CHICAGO – An Arab American woman’s horrifying story of being forced by her mother to travel to Palestine at the age of 15 to get married and having to plot an escape back to the U.S. is causing controversy.
Yasmine Koenig, who was recently adopted by foster parents, originally shared her story with Children’s Rights for inclusion, in their annual Fostering the Future campaign. It has since been picked up as a feature by Seventeen Magazine, where her account of her past has caused some controversy in the Arab American community.
Yasmine was born in Chicago and had two older sisters. Her father had passed away when her mother was just 4 months pregnant with her. Her mother and sisters lived with their grandmother in the Chicago area.
Yasmine recalled her older sisters “going to visit family” in Palestine when she was six, but they never returned. At the time they were just teenagers. Later on she discovered that her mother and grandmother had sent them off to the Middle East to get married in fears that they were becoming too westernized.
When Yasmine was 14, she claimed her mother forced her to drop out of school. When her mother discovered that she went on a date with a male teenager, she booked her a ticket to visit family in Palestine.
There, her sisters, mother and grandmother plotted for her to get married.
At the age of 15, Yasmine was forced into a marriage by her family, despite her cries.
“My worst nightmare was becoming a terrifying reality,” she wrote. “ I ran into the bathroom, curled into a ball, and dissolved into tears. How could my family do this to me? I thought about running away, but how?”
After a couple of months of marriage with a man who she said she “hated,” Yasmine was able to get in contact with U.S. Embassy officials off the internet. Behind her family and husband’s back, she was able to plot an escape back to the U. S.
The state of Illinois terminated Yasmeen’s mother’s parental rights, after she faced her in court.
“The first court date was two weeks after I arrived,” Yasmeen recalled. “When I saw my mom, I froze. She was sitting in the waiting room and refused to acknowledge me. She didn't make eye contact; it was as if I didn't exist. I felt an awful mix of hurt and rage.”
Yasmeen bounced around from foster home to foster home until she found a family who would eventually adopt her. She said for the first time ever–she felt loved and accepted. She is now a student at Illinois State University.
“Regardless of what I end up doing for a living, the thing that makes me the most excited is that I get to choose — what I want to wear, who I want to date, or even marry, and ultimately, who I want to be.”
Yasmine’s story was met with some backlash among Arab Americans after it went viral.
Jenan Matari, a Palestinian American, responded to the story by publishing an article at missmuslim.nyc titled “My parents did not take me overseas and force me to be a teenage bride.”
Matari slamed Seventeen magazine for featuring the article, stating that it could further promote stereotypes and misconceptions among the Muslim community.
“I am not, in any way shape or form, belittling this girl’s terrible experience with a shit mother and a crappy hand in life. Let’s get that straight,” Matari wrote. “Does this happen? Yes. Does it happen often? Probably. Is it what the majority of us – Arab Muslim American women – go through? Absolutely not.”
Matari noted that as a Palestinian American, she was not forced into marriage or stripped of an education. She called for Seventeen magazine to be more responsible in their story selections.
“Here we have a major mainstream magazine, that caters to developing young women in the U.S. – and you have just handed young women what is most likely to be their first impression of “Muslim culture” and the Arab world,” Matari said. “And you made a terrible story sound like it is all of our stories.”
To read Yasmine's full account, click here: