Friends speak out after apparent West Valley 'honor killing'

November 9, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ -- Friends of a 20-year-old woman run over and killed in what attorneys are calling an "honor killing" are speaking out for the first time about the warning signs they saw.

Investigators say Noor Almaleki's father was behind the wheel when she and another woman were struck in a Peoria parking lot last month.

"She was a good person, and moral," said Sharlee Caudle, a friend of Noor's.  "Most parents would be glad to have a child like that."

Her friends paint the picture of an aspiring model and actress, working and going to school.

Nicole Furugia worked with Noor at Applebee's, and kept in touch with her until her death.

"She was strong, beautiful, really caring," said Furugia.  "She was always willing to help people."

But her employment there was short lived.

"She came in all frantic one day and asked me to cover her shift because her father found out where she worked," said Furugia.  "She had to quit her job, and she had to move."
Furugia said she went with Noor to look into getting a restraining order against her father, Faleh Hassan Almaleki.

"She was very determined on getting it," said Furugia.  "She was scared."

Other friends said Noor's father had taken her to Iraq under the pretense they were visiting relatives, and married her off.  They say Noor's family left her to fend for herself and come up with the money to find her way back to America, where she moved in with the fiance she loved.

"He can kick her out of the house, he can disown her," said Caudle.  "But he had no right, no right at all, to run her down and end her life."

Police say Faleh Hassan Almaleki killed his daughter because she was "too Western."  Only he will be able to explain himself when he pleads his case.

Almaleki is expected in court Monday, where he may hear new charges filed against him.  He was originally charged with two counts of aggravated assault and fleeing the scene of an accident, but police say those charges will be upgraded since his daughter died.

The other woman, Amal Khalef, with whom Noor was living, was also hit in the same incident.  Her lawyer said she is conscious and recovering in the hospital.


First Time FBI Calls Case an ‘Honor Killing’

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

By Maxim Lott

Fox News

Almost a year after two teenage girls were found dead — allegedly executed by their father — in the back seat of a taxicab in Texas, the FBI is saying for the first time that the case may have been an "honor killing."

Sarah Said, 17, and her sister Amina, 18, were killed on New Year's Day, but for nine months authorities deflected questions about whether their father — the prime suspect and the subject of a nationwide manhunt — may have targeted them because of a perceived slight upon his honor.

The girls' great-aunt, Gail Gartrell, says the girls' Egyptian-born father killed them both because he felt they disgraced the family by dating non-Muslims and acting too Western, and she called the girls' murders an honor killing from the start.

But the FBI held off on calling it an honor killing until just recently, when it made Yaser Abdel Said the "featured fugitive" on its Web site.

"That's what I've been trying to tell everybody all along," Gartrell told "I would say that's a victory."

But some Muslims say that calling the case an honor killing goes too far.

"As far as we're concerned, until the motive is proven in a court of law, this is [just] a homicide," Mustafaa Carroll, the executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Dallas, told

He said he worries that terms like "honor killing" may stigmatize the Islamic community. “We (Muslims) don’t have the market on jealous husbands ... or domestic violence,” Carroll said.

The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women are killed worldwide every year in honor killings — mostly in the Middle East, where many countries still have laws that protect men who murder female relatives they believe have engaged in inappropriate activity. A U.N. report includes chilling examples of such cases.

“On the order of clerics, an 18-year-old woman was flogged to death in Batsail, Bangladesh, for "immoral behavior,” the report reads. “In Egypt, a father paraded his daughter's severed head through the streets shouting, ‘I avenged my honor.’”

But Islamic scripture in no way condones such actions, Carroll said.

"People have their own cultural nuances and norms from before they got their religion," he said. "This is not Islamic culture."

Regardless of whether religion itself is to blame, Gartrell said it is important that society recognizes the case as having a cultural element, just to prevent similar crimes in the future.

"That culture is so different," Gartrell said. "If people had been more educated about it, they would have known that when the girls told people, 'Dad wants to kill me' — they were serious."

Many of the threats against Sarah and Amina Said were known to their friends and classmates.

High school friends told the Dallas Morning News that the girls sometimes came in with welts and bruises, which they confided were inflicted by their father. One time, Yaser Said reportedly went into one daughter's bedroom waving a gun and making threats on her life.

