Opening arguments began this month in Phoenix in the trial of Iraqi immigrant Faleh Hassan Almaleki, who’s alleged to have crashed his Jeep into his 20-year-old daughter and her boyfriend’s mother as they were walking across a parking lot, killing the young woman and injuring her companion. He reportedly told investigators that his actions were motivated by his belief that his daughter had become “too Westernized.”
Though rarely documented in the U.S., the tradition of “honor killings” — putting a woman to death for having brought shame on her family — is not uncommon in Islamic countries. It is the subject of the new German film, “Die Fremde” (“When We Leave”), which centers on a German-born Turkish woman who leaves her abusive husband in Istanbul and returns to her family in Berlin, sparking a great deal of arguments over her fate.
Feo Aladag, the 39-year-old writer-director of “When We Leave,” says she was inspired to write and direct her first feature after being asked to craft two public service announcements for Amnesty International’s campaign to end violence against women.
A friend sent her information on honor killings, and the Austrian native best known as an actress and journalist in Germany continued to research the subject; around the same time, there was a rise in honor killings in Berlin, where the filmmaker lives. “There were [something] like five women being killed in a period of four months,” she said. “There was one a couple of streets away from me.”
She set “When We Leave” among the Turkish immigrant community in Berlin because Turks are the largest minority in Germany. Though there are families like the one depicted in the film that belong to a traditional tightknit community, “there are a lot of people who are bilingual who live totally integrated lives,” Aladag said. “They want their daughters to have the same education as their sons.”
Her husband, movie and TV director Zuli Aladag, an Islamic Turk who immigrated to Germany when he was 4, was worried when she told him about the project.
“He said, ‘Oh, god, this is going to be so hard. Do you want to do this?’” Aladag recalled. “I said, ‘I have to do it. I will always question why if I don’t.’ He is the biggest fan of the film.”
She consulted with her father-in-law at various stages during the production. “Whenever there were specific questions, he was one of the experts with helping with the script,” Aladag said. “When my demons came out at night, when I asked myself, ‘Am I being just with every person I am portraying?’ I sometimes called him up and talked to him. He thought it was important that I do this movie. They [assimilated Turkish immigrants] don’t feel good about [honor killings] and how that reflects on the majority of society.”
According to some estimates, 5,000 women are the victims of honor killings each year but Aladag points out that the United Nations “says that the real number is much higher. It is more like 100,000 women and this doesn’t take into account chopped ears or noses. They are straight honor killings.”
Pakistan has the highest rate of honor killings in the world, Aladag said. “I don’t know the overall number, but there is one province where each year an average of 268 women are killed,” she said. “The problem is that many women in many countries are not registered, so if they disappear…. and it stays within the family or it is covered up as a suicide [there’s no way to track what actually happened]. Under [some Islamic laws] it is not a crime.”