I saw a good documentary last night called Forbidden Lies. It tells the story of Norma Khouri, who became famous in 2003 as the author of the international bestseller Forbidden Love. The non-fiction book was set in Jordan and addressed the issue of honour killing. It told the story of a woman named Dalia, described as the author’s best friend, who was killed by her Muslim father for dating a Christian man.
In 2004 an Australian journalist exposed Khouri as a fraud, and the documentary recounts her rise and fall. It turns out Khouri is a con woman and a pathological liar. Throughout the course of the film her falsehoods become so blatant and so desperate that my wife and I squirmed in our seats with pure embarassment. The highlight of the film is a trip to Jordan Khouri takes with the documentary-makers, to prove to them that the events of Forbidden Love really took place. She winds up so completely destroying her credibility that you partly feel sorry for her instead.
Khouri’s book was translated into 16 languages, and in hindsight, part of its success may be due to the fact that it had cross-political appeal. The issues of honour killings is one that will resonate with many left-wingers on feminist grounds. The image of Muslim Jordanians as barbarian wife killers, by contrast, reinforced conservative prejudices and fit with the American mood when the book was published (between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion). The film points out that honour killings do happen in Jordan, but rather than in the thousands, as Khouri suggests, it is closer to 12-17 per year. That is obviously 12-17 too many, but as several Jordanian human rights activists in the film argue, it is not a problem that will be solved by spreading an image of Jordanian Muslims that reinforces the worst instincts of the Bush administration.
On a side note, the film has many scenes in which the director is shown talking directly to Khouri. I always dislike it when documentary makers do that, as it seems both vain and a distraction from the main subject. I prefer the approach of documentarians such as Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost, Some Kind of Monster) who usually try to keep themselves out of the story as much as possible.