Author Topic: Burning Questions “ Review Debunks Honor Crime Memoir  (Read 394 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline BlackVeil

  • Group Captain
  • *
  • Posts: 852
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Burning Questions “ Review Debunks Honor Crime Memoir
« on: January 12, 2008, 08:49:43 PM »

Burning Questions `“ Review Debunks Honor Crime Memoir



`Burned Alive` is a best-selling memoir that recounts an Arab woman`s survival of an honor killing.  It has been translated into numerous languages, is in school libraries, on university reading lists and recommended to anyone seeking the `truth` about Middle Eastern women`s life stories.  Despite its wide circulation, `Burned Alive` has never been authenticated.  Australian historian Therèse Taylor describes how she came to doubt every word of it.

This book is marketed as a genuine memoir by a survivor of an attempted honor killing.  It describes how Souad survived a violent attack by her brother-in-law, during which he set her afire after dousing her with gasoline. She fled to Europe with the assistance of a French aid worker, Jacqueline Thibault. These events apparently occurred in 1979, and Souad is now at liberty to tell her story. The book cover shows the masked face of an Arab woman, and carries a commentary from a British newspaper: `The terrifying memoir of a young Palestinian woman`¦. Her ordeal reveals the scandalous treatment of women that is the real human rights abuse in the West Bank.`

When I read `Burned Alive` it struck me as having all the characteristics of a fake memoir `“ too many of which have been published in recent years.

Memory and Truth

During an interview with English journalist Jane Warren in the Express on May 20, 2004, Souad stated, `For years my memory was fractured, I forgot how to speak Arabic, I felt weak all the time`¦ I was living in the shadows, but after I wrote the book I got stronger and stronger: I started to exist. It was good therapy for me.` She continued, `When people used to ask me about my scars I pretended I`d had an accident, but now I feel strong enough to explain what really happened. Telling my story has helped me to reconcile the truth.`

If one strips away the sentimentality, we have a statement from a woman who cannot speak Arabic, has long-term mental health problems and, by her own account, has repeatedly lied about her past.

A Tale Which Grows in the Telling

Prior to 2003, Souad and her co-author, Jacqueline Thibault, gave many public testimonies to raise funds for their campaign against honor killings in the Middle East.  In those days, the tale was that Souad had been an innocent untouched virgin, attacked by her family because of neighborhood gossip that she had been speaking with a boy. `Tortured for speaking to a boy!` was the headline in Elle magazine. By 2003, following the publication of `Burned Alive,` the story had transformed into that of a seduced and abandoned girl, burned alive because she was pregnant.

In June 2003, Souad told the journal Ouest France her little sister Hanan had been killed by her brother Assad when Hanan was only 10 years old.  Later, in April 2004, Souad was interviewed in Switzerland by Menschenrechte fur die Frau and said that her `fourteen year old sister had been killed.`  She has produced endless variations of this murder, always changing the times, the ages and the chronology of events. 

In `Burned Alive,` Souad describes how a young woman in her village died in childbirth, while attempting to give birth to twins.  It is a touching story, and in fact the only natural death known to her `“ all the other deaths in her village being the result of murders. This seems statistically unlikely, but as Souad explains, `it was normal to kill.`  Indeed, by the time she was interviewed in Spain by El Mundo in November 2003, she claimed to have witnessed many murders `“ including that of a young woman in her village who was killed because she was expecting twins. The sole natural death in her village has become, in this retelling, yet another murder.

Remarkably, no journalist has confronted Souad over the improbabilities of her story. They report her words with admiration, describing her as a `spirited` lady, and presenting each version of events as true.

In a 2004 interview in Switzerland, Souad was asked if there was any symbolic significance in the white mask she wears during interviews. Souad replied that she wears white `Perhaps, because in the past, in my village, I always had to wear black.`  In `Burned Alive,` she states the opposite.  The girls always wore long dresses: `They were grey, usually, or sometimes white, very rarely black.`  As a free woman in Europe, `I love `¦ black, maroon, all the colors I could never then have.` This detail about clothing is a slight, but telling, mistake. What woman forgets the clothing she wore in her youth? 

Perhaps the type of woman who forgets her father`s face. When interviewed by La Vanguardia in November 2003, Souad explained that when first meeting Jacqueline Thibault she was amazed, having never seen blond hair in her life: `I saw her so blond, so luminous, that I thought it was God.`  This is like an episode in a children`s story about colonial Africa, such as `King Solomon`s Mines,` where the ignorant natives are so amazed by the sight of a white face that they are ready to worship a European.

The story is an obvious fable, and an inaccurate portrayal of the West Bank in the 1970`s. People with light-colored skin and hair are common in the region. In an almost comical mistake, Souad has apparently forgotten her previous descriptions of her own father.  He is described as a menacing creature with light, gingery hair: `he had a pale complexion with red splotches `¦ and mean blue eyes.`  In another part of the text he is `almost an albino.`  One really ought not to claim, on one occasion, to be the daughter of a sinister near-albino, and on another occasion, to have grown up without ever having seen a fair-skinned person.  These are both good stories, but they contradict one another. 

The examples given here are but a few of the many contradictions found in Souad`s interviews. Some are minor details `“ others are issues of life and death.  Souad`s co-author, Jacqueline Thibault, who claims to have rescued her from the West Bank, is scarcely more reliable. `¦

Tales and the Audience   

In a 2003 interview, a journalist from ANSA noted: `Souad `¦ remembers very well how her mother had strangled two newborn babies because they were girls.` In `Burned Alive` Souad says that she saw her mother giving birth and killing babies on two occasions: `I`m not sure I was present for the third one, but I knew about it.` One notices that the earlier `very well` remembered account is now being elaborated upon `“ two infanticides have become three.  Following the publication of her book, the German television station ZDF broadcast an interview during which admiration for Souad`s stoic manner was expressed: `Laconically, she tells how she saw her mother kill four or five of her sisters, immediately after their births.`  That was in January 2004.  By April of that same year, Souad was claiming in De Groene Amsterdammer: `I have seen my mother suffocate seven of my little sisters. Seven!`

When praising this book, the Washington Post Book World said, `Her tale is so shocking that it has to be told plainly; this is not a literary effort so much as it is a rare artifact `¦ nothing less than a miracle.`

...The charities and publishers who are using `Burned Alive` to earn money owe the public an explanation. `¦

This essay appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 12, nos. 56/57 (Summer/Fall 2006)

Copyright (c) 2006 by Al Jadid

Offline BlackVeil

  • Group Captain
  • *
  • Posts: 852
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Burning Questions “ Review Debunks Honor Crime Memoir
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2008, 08:50:35 PM »
Another tragic tale from the Middle East ... pity it turns out to be another lie ...