After he threatened to kill one daughter in December 2007 — documented in text messages Sarah Said sent to a friend — the girls and their mother, Patricia, fled from their home in Lewisville, Texas, to Tulsa, Okla. But the mother soon had a change of heart and went back, leading to the tragedy on January 1. Some, including Gartrell, believe the mother may even have been complicit in the murders.

Dr. Phyllis Chesler, author of several books, including "The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom," said that the case fits the description of an honor killing.

"The premeditation, the family collaboration, and the particular rules (set for the girls) make this consistent with an honor killing — not just domestic violence,” she said.

She said she hoped that calling the case an "honor killing" might indicate a shift in attitude at the FBI.

"I think this may suggest that law enforcement is beginning to realize that they may have to treat these incidents differently if they are to either prevent or prosecute," Chesler told

She noted that the United Kingdom has a special police unit to deal with “honor-related violence,” and said that she hoped that the situation in the U.S. does not get to the point where that becomes necessary.

But an FBI spokesman played down the significance of the listing, saying that the change on the wanted listing was simply due to more information coming out about the case since it was first listed and that it shouldn't matter what the case is called.

"We're just looking at how do we find the guy?" said FBI special agent Mark White, media coordinator in the bureau's Dallas office.

Irving Police Department Public Information Officer David Tull agreed. "We just look at the facts. The man killed his two daughters. This is a domestic violence, multiple-capital murder case."

Tull said that, unfortunately, there have still been no sightings or major leads — a fact that distresses Gartrell.

"I'm very upset about it," said Gartrell, who argues that the case needs special consideration. "This is not a typical murder case. When a family member murders another family member to protect [the family] name — that's different."

Man is sought over court absence

An arrest warrant has been issued for a devout Muslim who tried to hire a hitman to carry out an honour killing.

Mohammed Arshad, 51, served six months of a seven-year sentence after being found guilty of plotting the death of his son-in-law.

Arshad, from Dundee, was released on bail pending an appeal against his conviction for inciting murder.

But he failed to appear at the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday to hear his appeal had been unsuccessful.

Arshad put a price of £1,000 on the head of Abdullah Yasin, whom he wanted "removed from this earth" after discovering he had married his daughter, Insha, five years ago.

During his subsequent trial, the High Court in Edinburgh heard that Mr Yasin was from a different caste and in a culture of arranged marriages.

'Change of circumstances'

The rules had been broken by marrying a younger daughter before her older sister had settled with a husband, the court heard.

Arshad, who served as a justice of the peace and on Tayside Racial Equality Council, was trapped in an undercover police operation in Perth as the supposed hitman was a detective and their conversation was secretly taped.

Defence advocate Fred Mackintosh claimed that because of a communications mix-up Arshad had not been told to come to court.

Arshad still has an outstanding hearing to contest the length of his sentence.

But judge Lord Osborne said the appeal decision was such a "significant change of circumstances" that bail could no longer continue and issued a warrant for his arrest.


Couple jailed for marrying go free

Sunday, 30 April, 2006

HYDERABAD: A Pakistani couple were released yesterday after serving five years in jail for adultery, their only crime having been to fall in love and get married.

Sodi, 23, and her husband, Abdul Hakeem Kashkeli, 26, appeared in court in the southern city of Hyderabad where the judge ordered their release.

“I am overjoyed. We have got justice at last,” Sodi, 23, told reporters waiting outside. “The judgment shows we have done nothing wrong and it is no crime to marry the man you love.”

The court heard a statement from the maulvi, or Muslim preacher, who had conducted the marriage and dismissed the adultery case, defence lawyer Khuda Baksh Leghari said.

Sodi and her husband were arrested in October 2001 on adultery charges and held in separate jails after the woman’s father accused the man of abducting his daughter.

Every year, hundreds of Pakistani women become victims of so-called honour killings for marrying without their families’ consent, especially in conservative rural areas.

Others end up in jail after relatives file adultery cases.

A report by the Madadgaar Help Line said despite a law to curb violence against women, cases of ‘karo-kari’ or honour killing are still going on unabated.

