Honor

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Aaron david
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    says:

    I’m speachless.Report

  2. Avatar caleb
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    says:

    ugh. No words. Just…ugh…Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    “Well, you’re all just a bunch of cultural imperialists, imposing your own values, your western perspective, your western ideals of female autonomy and love over the family and faith and tradition. Who are you to tell people in another country, from another culture, living under another government, what is right and what is wrong? Next thing you know, you’ll be saying it’s morally wrong to eat dogs, too.”

    Okay, I’ll stop being sarcastic now. Of course this is horrifying. Not at all like differences in dietary custom between Here and There. But consider this: the man who killed his daughter did so because he thought it was something he was culturally required to do. If we were to ask him, he would say that he had no choice but to do other than what he did. Is he a sociopath? Is his culture so corrupted and misguided that it condones murder? Is it for us to correct and change that culture?

    Obviously, murder is over the line and eating dogs is not. A father murdering his daughter seems obviously unjustifiable to me, under almost any circumstances. But to the guy who did it, it must have seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Or if not the right thing, the least bad of the available options. It’s one thing to shake our heads in wonderment that murdering your own daughter is the least bad thing you can do as opposed to putting up with a new son-in-law who you might not particularly like, and I can’t find it in the butt to share that reaction.

    Down that road lies the destination of saying that certain cultures are morally superior to others.

    I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe it is. This story seems like evidence in favor of an argument in favor of that proposition. After all isn’t it a real problem that different cultures have different visions of right and wrong, different visions of good and evil? The kind of folk music we listen to, our colorful native costumes, the foods we eat… These are all very superficial. True cultural differences are the ones in which visions of proper behavior in similar situations very from one another.

    Someone please tell me how I can go partway down that road and then reach a principled stopping place. Because I want to condemn the man who murdered his daughter and her husband in no uncertain terms. But I don’t want to let that moral condemnation lead me to a place where I say that my own culture is better than everyone else’s.

    For instance, if we were truly going to be champions of the value of women’s autonomy, would we not object to arranged marriages? Or object to some arranged marriages? Would we object to an arranged marriage in which either potential spouse could effectively exercise a veto? Perhaps we would not prioritize our objection to arranged marriages as highly as we might prioritize, say, female circumcision, but at it’s root isn’t that simply imposing our values, based in our own culture, on different cultures? How do we know that it isn’t?

    Again, my first paragraph is intended to be sarcastic, not sincere. The story is chilling. But once we’re all done being shocked to the cores of our consciences by it, maybe it’s worthwhile to consider how to differentiate between tolerance of other cultures and standing up for what’s right against what’s plainly wrong, because maybe our own cultural lenses are the only things that are truly informing us about the rightness or wrongness of an action, and it’s very hard to step away from one’s own cultural lens.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      You don’t’ have to go as far as saying one culture is better than another, but saying some practices are wrong seems fair enough. Culture is a huge sweeping word with multiple ways it can be expressed. Specific behaviors are well specific; they often have fewer options, are related to certain times in history or places vs. cultures which exist in far wider scales and behaviors can be modified within cultures without destroying the culture. Certainly many specific behaviors often spring from deeply held aspects of culture. But a culture can work for people, or at least people can find a space for themselves within a culture without being tied to every behavior.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      But once we’re all done being shocked to the cores of our consciences by it, maybe it’s worthwhile to consider how to differentiate between tolerance of other cultures and standing up for what’s right against what’s plainly wrong, because maybe our own cultural lenses are the only things that are truly informing us about the rightness or wrongness of an action, and it’s very hard to step away from one’s own cultural lens.

      There is no justifying this type of murder; it does not bring honor, it dishonors. No matter the gods. Shameful no matter the culture.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      I’ve asked this same question of people when it came to the question of torture. Captured terrorist and a bomb on a school buss full of kids scenario. Where do you draw the line? 50 kids to one terrorist? 1 kid to 50 terrorists? Tell me specificially where along the axis of evil are you willing to stop.

