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Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2003 / 8 Adar I, 5763

Diana West

Diana West
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Love and honor -- lost, found and murdered | I admit there may be something perverse about lumping these two new books together -- "Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan". (Atria Books), a serious and important memoir bearing witness to the repression of women in the Muslim world, and "Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor" (Hyperion), an unserious memoir bearing witness to the hedonism of the Western world -- or, at least, of a certain subculture of Manhattan.

The two books were on adjacent tables at a bookstore, but close enough to trigger a double take. Both titles relate to moral codes (or lack thereof): With unblinking purpose, "Honor Lost" refers to the cult of female chastity that drives Muslim men to murder family women for any "impurity," real or imagined. With a reflexively ironic wink, "Cad" refers to one man's -- rather, one guy's -- halting pursuit of love through uninterrupted promiscuity.

Interestingly enough, both book jackets feature cropped photos of eyes: a woman's resolute stare on "Honor Lost," and a young man's faintly smoldering (he hopes) gaze on "Cad." After that, of course, you've got to dig for a connection, because what two worlds could be farther apart than Amman, Jordan, a women's prison according to author Norma Khouri, and New York City, the libertine lovefest that author Rick Marin describes?

Marin is a pal of mine from way back, so all I will say about the haplessly relentless -- or is that relentlessly hapless? -- womanizing he recounts following his divorce from "Elisabeth" is that it's a relief when he finally finds a love true enough to bring his little black book of a memoir to a conclusion. Meanwhile, it is his unshrinking, unstinting and wholly unembarrassed depiction of himself as a "cad" that is notable. If hyper-promiscuity is the convention in this milieu (and that's the case if this book is truly non-fictional), then a "cad" -- who, by quaint definition, is "a man or boy whose behavior is not gentlemanly" -- isn't busting up any social norms. Maybe the social embrace of the non-gentleman is significant for what it suggests about the expectations Western women have for Western men, and vice versa.

The answer is not much. Sex is the currency of dating, and dating is cheap. As "Cad" tells it, gals streak in and out of the author's life, never breaking their free fall for more than a varying stint of sexual gymnastics and, maybe, a little non-marital intimacy. It's hedonism out of control -- literally. In the West, where liberty is all, our codes of honor, from chivalric to Boy Scout, are mainly self-imposed; they get no institutional muscle from church or state. When an individual loses his moral compass, it's up to him to find it again -- or not.

Such freedom doesn't exist in the Muslim world, where the mosque and the state control even the most intimate details of people's lives -- particularly women's lives. This domination causes Khouri to label Islam "a totalitarian regime operating under the guise of a religion." And totalitarianism is the nightmarish subtext that comes to life in "Honor Lost," Khouri's terrifying and inspiring account of the murder of her best friend, Dalia, and Khouri's own efforts, in Western exile, to avenge the murder and others like it. Dalia was murdered by her own father. The man stabbed his daughter 12 times, calling an ambulance only when he knew she was dead. Why? He believed Dalia had been seeing a man.

In fact, the dead woman had been seeing a man. The young Muslim woman was going to marry him --once the couple could flee the country. Michael was a Catholic, and therefore forbidden to marry Dalia by Islamic law. Such "immoral behavior" -- along with other "immoral" behaviors such as being a victim of rape, incest or unfounded rumor -- incites the murder of thousands of Muslim women like Dalia every year by their male relatives. Khouri vividly describes the unbearable tension that exists between women in Muslim societies and their menfolk, who may one day become their murderers.

Not that such crimes are considered "murder" at all. Jordan, like other Muslim countries upholding this heinous practice (and even Muslim communities in Great Britain, Denmark and Sweden), deems them "honor crimes" or "honor killings." They are misdemeanors. (Indeed, as Khouri writes, failing to buckle a seat belt while driving in Jordan incurs a stiffer penalty than honor-killing a family female.) Dalia's killer served no jail time. "I've cleansed my house," he announced on that horrific day as Khouri raced into his house to find her friend. "I've cut the rotten part and brought honor back to my family name."

Honor: Pity the cad who doesn't have any use for it; punish the killer who doesn't know the meaning of the word.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Diana West