I first thought of this issue a few years ago, but I don’t think I’ve discussed it on this blog before. So I thought I’d bring it up and see what y’all think about it.
And a disclaimer: I’m doing my best to write things in a non-offensive way and to make sure my facts are correct, but I don’t know much about the Muslim world at all, so if I mess up, I’m sorry. If I’m wrong about something, feel free to call me out on it.
(Recently, on a chat app my phone, I spoke to a guy who grew up in Saudi Arabia and now lives in the UK. I had never spoken to a Saudi person in my life. I said, “I’ve heard X, Y and Z about Saudi Arabia, are those things true?” He confirmed they were and said I was, for an American, “surprisingly well-informed” about Saudi Arabia. Which is really depressing when you think about it because I don’t know much about the country at all. I can name three cities there: Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah. The first two I know about only because they’re famous in the history of Islam, the third I know about only because I read a novel set there. So it’s not that I am well-informed about Saudi Arabia or Muslim issues at all, it’s just that everyone else knows even less than I do. In a blind world, the one-eyed man is king. But moving right along…)
I have an idea about APs for a very specific subset of people: Muslim girls who were taken by a non-custodial parent and are believed to be now living in a Muslim-majority country where the girls and women generally wear some form of the hijab.
I don’t know much about the hijab, but I know there are different types of covering and in a few countries (like Saudi Arabia) women are legally required to wear them, and in other countries it’s just sort of the done thing, a cultural expectation to dress in this way. But I’m not trying to talk about whether a Muslim girl or woman should or should not wear the hijab. What I’m actually thinking is this:
In the countries I’m talking about, the girls and women will usually wear, at minimum, a scarf on their head, and in most cases the scarf covers most or all of their hair. They’ll wear this pretty much all the time they’re out in public. So why, when the NCMEC makes APs for these girls, do they not show that scarf?
Sarah Molouk Amiri, for example, is believed to be in Iran, where the hijab is required by law and just about every female wears some form of head covering even if it doesn’t completely conceal their hair. My Google image search for “Iranian women” turned up a lot of photos of women in various scarves; many of these women wore scarves that covered most or all of their hair, and also their neck up to the chin. Yet Sarah’s latest AP (done four years ago) shows her wearing no headscarf, and her entire neck and parts of her collarbone were also uncovered in the picture. I find it hard to believe that a woman living in Iran, even a super-modern cosmopolitan city girl, would ever dress that way in public. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to show an AP of Sarah dressed in the clothing worn by the females of the country where she’s supposed to be?
And that’s just one example. There are many family abduction cases where the girls are thought to be living in countries where some form of hijab is commonly worn in public. And the NCMEC, when it makes APs for them, NEVER shows them in Islamic clothing. One time, years ago, do an AP of a missing girl who was supposedly in Pakistan, and it did show her wearing a headscarf, which is what made me suddenly realize that this was an issue. They never made another one like it, and when they updated this particular girl’s AP a few years later, the scarf disappeared.
The obvious counter-argument to the “have them wear a scarf in the picture” is that it’s necessary for the APs to show the girls’ hair and neck etc., so we can better see what they look like. And also that if they added a scarf to the picture, people would be distracted by it and be focusing on the scarf rather than the girl/woman’s face.
But the thing is, if they’re living in a country where the hijab is required by law or where nearly all women wear some form of it, literally no one in public is going to see these girls’ hair and neck and collarbones and what have you. So it doesn’t help show what the girl looks like. As for distracting from the focus on the girl’s face, you could argue that, if, say, an Iranian person was looking at Sarah Amiri’s AP, that person might get distracted by the exposed hair and neck and collarbone.
Anyway… So what do you think of my idea? I’m especially interested in hearing from any Muslims in the audience.
“I don’t know much about the hijab, but I know there are different types of covering and in a few countries (like Saudi Arabia) women are legally required to wear them, and in other countries it’s just sort of the done thing, a cultural expectation to dress in this way.”
You’re missing out on cases where Muslim girls might have been taken to Europe. For decades, Turkey actually banned different categories of women from wearing the hijab. Turks overseas were known to have more of a cultural expectation to wear it.
I went to Germany and Turkey in 2013. I saw very few hijabs in Istanbul – I saw virtually every Turkish woman wearing them in places like Cologne’s Turkish neighborhood. It might actually be logical to assume that a Muslim girl taken to Europe might have even more of an expectation to wear one.
That’s a good point about Europe. I knew that few women in Turkey wore the hijab, but I didn’t think about emigrants from the Muslim world who live in the West.
Interesting blog post. I’ve met quite a few Iranians in the past year. The Iranian women i’ve almost uniformly don’t wear the hijab in public – but they do wear it for things like identification photos. Iraqi’s and other Arabs do seem to wear.
You should do a Lebanon list, a number of parental kidnappings seem related to that country. There’s one on the FBI Parental Kidnapping list where the daughter was is openly on social media.
I did a search for family abductions in various Muslim countries to write this blog, and some cases came up for Lebanon, but they were all boys.
I know an Iranian man who works as a math professor at Ohio State University, where my dad teaches biology. This guy had to come here as a refugee at some point either during or shortly after the Iranian Revolution. He got over the border in a bus, disguised as a woman in either a niqab or a burqa.
OT, Felix Vail got life for his first wife’s murder………………
Here is a People article posted today with Annette Craver’s mother as well as the mention of the other missing woman Sharon Hensley.
Another story on how the investigation into Felix Vail started:
Thanks for posting this about Felix Vail’s conviction of the murder of his wife. I had never heard of “the doctrine of chances.” If more courts allowed evidence of missing wives/girlfriends to be entered into testimony of murder cases against husbands/boyfriends, I bet there would be a higher conviction rate for these serial murderers. And yes, the vast majority of these serial murderers are men.