      Side note: I dated an Iranian woman for a while. She was married but her husband had abandoned her and she would soon go back to Iran to get a divorce. She and her close friend both told me that she couldn’t be “involved” with someone before the divorce. If her family found out, she risked being killed…Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Damon
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        says:

        @damon your question has a built in presumption — torture will get the terrorist to reveal the plot. From all I’ve read, this is not the case. It does, however, seem to produce a lot of false leads that distract from the real goal of preventing a threat.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Damon
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        says:

        and I do not mean to imply you’re defending torture; I’d presume you’re not, but asking to help others think through the question.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon
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        says:

        @zic
        Yes, back in the day, it was widely assumed that torture could generate results, or at least was propagandized so. For the purposes of my discussion with this person, I assumed it would be usefull, because the point I wanted to make was “how much of this are you willing to support”? Draw me a line in the sand where you say “no more”.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Damon
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        says:

        But since we know that in general torture yields little to no useful information, yields much in the way of false leads and has a caustic corrupting effect on the torturers and the institutions that authorize torture then shouldn’t we just be comfortable in saying “nope, torture’s unacceptable no matter what.”

        Also in a scenario where for some reason torture could yield the results then I’d assume we’d still want torture to be illegal, the torture to be done and then the torturer tried, found guilty but having their sentence commuted only on the strength of the positive outcome of of said torture yes?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Damon
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        says:

        No torture. Ever.

        At least, that what the rule in this culture ought to be.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
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        says:

        Damon,
        I’m willing to support Morally many things that I would not support Ethically.
        I consider torture to be “bottom line evil” and I’m pretty Kantian about “no way no how” — I couldn’t do it.

        Murder, even murder of an innocent, may be morally acceptable (though it’s probably something we ethically want to discourage with severe consequences). I’ve never had to “send a message” to an organized crime syndicate. I won’t stand here and tell you that it’s wrong to do so, under all circumstances.

        Sometimes, even dire means are justified.

        Sunni women can’t get divorces, in a lot of places, unless their husband is willing to grant one. This can lead to basically torturing the husband until he is willing to grant it.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
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        says:

        What if the torture is not for the purposes of extracting leads, but instead part of a plan to destroy evidence? (in this case, a human corpse?).

        … real life’s a bitch, ain’t it?

        Still coming down on “it’s evil, don’t do it, dammit.”Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Damon
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        says:

        @burt-likko

        I think that should apply to families, too; I think the brutal and oppressive world, where honor killings are somehow found necessary, often are family-condoned torture of the women most likely to be murdered. The estimated 5,000 victims of honor killing a year are the extreme leg of ingrained cultural treatment that, far too often, verges on torture. So I’d like to see our definition of torture expanded to include not just the government/police/military variety, but the family/community variety that roots in honor instead of information.

        No torture is acceptable.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon
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        says:

        @kim

        “Sometimes, even dire means are justified.”

        Then you should be able to roughly define WHEN those “sometimes” are acceptable and where it crosses the line to not acceptable. That’s exactly what I asked my friend.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
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        says:

        Damon,
        A thousand lives saved seems like a decent deal for an innocent’s murder.
        (am I inflating? Probably — but I’m also on record as saying that killing a child up until age two could be morally justified. These two metrics contradict. Foolish Consistency, small minds…).
        Still saying no to torture, at any price.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Burt,
      I think the first thing to do is to step into cross-cultural comparisons with a bit of humility. Talk to someone within the culture, see if they find a particular behavior to be adaptive or maladaptive. You don’t need to agree with them, but they know the cultural context way more than you do.
      Philippe Borgeoise cited the massive parties that Spanish Harlem residents were likely to throw (should they come into some money) as an adaptive behavior. To them, the parties were a way of sharing the wealth and reaffirming social ties that they would need to depend on in hard times. To a middle-class wasp, it looks like they’re just wasting money being profligate — but that’s not actually how they view it, and those social ties are important to their future wellbeing.

      I also think it is very, very important to know where we come from, and understand that MOST societies have pathologies. The ScotchIrish used to beat their kids to death. Jewish culture has historically had a lot of trouble with incest. Some cultures do far more rape than others.