According to an estimate, only 10% of such cases are reported in the media.

The help line said more than 473 incidents of honour killing were reported from Sindh, 337 from Punjab, 129 from Balochistan and 76 from the North West Frontier Province in 2005.

Those killed included 563 married and 75 unmarried women, 373 men and six children.

In 380 such cases, the perpetrators were never nabbed. In most of the cases, the killers were close relatives of the victims, the report said. – Agencies


U.K. `Honor Crimes,' Cloaked in Silence, Stall Police

By Caroline Alexander and Charles Goldsmith

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Samaira Nazir rejected Pakistani suitors chosen by her family and planned to elope with her Afghan boyfriend. The penalty for her defiance: death from 18 stab wounds inflicted by her brother and cousin at the family home in Southall, England.

More than a dozen women are killed for violating community standards each year in the U.K., according to police. While Nazir's killers were jailed for life, U.K. police ignore hundreds of ``honor crimes'' to avoid inflaming relations with Muslim enclaves as they work to head off homegrown terror plots, say lawmakers and women's rights advocates.

``There is a kid-gloves approach on the basis that you don't want to offend these communities,'' says Usha Sood, a lawyer and lecturer at Nottingham Trent University who specializes in forced marriage cases. ``If you take into account the whole range of honor offenses, the number runs into the thousands.''

Combating honor violence is one element of the U.K.'s struggle to assimilate its 1.6 million Muslims. Prime Minister Tony Blair recognized the clash of cultures during a Dec. 8 speech to educators in London titled ``The Duty to Integrate.''

``There can be no defense of forced marriage on cultural or any other grounds,'' Blair said. ``We stand emphatically at all times for equality of respect and treatment for all citizens. Sometimes the cultural practice of one group contradicts this.''

Police find it difficult to identify honor crimes because family members and neighbors often regard them as just punishment. Victims are often targeted because of sexual orientation or for relationships with outsiders.

Abduction, Repression

Honor violence includes abduction, forced abortion and rape, police say. Most incidents involve South Asian families, Sood says, adding that counselors also help victims with Kurdish, Afghan, Nigerian and Turkish backgrounds.

Steve Allen, a commander with London's Metropolitan Police who's charged with combating honor crimes, says U.K. law enforcement is tackling the issue. Beginning this year, Scotland Yard computers will register honor-based violence as a separate category of crime for the first time, helping police identify women at risk.

``There's nothing about political correctness in this,'' Allen says. ``It's just about doing our duty.''

Still, Allen says police were slow to recognize the problem. As an officer in the ethnically diverse city of Bristol in the 1990s, Allen says honor crime ``just wasn't on our radar.''

Murder Investigations

Growing awareness of honor killings prompted Scotland Yard to establish a task force in 2004 to reexamine 109 homicides over the previous decade to determine how many were honor-based.

So far, 22 cases have been analyzed and 18 have been classified as either ``definite'' or ``suspected'' honor killings, says a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police who asked not to be identified, citing department policy. The probe doesn't have a time limit.

Police will use the study's findings to train officers to spot women at risk of honor crimes when responding to domestic- violence cases, Allen says.

U.K. Muslim leaders say religion isn't a factor.

``Honor killing is un-Islamic; it is prohibited in Islam and is alien to Islam,'' says Shamiul Joarder of the Muslim Association of Britain. ``It is a cultural issue, not a religious one, and that distinction must be made.''

The Muslim Council of Britain says Islam rejects vigilantism.

``That said, it would be naive of us to bury our heads in the sand and deny that this pre-Islamic custom continues amongst some Muslims and those of other faith communities,'' the group says on its Web site.

Cultural Isolation

The notion that it is acceptable to use violence against family members has taken hold in communities that are isolated out of choice, says Gurmit Heer, a cultural criminologist at the University of Birmingham. Stepped-up police investigations would help prompt change.

``Lack of integration and segregation provokes this kind of insular thinking,'' Heer says. ``Branching out from that would help to reduce these crimes, and the fear factor of the law.''

The true impact of honor violence can't be measured by crime statistics alone, says Veena Raleigh, who teaches epidemiology and public health at the University of Surrey in Guilford, England. In Britain, the suicide rate among first-generation Asian women, aged 15 to 24, is more than twice the national average of 5.4 per 100,000 women, according to her research.

