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Sunday
January 23, 2022

Diary of September 10, 2010

All this week, Robert Fisk of The Independent has been publishing a multi-part series on honor (or honour) killing that began with this piece headed: "The crimewave that shames the world: It’s one of the last great taboos: the murder of at least 20,000 women a year in the name of ‘honour’. Nor is the problem confined to the Middle East: the contagion is spreading rapidly." As someone who has written at some length both on honor and on honor-killing, I would like to call the attention of Mr Fisk’s readers to that verb "shames." Shame is of course the opposite of honor, so what he or his headline writer is in effect averring is that something avowedly done for the sake of honor is in fact dishonorable. He is invoking one standard of honor against another, which suggests that the definition of "honor" is — well, that there is no definition of honor. Honor is what I say it is, says Mr Fisk, and what I say it is is exactly the opposite of what those wicked gynocides in the Middle East and, increasingly, here in Britain say it is. Even those who agree with him might find such a blatantly solipsistic form of polemic a bit of a turn-off.

Similarly, in today’s installment, the headline calls honor killings a "global scandal." Clearly, the problem is that they are precisely not a scandal and that the world is not shamed by such behavior, however much we might wish they were and it was. But then there is not much that "the world" is shamed by. Shame, like honor itself, is a social phenomenon, which means that it is essentially related to a particular social context. Both shame and honor come to us through people whom we know and respect, and whom we wish to respect us. Mr Fisk’s habit of thinking in global terms, typical of left-wingers, prevents him from understanding the phenomenon he animadverts on, which misunderstanding, in turn, leads him to another typically left-wing mistake by blaming Western Christian culture — without which the world would be made far safer for the honor killers — as equally guilty with that which is currently, through much of the non-Western, never-Christian world, allowing the honor killers to kill with impunity.

He goes on to quote without contradiction "an elderly Jordanian lawyer" named Ahmed Najdawi, a self-proclaimed fan of the murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein:

Didn't we Westerners used to treat women the same way? "In Europe, they used to burn women for adultery." Yes, it's true. And not long ago, unmarried British women who were pregnant were locked up in lunatic asylums. Anyway, didn't "honour" matter to European men in the Renaissance?

No, it’s not true. And the honor that mattered to European men in the Renaissance was different from the non-European kind precisely because it did not routinely sanction this kind of barbarity. Mr Fisk’s subsequent example from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus makes it sound as if that play’s portrayal of a blood-bath of rape, mutilation and murder, all to do with honor, which was set in the most primitive early Roman times was both uncritical of such crimes and reflected normal behavior in Elizabethan England. But it gives Mr Fisk’s ever-ardent anti-Americanism yet another opportunity to exercise itself by repeating scurrilous and unsubstantiated gossip from "the Arab street" about American soldiers raping Iraqi women in Abu Ghraib prison. You’ve got to wonder how sincere he is in his desire to put an end to the vile practice of honor-killing if he is prepared to give those who practise it the "out" of saying that we in the West, among whom such behavior really is and long has been shameful, are just as bad as they are.



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