      And, sometimes it’s not the culture at all…Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      I just want to note that an explicit commitment to utilitarianism allows you to skip over a bunch of hand-wringing…
      Murder is bad. Condemning murder is good. Cultural imperialism is bad, but not as bad as murder. Additionally, it’s not clear that condemning murder will necessarily lead to an assertion of cultural superiority in other areas.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath
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        says:

        If you see culture as a thing that has rights and individuals as the things that need to fulfill their obligations to the culture, then it is a lot easier to look at stuff like this and get all “BSDI” and point out stuff like Cosmopolitan and Karen Carpenter and Mama Cass and discuss whether it’s better to kill the women or have them kill themselves.Report

    • Avatar notme in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Burt:

      Liberals want it both ways, to tell westerners that all cultures are equal until those cultures violate some fundamental liberal dogma and them they are wrong.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      I have to wonder… in a land with 900 honor killings and 179 million people, are the honor killings really a part of a cultural norm?

      I’m thinking not so much.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        They could quite easily be.
        After all, the cultural norm of the Scotch Irish was that “weak kids don’t really deserve coddling.”

        If the cultural norm is “A brother/father is responsible for his sister/daughter’s honor”… yup, part of a cultural norm.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        Let me clarify that a bit.

        Knowing what I know of how hormones act on the teenage body, I’m guessing that:

        Of the 179 million folks in Pakistan, somewhere around 28-40 million of them are in the age range suitable for sexual exploration. Granted, that’s a pretty wide range, but I’m not interested in tracking down the exact number because it’s largely unnecessary to make my point.

        Let’s call it 30 million.

        Out of 30 million folks in the window, 900 of ’em wind up getting honor-killed. This is 0.003% of the folks in the age window.

        So either a remarkably vanishingly small number of Pakistani kids act like kids and screw before they’re married and they call get caught, or a slightly larger but still vanishingly small number of Pakistani kids act like kids and screw before they’re married and only some of them get caught, or… most likely… a whole bunch of Pakistani kids act like kids and a very, very small number of them are caught by a very, very small number of crazy-ass parents.

        There’s some wiggle room around in there somewhere, but I’d go out on a limb and guess that there’s plenty of homicide going on in the U.S. between parents and children. 25% of all family homicides in the U.S. are parents killing their children, that’s up from 15% in 1980. It’s practically an epidemic of parents killing their children. We have about 300 or so cases of parents killing their children in the U.S. every year. Correcting for our population size and murder rate, that’s remarkably close to Pakistan’s “honor killing” rate.

        I’d guess that more than a negligible number of those would be analogous to “honor killings” in Pakistan (hell, maybe all of them, for all I know the “900” figure in Pakistan for “honor killings” is by definition “children that have been killed by their parents”)…

        … but we don’t call it that and we don’t claim that it’s a cultural thing because that would be crazy.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Patrick
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        says:

        You’re getting a bit hung up on the 900 number though and it’s undoubtedly wrong. It’s based on police reports and: in much of Pakistan, the rulings of tribal councils (of men) take precedence over the state laws, the police in Pakistan are notorious for failing to investigate or prosecute these crimes, most of these killings fall under a category wherein the family decides if charges should be brought, and then you remember that women are legally defined as dependents of their families and communities. The legal status of daughters in Pakistan is very different than in the US, so it’s a different set of expectations for transgressing those norms. It’s hard to say that kids will act the same if the culture expects very different things from them. Now I do have serious problems with the term “honor killing” that I tried to explore in the post, largely to do with how it minimizes the horror of a horrific act by reducing it to a cultural quirk. But I would not take that number as specifically informative.Report

  4. Avatar North
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    says:

    Barbarism, it makes one’s imperialst impulses itch and long for Napier.

    “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

    Which, in fairness, is also barbarism; alas it’s a shades of grey world.Report

  5. Avatar Kim
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    says:

    Thank you for not mistaking an aspect of someone’s culture to be an aspect of their religion.Report

  6. Avatar Doctor Jay
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    says:

    I do not condone this or think it justified in any way, but it does make me wonder. What might have happened to those men if they hadn’t killed Muafia and her husband? Would they have been murdered? Beaten? Merely mocked, humiliated and shunned?

    There’s a system at work here. It’s a system that is meant to deny the autonomy of women. But it’s a system and it works on everyone. In fact, it probably oppresses some fraction of the men in it as well, in some way. In my experience, people only act that way if they’ve been bullied.

    I’m enough of an engineer that I want to know more about how it works.Report

  7. Avatar notme
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    says:

    This sounds like the real “war on women” not the hyperbole we from liberals in the US.Report

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