Monday, May 12, 2008

Honor Killing and Truth-Telling

A disgusting story of honor killing in Iraq has received deservedly outraged commentary from Ophelia Benson, PZ Myers, and Taner Edis, although the latter's outrage comes qualified with a rather too generous wish to find ways to spare Islam:

If we want to make a case that most of us would be better off without supernatural religion, we cannot just make lists of religious outrages. It is not even enough to point out that the outrages are directly and organically linked to particular religious views. (Remember, I think this linkage holds true with honor killings.) We need something more comprehensive, and I'm honestly not sure this is available. If we really are concerned about honor killings, maybe we should shut up about the evils perpetrated by religion and just support gentler interpretations of belief. We may even have to knowingly promote a false belief, that there is such a thing as True Islam and that it endorses our moral convictions.
What would the "gentler interpretations" indicate by way of behavior and belief? Just cracking a few ribs and blackening the eyes instead of outright killing?

No. Honor killing is an inexcusable barbarity that exemplifies the larger barbarity of Islam. We should eagerly await the day when people are embarrassed to have ever taken such barbarities seriously; we should speak clearly and unambiguously with the goal of bringing such obervances to the disrepute they deserve.

At least Edis refuses to pretend Islam has nothing to do with it; not so Tristero:
I would imagine that there are proportionally about as many Muslim fathers capable of psychotic rage who would stomp their daughter to death as there are Christian and Jewish ones - that is, not many at all. So obviously, something is seriously twisted about any community, religious or otherwise, that condones such insanity.
If there are Jewish fathers and Christian fathers gathering male relatives to stomp the lives out of daughters for the sake of their favorite gods, we should condemn them. Where are they? What is the basis for these imaginings of Tristero?

The point is not that Christianity and Judaism and 'the west' are blameless. They're not. The point is that the idiotic excuse-making needs to stop.


Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Stories like that are why I'm a feminist (in a "it's the right thing to do" way, not the "guy standing up for women" way).

Being for treatment of women as fellow people shouldn't depend on whether you started out as XX as opposed to XY.

More over, knowing that things like that still happen in the name of religion – by credulous people who see nothing wrong with taking the life of another person, and one of their own children to boot, is one of the things that have disillusioned me of religion.

As long as such injustices are excused, I see no redemption in (or for) any religion really.

Of course the true subtlety of the jest is that such a killing is termed one of honor. Orwell would not have been surprised.

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly not an apologist for these crimes, but they not only pre-date Islam, they occur in other groups, as well (e.g., Druze, Hindu, Sikh).

They are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal justice.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Dale said...

Ellen Sheeley: Thanks for the comment.

It's true that 'honor killings' predate Islam and exist outside of Islam (the wikipedia article I linked to mentions Hindu communities among others). But it appears that at least some current interpretations of Islam warrant the practice -- the cited Guardian article itself has the father relating his act to Islam, and Taner Edis (who knows Islam on a personal and a theoretical level) connects the practice with Islam.

As with many evils, it's not solely caused by the religion. But when you take something and give it a divine warrant -- god himself says (directly or indirectly) that it should or may be done -- you give it a massive boost.

It's difficult to identify a non-religious argument for any evil that carries that kind of power. "God says it's OK" is a frighteningly strong line of justification.

Dale said...

SJKP, Good points. If there is a god, one would think he'd come down and set the record straight on things like this. If there is a god and he chooses not to come down and set the record straight, well, then I guess he considers the record to be straight enough. Either he doesn't care that heinous things are done in his name, or he doesn't consider them heinous. Either way, god can fuck off. Since he doesn't exist, that's not saying much. Still.

Anonymous said...

I conducted a nationwide survey of dishonor killings in Jordan. In my representative sample, about one in five people said they believe Islam tells them they must avenge affronts to family honor by killing. Islam says no such thing. The problem is that so many people mistakenly think it does. . .and act on it. And not much is being done to re-educate.


Dale said...

Ellen, re: "Islam says no such thing." Well, you're preaching to the choir in a sense, or two of them -- if you're saying that people in Islamic societies are manipulated into believing untrue or half-true things about their holy books, and that this manipulation is facilitated by an ethos of unquestioning devotion and conspiracy-theorizing, I agree (and I further agree this is a tragedy, whether connected to 'honor killing' or anything else); and if you're saying that any reputable version of Islam will, ipso facto, abjure 'honor killing,' I am willing to agree with that.

If your 1 in 5 number holds up, that's about two-hundred million Muslims who think their god approves 'honor killing.'

I am not the one to vouch for it, but this article purports to give some of the warrant for 'honor killing' from the Koran and the Hadith:

Arching over all of this: interpretations of holy texts are unverifiable. One man's word of god is another man's misreading. I don't know what Islam "really" means and "really" teaches; I can read the words and try to make sense of them but to what end? I reject the project. We have far better questions to ask and far better texts through which to approach the world. None of the candidate texts, for starters, will give the least warrant to 'honor killings.'

Anonymous said...

The STOP HONORCIDE! campaign was launched on Mother's Day 2008. The goal of the campaign is to prosecute honorcides to the fullest extent of the law. We want honorcide to be classified as a hate crime and we advocate for every existing hate crime legislation to be amended to include honorcide.