On the morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh loaded a truck with explosives and parked next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Two months later, I met my ex-fiancée, Ayesha, an Islamic Khmer.

Timothy McVeigh: “The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.”

I’m a Mizrahi, or “Jew from the East.”

Der Stürmer: “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!”

Or: “The Jews are our misfortune!”

The Reichstag introduced Nuremberg Laws in 1935 concerning German citizenship, marriage, and racial purity. Many Jews, over generations, had converted to Christianity or married Germans, and could petition to be reclassified in a process called Aryanization. Mixed race, or Michlinge, were designated in degrees: first or second (half Jewish or quarter Jewish). In Nazi Germany, I’d be Michling, but in the United States my Jewish identity depends culturally, religiously, and ethnically, on perception.

Khmer Rouge slogan: “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake.”

Ayesha and I, on our first date, enjoyed an afternoon at Seattle’s Gasworks Park. We focused on the sunny June day, Vietnamese spring rolls, her escape from Cambodia to Thailand, immigration to Seattle, and which of her family members survived the Khmer Rouge.

Osama bin Laden: “The war is between us and the Jews. Any country that steps into the same trench as the Jews has only itself to blame.”

She wore a sleeveless yellow dress for our next date, another afternoon excursion. By canoe, we paddled the waterways of the Arboretum along the shores of Lake Washington, marveling at the spring bloom. To me they were flowers, but to her they were azaleas, hydrangea, magnolias, and cherry blossoms. She seemed both strikingly normal and extraordinary.

She told me she was Muslim. I asked her what she thought of the Holocaust, in not so many words. And rather than push back with Al Nakba and Palestinian suffering, she said she felt deep pain for all of God’s people, and that the suffering of Muslims and Jews and all humanity should be respected.

I said, “You’re not what I’d expect a Muslim to be.”

The Onion: “Conspiracy Theorist Convinces Neil Armstrong Moon Landing Was Faked”

She said, “What did you expect a Muslim would be?”

I said, “It’s just that, from looking at you, I would not have guessed you’re Muslim.”

Pew Research: “Nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim.”

She said, “You think Muslim women are submissive and wear veils?”

“No, yes, er…no,” I said, “Okay, a little.”

 She laughed and said, “It’s okay, I’m a liberal Muslim. Most people are surprised when I tell them I’m Muslim.”

Christina England, “WHO, GAVI and the Gates Foundation have killed possibly hundreds if not thousands of these vulnerable children with dangerous and unnecessary vaccination programs.”

She explained that Islam had complexities just like Christianity—that Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya loosely correlated with Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon. She asked, “What about you?”

I told her, “I’m not religious. I guess I’m partly Jewish.”

“How can you be partly Jewish?”

Ground Zero Radio host Clyde Lewis: “So the truth that everyone is not speaking is that the shootings at Sandy Hook were nothing more than a campaign.”

I told her that in Judaism, atheists and agnostics sometimes identified culturally and ethnically as Jewish. My roots were Jewish, but I grew up Christian, had attended church, and never considered myself Jewish in a religious sense. But, within Judaism, blood counted. I was eligible to apply for Israeli citizenship.

Sheik Muhammad al-Gameia: “If the Americans knew that the Jews carried out the September 11 attacks, they would do to them what Hitler did.”

Ayesha said, “I know what you mean. When I wear the hijab I become a symbol, an object. I represent Islam and not myself. And I’m proud to be Muslim, but, you know, when I heard about Oklahoma City, I thought, ‘I hope it wasn’t done by a Muslim.’”

Timothy McVeigh: “In the crudest terms, it’s 168 to 1, if you had it on a scoreboard, so I sit here content. There’s no way they can beat me by executing me.”

We floated deeper into the Arboretum, trees and flowers cut off the peripheral, our view of Lake Washington and Mercer Island narrowed. The sounds of traffic and boats in the distance. We had solitude.