``The evidence suggests that these women found themselves trapped by social factors and not feeling there was an escape for them,'' Raleigh adds. ``The family is a very strong unit in South Asian culture.''

Forced Marriages

Javinder Sanghera, who ran away from a compelled marriage at the age of 15, says her sister Robina committed suicide by setting herself alight in 1987 after her parents sent her back to an abusive husband.

Sometimes violence stems from the desire to keep women isolated from the modern world.

``Girls are being beaten up for things like having a mobile phone,'' says Sanghera, 41, who runs the Karma Nirvana shelter for women in Derby, England. The group deals with seven forced marriages a week, and about four cases each month of people under the threat of murder, she says.

Typical of those seeking help is an 18-year-old who asked to be identified only as Serena. She says she sought help through Karma Nirvana after her father beat her repeatedly for six years. After a suicide attempt at 15, she was sent to Pakistan and kept there for a year before she returned to a hostile home.

`They Will Kill Me'

``The whole house was against me -- dad, mum, sisters, all of them,'' she says. ``Then I took a big step and went for a fresh start.'' After four months on the run, Serena is taking classes and maintaining phone contact with her mother from the city where she's in hiding. ``If my uncles find out where I am, they will kill me for sure,'' she says.

There are about 300 safe houses for abused women in the U.K., though many have only a handful of beds, says Diana Nammi, director of the International Campaign Against Honour Killings, a London-based group that represents victims. Her group counseled 186 people last year, and 14 of them were sent to the police because they were deemed in danger of being murdered, she says. Two men were included in the high-risk group.

Last year the Blair government established an agency to offer help to U.K. citizens whose parents are trying to compel them to marry partners from overseas. The Forced Marriage Unit's six officers deal with 250 to 300 cases each year. About 15 percent of the cases are initiated by men and two-thirds come from Britain's Pakistani community, says Peter Abbott, head of the unit, which is part of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Marriage Age

Still, Blair's government in June dropped a proposal to ban forced marriage in the U.K. Patricia Scotland, a Home Office minister in the House of Lords, said such a law could drive the practice further underground. A Labour member of Parliament, Ann Cryer, is now gathering support for new legislation.

Other European countries have taken action to protect women. Denmark in 2002 set a minimum age of 24 for nationals marrying foreigners, and Sweden bans all marriages under the age of 18, regardless of the applicants' nationality.

In the U.K., the minimum age for foreign spouses and Britons seeking to sponsor them for entry to the U.K. is 18. Cryer, who represents a district with a large Asian population in northern England, has been campaigning to raise the minimum age for both bride and groom to 21.

Reluctant Sponsors

Cryer says her office receives an average of three confidential requests a month from constituents who want the government to reject visa applications for potential spouses chosen by their families. The Muslim community must do more to protect the rights of ``reluctant sponsors,'' usually young women who feel trapped by familial expectations, she says.

``Communities would prefer to turn a blind eye, and anyone who raises the issue is either a racist or an Islamophobe,'' Cryer says at a tea lounge at the House of Parliament.

In addition to the murder of 25-year-old Samaira Nazir, police have sought prosecutions in other honor killings. Heshu Yones, a 17-year-old of Kurdish ancestry, had her throat slit in 2002 for having a boyfriend; her father was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The body of Banaz Babakir Agha, a 20-year-old Londoner of Kurdish descent, was found in a suitcase last year after she ended her arranged marriage. Four men have been charged in connection to the crime.

U.K. Issue

``When I came here in 1996 I thought honor killings only happened in other countries,'' says Nammi, a Kurd who was born in Iran and also lived in Iraq. ``I thought that with the better education and more freedom here, it wouldn't be a problem, but soon after I came here I found honor killings happening here.''

Blair said in his London speech that the government may back the latest proposal to ban forced marriages.

Cryer says that it may also be necessary to review the very language used to describe the horrors facing those caught in community-sanctioned violence.

The Labour lawmaker says such violence has nothing to do with honor. ``I think it is a pack of lies,'' Cryer says. ``It is about men controlling women.''


