposedly tarnished name — with the blood of its daughters, sisters, and wives. In India, Hindu and Sikh brides are sometimes slain because their dowries are considered inadequate, the U.N. Children's Fund reports. In Islamic Middle Eastern countries, there's a name for the homicides of women by male family members: "honor killings." These murders of loved ones are as personal as it gets, usually committed with knives, machetes, or bare hands. Victims have been tied up and buried alive. The father and grandfather of a 16-year-old Islamic girl in Turkey did just that a few months ago after someone reported seeing her talking with boys. No one can say exactly how many honor killings occur, but anecdotal evidence from news accounts and government data suggests that hundreds of Muslim women and girls die this way every year. According to a 2006 statement by a U.N. news agency, 47 women died in honor killings in 2006 in Basra, a seaport city of about 4 million people that is Faleh Almaleki's hometown.
Such killings by Muslim immigrant men are reported in Western nations as well: Five were accused of murdering female kin in the United States from the start of 2008 until October 20, 2009.
That was the day Faleh Almaleki, an unemployed 48-year-old trucker with no criminal record, took a terrible step toward adding himself to that list of accused "honor" murderers.
Noor sent a second text message after her father stepped into the DES office, this one to her best friend, Ushna.
"Dude, I'm so scared. Shit," she wrote. "At the welfare place, and guess who walks in? My dad!!! I'm so shaky!"
"Holy shit, did he see you?" Ushna quickly responded.