Julius Streicher, editor of Der Stürmer: “Wir haben unsere wichtigsten Volksgüter, die Eisenbahnen und die Banken, den Fremdlingen überlassen, die schon vor 2000 Jahren den Tempel zu einem Wucherhaus gemacht haben.”

Or: “We handed the most important belongings of our people, the railroads and the banks, to aliens who 2000 years ago had turned the temple into a house of usury.”

Two Jews on a bench, Berlin, 1939. One holds an underground Jewish newspaper, the other has Der Stürmer (The Attacker) and Vőlkischer Beobachter (Racial Observer).

First Jew: “Why do you read such hateful newspapers?”

Second Jew: “Because in your newspapers the Jews lose possessions and jobs, and then they are arrested and imprisoned. But in mine, Jews own the world.”

Renata Adler: “Sanity is the most profound moral option of our time.”

We stopped paddling and drifted towards a footbridge. I asked, “Would you be comfortable if I put my arm around you?” She opened up, I leaned into her embrace, held her, and asked, “How about a kiss?”

Reuters: “Steve Feltham, who gave up his girlfriend, house and job in southwest England in 1991 to spend his life looking for the Loch Ness monster, believes he has solved the mystery behind its many sightings…he suspects it is a Wels catfish.”

Before letting me kiss her, she asked, “If you’re not religious, what do you believe in?”

The canoe bumped against the edge of the shore, we slid onto solid ground, took off our sandals, put our bare feet in the water, and sat side by side. Northwest flora and evergreens shielded the sun.

I could have said ‘love,’ yet I hesiitated. Peace? Humanity? What did such belief signify? Our lips met. We had time.



Sharaf – الشرف

“It is what is called a crime of honor, Jamirat el Sharaf, and for the men of my region it is not considered a crime.” – Souad

September 25, 2013, Khaleej Times: “Two Asian women who committed adultery and got pregnant out of wedlock have been given capital punishment in two separate cases by the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance.”

In 1979 an unmarried visibly pregnant Palestinian, Souad, entered a hospital. Burns scalded and charred the skin and flesh of over three quarters of her body. She gave birth prematurely.

In 1997 I moved to Al Ain, a city in the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi, to teach English. I met Ceza Nabarawi, an Egyptian expatriate.

Ceza Nabarawi: “I’ll need a pseudonym. How about Ceza Nabarawi? It’s eccentric. What do you think?”

When I left the United Arab Emirates Ceza and I began an epistolary relationship. I continued teaching and traveling, my stops included Pakistan. Ceza returned to Egypt to finish her studies at the University of Cairo and subsequently moved to London.

Meerwala sits in a remote corner of Pakistan. In 2002, the Meerwala village council, controlled by the Mastoi clan, sentenced Mukhtar Mai to be violated. Why? Her brother had a relationship with a Mastoi daughter. Mai was raped repeatedly. Eventually there were arrests, but convictions, appeals, then acquittals followed.

In London, Ceza sent increasingly confessional letters. She experimented with alcohol, drugs, and sex with men and women, though she maintained her virginity and never took off her headscarf in public.

Saira Liaqat, a teenager, wanted to finish high school in Lahore, Pakistan. After an arranged marriage her husband demanded she quit pursuing education. She refused. In July of 2003, her husband doused her face in acid.

Joumana Haddad: “Being an Arab today means you need to be a hypocrite. We constantly and obsessively think about sex but dare not talk about it.”

After more than one relationship with Muslims living in London, including one affair that ended when Ceza discovered her partner had a wife in Jordan, Ceza returned to live with her family in Al Ain.

In Denmark, 2005, Ghazala Khan’s Pakistani father ordered Ghazala’s brother, Akhtar, to kill her because she had married a man against the patriarch’s wishes. A year later the Danish judge sentenced not only the father and brother to near maximum terms for murder, but also an aunt, two uncles and four others to prison and, when applicable, deportation to Pakistan at the completion of their sentence, for complicity in the killing.