My mother was the victim of honour killing, reveals Muslim playwright


8th September 2007

Britain's most controversial Muslim playwright tells the extraordinary story of her mother's murder and growing up as the daughter of an honour killing.

I was six-years-old when my mother, Shakeela Begum Khan, a beautiful, sassy, educated young Muslim woman, was murdered.

Returning home from school one day in 1976 to the one-room bedsit in East London where we both lived, I found police officers and an ambulance crew removing her body.

I remember that scene now as if it were a vague dream.

Did it really happen, or did I just imagine it?

I have no memory of how I felt, only of what I witnessed.

As I grew up, older relatives had to reassure me that my memories weren't delusional.

Many years later, I also discovered the killer had set up the room to make it look as though it were a brothel, and my mother a prostitute.

As anyone from a Muslim background would instantly recognise, it was the ultimate way to dishonour a woman in the eyes of her family and community.

Soon after my mother's death, her estranged husband, Rasib - my father - was accused of the murder, charged and tried, but he was acquitted.

Taken by Rasib to live with his new wife and a half-brother, both of whom were cruel and abusive to me when my father was not around, I was never allowed to utter a word about my mother.

For the next eight years, I lived in an atmosphere of secrets, lies and crippling fear, reluctantly protecting my vicious stepmother and half-brother from the fury my father would have unleashed on them if he'd known what they did to me.

I lived in constant dread that if I told anybody, the ultimate punishment for them would be death.

Now, three decades later, I have attained a form of poetic justice.

As a playwright, I challenge the forces that try to impose silence and censorship on me.

Having been silenced for so many years of my life, I am now determined to say the unsayable whenever necessary.

My father, Rasib Khan, was born in Pakistan, one of six sons.

Although his family were wealthy landowners, he grew up illiterate.

Apparently, in his teens, my father got into a fight with his youngest brother and, in an outburst of anger, pushed him; the younger boy accidentally landed on a sharp farming tool and died.

My father's family bribed the police and placed the dead body at a neighbour's house to shift the blame.

Soon after, Rasib emigrated to England to start a new life, settling in East London with an older brother.

Like most Asian immigrants in the early Sixties, Rasib worked in a factory - in his case,The London Rubber Company, which manufactured washing-up gloves and condoms among other things.

Like many immigrants, he worked hard and lived frugally, saving every penny he could from his 12-hour shifts to buy run-down properties which he did up and then sold again.

Gradually, he built up his capital until, in 1965, he was able to return to Pakistan a wealthy man and marry my mother, Shakeela.

When they got back to London, my mother took on Rasib's illegitimate son, Khalid, who was the result of a youthful liaison between my father and a woman from a nearby village and now lived in London with our father.

For five years after their marriage, my parents tried unsuccessfully for a child.

Then, I was born.

According to old family friends and relatives I have talked to about this time, Rasib was the happiest man around, and my memories of how he treated me are of a doting, loving and fun father.

Despite the fact that I was a girl, he called me his Sher Puttar ('Tiger Son'), training me to stand up for myself and, if anyone hit me, to "kick 'em in the shins".

He proudly displayed a half-moon shaped scar on his forehead that apparently was a toothmark from where I'd bitten him.

For this he rewarded me with praise, hugs and kisses.

My father could be a tough man, with a loud, harsh voice, and he treated my half-brother particularly sternly, in marked contrast to the loving way in which he treated me.

In my father's presence, my half-brother would cower and sometimes wet himself.

In my father's absence, though, Khalid would show me resentment, even hatred.

My mother didn't fear her husband because he treated her kindly, encouraging her to explore the delights of London's shops and go out with her friends.

To any intellectual feminist this may not seem liberating, but compared with her peers my mother had a good lifestyle - helped, no doubt, by the fact that she had only one young child.

Other Pakistani wives, with many children to help support, were homeworkers, sewing dresses in dark cellars for exploitative employers.

Both my parents were relatively "progressive", particularly in the way they raised me.

My mother always kitted me out in trendy flares and psychedelic minidresses.

My female cousins envied me because I had a chic pageboy haircut, instead of the standard two long, oiled plaits with bright red ribbons.

But while my cousins envied my pageboy, I really envied their plaits.

My cousins had to go to the mosque every day to learn the Koran.

