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Ali and Nino; a better path to restore honour without killing

March 01, 2013

What can a novel teach about one man’s individual capacity to resist thousands of years of cultural tradition that harms women? One turning point in a story gives me hope for cross cultural conflict management.

imageAli and Nino, a novel published in 1937 in German, will enjoy new life when the movie now in development hits big screens. The paperback version landed in our family bookshelf shortly after the story was translated into English. The story is summarized on the movie website: http://www.movieinsider.com/m9807/ali–nino/

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ali Khan and Nino Kipiani live in Baku, the cosmopolitan, oil-rich capital of Azerbaijan, which is a melting-pot of different cultures. Ali is a traditional Muslim boy and Nino is a Christian Georgian girl with sophisticated European ways. Despite their differences, the two have loved each other since childhood and Ali is determined to marry Nino as soon as she finishes school.

The novel is a great read. It’s also fun to delve into the mysteries of its authorship, controversies about plagiarism, and online analyses of the plot.

Spoiler alert – Ali found Nino in a situation where he felt justified to murder her, and his friends supported the ‘honour killing’. But Ali didn’t do it. Ali loved his tradition, his religion and his country, and died defending those values. Yet, when Nino expected to die at his hand, Ali spared her. He’d killed her abductor, so what caused him to spare her?

If it were only a love story, it would be easy to rationalize Ali’s refusal as not killing the woman he’d loved since they were children. Clean, neat explanation; very nice for Hollywood that sells love stories. I’m wondering, is that all there was to Ali’s act? Selfishness? Love? Compassion? Fearing loneliness without her? All of these? Even more profound – Ali found it in his heart to understand what had happened from Nino’s perspective and he forgave her.

Ali and Nino married after her ‘defilement’ and lived happily. Ali, an aristocrat, resumed his privileged station with Nino visibly at his side, contributing to their government’s policy development in world affairs.

To those who believe that murdering a female is a solution to anything, the novel stands for the proposition of an alternative route to purification and restoration of honour. It wasn’t Ali’s compromise act or rejection of his cultural tradition. Their happiness as a couple, as parents and as citizens contributing to their country’s wellbeing was grounded in Ali’s deliberate decision and forgiveness that he had the personal strength and integrity to make.


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