In 2008 an Australian, Alicia Gali, worked in the emirate of Fujairah. One evening at her resort’s bar she ordered a glass of alcohol. She passed out. Over six hours later, she regained consciousness and discovered herself naked as three co-employees violated her. She began screaming. Security responded. All four parties were arrested for fornication. Gali spent eight months in prison for the crime, under Shariah, of illicit sex and consumption of alcohol.

Alicia sued her employers but has yet to receive compensation.

In December of 2009, an Afghan woman, Aisha Mohammadzai, had her nose and ears amputated by family members because she fled an arranged marriage that turned abusive. Also known as Aisha Bibi, her disfigured face became a Time Magazine cover with the caption: “What happens if we leave Afghanistan?”

Nawal El Saadawi: “Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honor as a woman.”

In the UAE, in the summer of 2011, Omani villagers found the corpse of Ceza’s close friend, Eman, in the desert outside Al Ain near the Omani-UAE border. Eman’s father and brother were suspected of an honor killing. The authorities also interrogated Eman’s ex-boyfriend, whom they subsequently arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Navi Pallet, United Nations High Commisioner for Human Rights: “The reality for most victims, including victims of honor killings, is that State institutions fail them and that most perpetrators of domestic violence can rely on a culture of impunity for the acts they commit — acts which would often be considered as crimes, and be punished as such, if they were committed against strangers.”

In January of 2013, at a café in Abu Dhabi, Ceza flirted with a younger Arab national, and this led to a marriage proposal. In love, and excited by the possibility of future happiness, she accepted. She also gave her virginity. Her lover abruptly broke relations.

Ceza’s life details her navigating love as a Muslim in the West and as an independent woman in her culture of honor, arranged marriage, polygamy, and various forms of misyar — marriage for the purpose of sexual relations followed by divorce.

What happened to Alicia Gali, Ghazala Khan, Saira Liaqat , Mukhtar Mai, Aisha Mohammadzai, Eman, and others reveal tragedies that many academics, journalists, theologians, and leaders examine in terms of religion and culture. While too much focus on isolated horrors distorts reality and creates propaganda, the question remains: How do we confront honor related violence?

“I see it everywhere. In the haunted eyes of young Pakistani girls, brought up in Britain, who know nothing but a Westernized life: young women who work happily behind beauty counters in our department stores, yet must return home to parents who refuse to emerge from their cultural enclaves. And who expect their daughters to accept traditional arranged marriages to distant cousins brought up in rural Pakistan.” — Nadira Khannum Alvi, or Lady Nadira Naipaul, wife of V.S. Naipaul.

Over twenty years after a Swiss woman helped Souad and her child receive asylum in Switzerland, Souad’s story of immolation was transcribed and published. Souad’s narrative, in psychoanalytical terms, suggested recovered memory. Skeptics and cynics accused her saviors and publishers of ties to Israeli media, and delineated her accounts of misogyny in her village as exaggerated or fabricated.

Did Souad’s family pour combustible liquid over her body and set her on fire? Does bias within the media exploit the public’s dyslexia regarding exceptions and rules, and does this bias paralyze legitmate discussions of honor? With over 800 annual honor killings in Pakistan alone, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and 5,000 honor killings per year documented by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, 91% within Islamic culture, why would anyone invent Souad’s narrative?

In 1979 an unmarried visibly pregnant Palestinian entered a hospital.

In the spring of 2013, an unmarried eight-week pregnant Egyptian, Ceza Nabarawi, looked for an exit visa from the UAE in order to give birth in another country.



Caleb Powell’s argument with David Shields about life and art, I Think You’re Totally Wrong, will be published by Knopf in January, 2015. “Honor” is an excerpt from Ayesha and Ceza: Two Muslim Women. Other excerpts are forthcoming from Harpur Palate, New Madrid, Pleiades, and Whiskey Island Magazine.

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