They thought of any excuse to skive off, but their parents, with the support of the mullah's cane, insisted they would grow up to be heathens, overtly sexual, undignified and non-Islamic if they didn't go.

It was due to these ridiculous fears that my father kept himself and me well away from the mosque and the mullah.

He only faked prayers, twice a year for Eid, and even then he used a make-do prayer hat, a white handkerchief with a knot tied in each corner.

He objected to hypocrisy and thought religion caused hatred.

Plus, being illiterate didn't help restore his faith in Koranic words, whether written or spoken, as he resented the taboo against debating or disagreeing with them.

My father's main focus, other than my mother and me, was to make money, buy property and make more money.

This he thought would then lead to his Sher Puttar having a dowry to be reckoned with.

School and education were important to him, and that was all I should concentrate on, not housework or religion; just play and school.

As soon as I was putting basic letters together into words, I remember having to read his post for him.

There were big words like "leasehold" and "freehold", not "Peter and Jane went for a walk".

But my life changed dramatically for the worse when I was aged just four, with what was supposed to be a happy family holiday to Pakistan.

Without telling Rasib, so relatives later told me, my mother decided to give away her gold jewellery to a poor relative.

My father apparently felt betrayed by my mother not consulting him before making this impulsive gesture, and flew into a rage.

As my father and I were inseparable at that time, my mother left me with him for what she assumed would be a few days and went to stay with her mother until he calmed down.

In her absence, however, my father did an extraordinary thing, at least to Western eyes.

While my mother was away he vengefully entered into a hastily arranged marriage with a woman from a nearby village - under Islamic law, a man is permitted to take up to four wives - and illegally brought her back to London, using my mother's passport.

He moved her into our family home and she took over the care of Khalid and me, as though my mother had never existed.

With the benefits of A-levels and her basic English, however, Shakeela managed to get herself back to England.

After a court hearing, my parents were separated and my mother won custody of me, with my father having only weekend access.

Not many Pakistani women would have defied and shamed their husbands in Seventies London in such a way.

My father had never been challenged like that before in his life and here was a woman, his own wife, doing this; it was such a big insult.

On weekends, my loyalties were torn.

I couldn't bear to be parted from my mother, so I refused to visit my father.

My mother needed some peace and quiet though, as she worked long hours in a fish-and-chip shop to support us both and was usually exhausted.

So she wanted me to spend time with Rasib, who would turn up every Saturday and Sunday morning to collect me - only to be rejected by me each time.

Then, on that terrible day in 1976, my mother was murdered.

I have one hazy memory of leaving our bedsit holding my father's hand, to start my new life with my stepmother and my half-brother.

I can remember walking around the local shops and seeing pictures of my mother posted on billboards, in shop windows and cinema doorways, but I was never allowed to acknowledge the posters or ever utter a word about my mother again.

Was she a celebrity, I used to wonder, who had perhaps left me for the bright lights of television . . . for Charlie's Angels, perhaps?

After my father was arrested for her murder, he spent time in jail on remand, but he denied responsibility and was eventually acquitted for lack of evidence.

Having taken the easy option of arresting my father, the police never solved the crime, and I doubt they tried all that hard, given the racial prejudice rife in Seventies Britain and the lack of cultural understanding.

I think it highly likely, though, that my beautiful mother, still only in her 20s at the time of her death, was the victim of a so-called "honour killing" - one of countless thousands of young women from Muslim communities who are murdered, often by close male relatives, for stepping out of line.

After my father's trial, I retreated into a world of silence and invisibility.

Aunts and uncles would greet me when they realised I was in the room and speak to me in tones of sympathy and pity.

But none was brave enough to stand up to my father, speak openly of my dead mother or defend me from my "wicked stepmother" and even more wicked half-brother.

I spent eight unhappy years with my father and his new family, keeping quiet about how I was being treated by my stepmother and half-brother.

I hated these two for what they did to me, crying myself to sleep on many occasions, not knowing what to do or who to tell.

I lived in fear of what my father would do if he ever discovered what was happening to me, and he loved me dearly, behind his back.

Eventually, having managed to persuade Social Services to take me into care when I was 14, I was placed with a wonderful family.