Felix Vail reminds me of George Joseph Smith, the “Brides in the Bath” killer who operated in England in the early 20th century.
At first he was just a scammer: he would meet a woman, court her for a few weeks and marry her (that was common in those days), then a short time after the marriage he’d vanish, along with all his wife’s stuff and her money.
Then he got the idea to do a different form of the scam: marry a woman, take out a life insurance policy on her, and then kill her.
He drowned them in their bathtubs and found a way to do it so there were no marks on the body and no splashing around or any indication of distress.
It was a perfect crime, really: the type of crime people don’t realize is a crime. But Smith basically became the victim of his own success: the father of Dead Wife #1 read about the death of Wife #3 in the newspaper, realized that the circumstances of death were identical, smelled a rat, and called the cops.
Or Drew Petersen. Another statistical improbability……………
Is there an easier way to do this than using Photoshop or Paint where you have to exactly trace the outline of the scarf with the mouse, then cut and paste onto the AP’s face? I’m probably not up to date on the latest photo editing software but this is the only way I know to do it and it’s really difficult and time consuming unless you have an extremely steady hand.
I think she will have to find and app or use a template to create a scarf and then add it herself. I don’t think the NCMEC plans to create specific accessories for the APs they do. From ball caps to beanie knit caps to dreads, shorn hair, receding hair lines, beards, goatees, piercings, etc. there are so many variables.
Your comment about “beanie knit caps” makes me think of something else: if a boy is the victim of a family abduction and the family practices Orthodox Judaism, should APs show him wearing sidelocks and a kippah?
Only if they’re Hasidic. If they are ordinary orthodox it’d make sense to do one with a yarmulke though.
Beanie knit cap? Are you referring to a yakima which a cap that jewish men wear for special occaisions?
I think this is a good idea. They could feature pictures with the covering and the same pictures without covering. That way all the bases are covered.
Totally OT…I was going through cases and for 10/1/11 Makayla Randall I get an error message, page not found….is it me or has that case been taken care of?
It appears I deleted her casefile accidentally. It’s back up now; thanks for letting me know.
I would think that as an absolute baseline in cases like this there should be one AP *with* head-covering and one *without*, and it’s a bit short-sighted of agencies that have better resources than you do not to take this into consideration. As somebody says above, it would really only involve creating a template that could be superimposed on the AP picture – albeit it would have to be adjusted in each case, but when you’re already investing the time and effort to create an AP it doesn’t seem too big of a step to create a second one at the same time. (No worse than, say, creating one for a man with a beard and another clean-shaven, or adding or subtracting glasses.)
I’m wondering if the reluctance to do this could maybe be connected with a fear of being accused of anti-Muslim paranoia or prejudice?
I think it is probably less common for a missing person to be found from a stranger recognizing them and more likely from someone they are close to. (Sorry if I sound incoherent my son keeps distracting me). When Muslim women get together without men, they don’t wear their head scarves. They also don’t wear them at home. So I think it is important that they have one without any covering. But I suspect it just isn’t done because it creates a whole host of potential issues, like angry offended people.
Everyone gets offended about something these days, I think there are groups out there who do nothing but. Price of the internet, I guess. Frankly, I’ve read things that offend me at some point, but I don’t have to worry because there is already someone there to take over being mad for me. At any rate, if it helps in the AP, I think that they should do it anyway. If it one thing I’ve found, the offended sector is usually much smaller than the non one. Just more vocal.
Why not both? That way, one where the general public might recognize her and one where someone in her private life may recognize her who might be available to help her.
I think the with hijab and without hijab AP is a wonderful idea, actually. Sometimes a face is all anyone may have to go on. Off the top of my head, I can think of both the Elizabeth Smart case and that of Sabrina Allen. Thankfully both girls were found, but they didn’t necessarily look like the pictures provided. Elizabeth was wearing sunglasses, a wig, and religiously accepted clothing upon being found. Not what she would normally wear from day to day. Sabrina, on the other hand, dyed her hair while in Mexico and though there was an AP with dark hair, in my personal opinion, I don’t think it looks that much like what she now looks like. I know an AP is only what they might look like, but I don’t think it was as close to reality as many APs of people found that I have seen. These 2 cases aren’t probably the greatest examples, but I can see what you all are saying.
My issue with the APs are those done in black and white. It’s really hard to get an accurate picture of what someone could look like (for example, eye color and skin tone). Jamel Williams (from Ohio) is one case in particular. Honestly, I have not seen that many biracial people who are half Caucasian and half African American, but have blue eyes and blonde hair and have a bit more of a difficult time visualizing what he’d look like. Usually, darker genes are more prominent, though this isn’t always the case, of course. The original picture of Jamel is in black and white, but I remember the previous AP from before it was aged again was in color.
Does anyone else struggle with this, or is it just me??
My guess is that Jamel Williams was probably more than half white and that’s where he gets his hair and eyes from. People tend not to pay attention to such things anymore, but there used to be words like “quadroon” (one-quarter black, three-quarters white) and “octoroon” (one-eighth black).
If my memory serves… There was an interesting legal case in the 1850s where a young woman, a slave, sued for her freedom. She claimed had not been born a slave, but into a white family, and had been kidnapped as a very young child and forced to work on the plantation. She looked white, and she’d figured out the etiquette, how to speak the right way, etc. like an educated and proper Southern lady, which swayed the juries in her favor. They would return verdicts setting her free, and then the state would appeal, and judges who had never met this young woman would have an objective look at the evidence and then re-enslave her — because she was almost certainly born into slavery and just happened to have a lot of white ancestry. The case was still pending by the time the Civil War broke out, and no one knows what happened to the woman. But you have to say, she had chutzpah.
But I digress.