Some Notes on George Clooney, the Druze, and the Daily Mail

This one has gone global; from USA Today:

[George] Clooney, 53, is refuting a Daily Mail story that says Baria Alamuddin, his future mother-in-law, is against the impending marriage for religious reasons.

The story quotes unnamed sources as saying that Baria, a journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the United Kingdom, thinks her daughter “can do better” than Clooney, specifically by marrying into the family’s Druze religion. The story says Baria has been saying as much to friends in Beirut, where Amal was born.

“First of all, factually none of the story is true,” says Clooney in an exclusive statement to USA TODAY. “Amal’s mother is not Druze. She has not been to Beirut since Amal and I have been dating, and she is in no way against the marriage, but none of that is the issue… The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous.”

In the wake of Clooney’s withering rebuttal, the Mail has issued an apology, in which the paper passes the buck to “a reputable and trusted freelance journalist” who had “based her story on conversations with a long standing contact who has strong connections with senior members of the Lebanese community in the UK and the Druze in Beirut.” [see also UPDATE below] The article was co-authored by the freelancer along with a Mail showbiz hack; the freelancer has discreetly deleted a Tweet in which she announced her “exclusive”.

However, Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford asks:

The big question for me is why didn’t Mail Online put in a call about the story? Clooney must have plenty of PR handlers and it would be easy enough for Mail Online to make a check, but it does not appear to have done so.

And a further problem for the Mail is that although it may make some mistakes “in good faith”, as the apology claims,  the paper and its website also fabulate wildly. Clooney himself cites three other stories about himself, including one which said the wedding would take place at Highclere Castle, famous as the filming location for Downton Abbey.

Ponsford also notes a detail that appeared on Mail Online, but in not the printed Daily Mail:

There can be harsh penalties for those Druze who marry outsiders. Several women have been murdered for disobeying the rules. Last year a Sunni Muslim man had his penis severed by the male relatives of a Druze woman who defied her family by marrying him.

The friend added: ‘There have a been a few jokes in the family about the same thing happening to George!’

Clooney took particular exception to the implication that his own bride could be killed.

The story about the severed penis refers to an incident in Baysour in Lebanon, in which relatives of a Druze woman named Roudayna Malaeb cut off her husband’s penis and pulled out his teeth after they married in defiance of her parents’ wishes. NOW Lebanon has some context on sectarian marriage:

Sheikh Sami Abi al-Mouna, president of the Druze Sectarian Council’s cultural committee, told NOW…: “When raising his/her children, a Druze strives to convince them of the need to marry a fellow Druze for the same of society’ stability and coherence, thus securing its future.”

“If inter-faith marriage occurs within the community, it is dealt with in such a way as to preserve one’s dignity. We do not make threats or deal with the person who marries outside the community with harshness, but guidance is our duty.” Coexistence, he added, “happens through politics and political parties that are not affiliated with any religion, rather than within religions and inter-faith marriage.”

Traditionally, a Druze man who marries out is shunned, while a woman who marries out will be in danger due to beliefs about honour, shame and parental control. But the key word here is “traditionally” – Malaeb’s husband was sexually mutilated because of her parents’ culture, but it appears that culturally modernized Druze with high social capital have different values and more leeway when it comes to patterns of behaviour. The Lebanese Druze political leader Walid Jumblatt is a respected figure despite marrying out, and this is also the case with Clooney’s prospective father-in-law. A Now article from the end of April notes:

Sheikh Akram Eid, a longtime family friend of the Alamuddins, told NOW that Amal was born to Ramzi Alamuddin and his wife Baaria Meknas, a Sunni from Tripoli. Ramzi was the son of Khalil Alamuddin, who used to serve as the head of the Baaqline municipality. “[Khalil] was respected and loved,” Eid said. He told NOW that the Alamuddin family was well-known and respected in Baaqline. “Their old history is even better than their present.”

“The Alamuddins are from the sheikhs of Baaqline. They’re a really old family,” said Hamadi. “They’re like the house of Jumblatt, Arslan – these families have a certain level in our sect.”

No sign of any social ostracism or scandal there – and, as Clooney indicates, it makes a nonsense of the Mail‘s claim that Baria, “a Sunni from Tripoli”, would object to her daughter marrying a non-Druze.

Israel’s Weekly Standard added a few weeks later:

Jumblatt welcomes the Clooney-Alamuddin announcement as rare good news. He is eager, he wrote me in an email, to throw a party for the actor at his ancestral home in the Chouf Mountains. “Tell me when George Clooney will be coming to Lebanon so I can greet him in Moukhtara. I will bring a delegation of Druze sheikhs,” Jumblatt gushed. “As for Amal Alamuddin, well, she is lucky.”

The Standard also referred to the penis-severing incident, but added details of Jumblatt’s excoriating denunciation of what had happened at Baysour; Haaretz then followed up with a similar piece, entitled “Lebanon’s Druze leader welcomes George Clooney into community”. I strongly suspect that one of these two articles was the Mail authors’ source for their own “severed penis” sensationalism – but that they chose to ignore all the wider evidence in those pieces that Clooney marrying a Druze is not problem for her family.

UPDATE: In a follow-up column, Clooney notes an inconsistency between the apology’s reference to “a long standing contact who has strong connections with senior members of the Lebanese community” as the freelancer’s source, and the original article’s claim that the journalist had spoken with a “family friend”. He also points out that a previous Mail article showed that the paper knew already that Baria is not a Druze.

His verdict:

What separates this from all of the ridiculous things the Mail makes up is that now, by their own admission, it can be proved to be a lie. In fact, a premeditated lie.