It was then that I first challenged the censorship and silence that had been imposed on me.

From the safety of my new home in the country far from London, I wrote to my father and told him exactly how I felt and what his second wife and son had done to me.

My father, a man feared by everyone around him, withered into a sobbing wreck and died a few years later.

Unsurprisingly, those miserable years after my mother's death gave me a deep horror of enforced silence. On leaving school, I became a youth and community worker in London, where I came across many other people who had had horrific experiences of exploitation, abuse, violence, injustice and fundamentalist intolerance but who were, for various reasons, silenced, ignored or denied any chance to defend themselves.

One only has to open a newspaper or watch the news to see this still repeated on a national and international level today.

So if I couldn't help people through my own intervention, and in most instances, of course, I couldn't, then I could at least try to help by exploring and questioning issues to raise awareness and encourage those in power to take action.

Around six years ago, after the director of a London theatre company encouraged me to try my hand at writing for the stage, I began writing plays.

I went on to explore once-taboo subjects such as "honour killings" of women in British-Pakistani families and the sex trafficking of Asian women, in the hope I could provide a voice for victims of abuse and injustice.

However, the political climate in the West following 9/11 has not been helpful, encouraging many Muslims to close ranks against perceived Islamaphobia.

For instance, I wrote about "honour killings" in my play Reshaam before 9/11 had happened, and the feedback I received from Pakistani communities at the time was: "Thank you for writing about this."

People wrote to me saying "My sister went through a similar experience," and "Men are gossips who hide behind the veil of the mosque."

Since 2001 though, any attempt to publicly examine and expose sensitive subjects within Muslim communities can result in a hostile response, as I discovered after another of my plays, Bells, attracted national Press coverage.

This play,which I am now hoping might be made into a film, exposed the secret, seedy world of mujra, or courtesan clubs, a centuries-old tradition in Pakistan that has emerged in Britain in a bastardised form and is now growing through sex trafficking.

During the day, a shop is a halal butchers, at night it becomes Bells, a members-only club upstairs where girls wearing traditional dress dance seductively for the male customers who throw money at their feet - the girls go a lot further for those who pay more.

The club seems glamorous, but it is tarnished by the secret, sordid lives beneath the surface: a place where meat is bought and sold.

To discover this world exists in the UK, perhaps just around the corner, was a fascinating realisation - and a culture shock.

In sections of the media, Bells was described as "a play about Muslim brothels" - sensationalist shorthand that placed the focus on religion over and above the desperate circumstances of the women, which is what I was trying to convey.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which staged Bells two years ago, was threatened with riots on the opening night.

The theatre management assured me that no matter what happened, they would not give in to protesters and drop my play - unlike Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's Behzti (Punjabi for "dishonour").

The play was notoriously cancelled by the same theatre after protests from members of the Sikh community in 2004 about the play's depiction of a rape and murder in a Sikh temple.

Nevertheless, I suffered during and after the national tour of Bells.

For daring to write about this sensitive subject, I was set upon by jeering young Asian men howling obscenities, and by elderly men who spat at me.

My car was blown up in an arson attack, apparently as a punishment from a self-righteous religious fundamentalist incensed at my reputation as a "non-believer in God".

Biologically, I'm not mixed race, but mentally and socially I am half English and half Pakistani, and proud to be both.

My heritage is Muslim; but I'm not a follower of any religion.

Despite the intimidation, I declared publicly that I was not going to give in to bullies.

But last year, writing my latest play, In No Sense, I was shocked to realise I was censoring myself, fearful of encouraging further attacks from people insulted by my "evil" writing.

At first I thought it was just a case of writer's block.

But once I acknowledged to myself that it was fear constraining me, I had to choose either to stay quiet - as I had as a frightened child - or to continue to confront the bullies.

I chose the latter course.

That experience gave me a new sense of resolve: never to be silenced again. Speaking out, even at the risk of causing offence - or perhaps more accurately, deliberately risking offence --is the only method available to me to challenge injustice and fundamentalist intolerance.

Otherwise, I'm not much better than my uncles, aunts, the police and those in the law courts who stood by for years, either ignoring what was happening to me or watching and just whispering their concerns behind closed doors.