February 23, 2005
Honor Kills

Ward Churchill and his ilk would simply ignore such savagery in their quest to pillory their own "tiny Eichmanns", but we won't:

Suddenly, the woman in the backseat of the Buick opened the door and stepped out. Her abbaya was unfastened. Her scarf and veil were gone. She had long, thick, black hair. She was a young Saudi woman, maybe seventeen or eighteen. She reached up to the sky and she cried, "Momma! Momma!" Blue nylon cord dangled from her wrists. The white-haired driver got out again and scrambled back around the front of the car. In a futile effort to resist, the young woman sprawled out on the road, stretching her arms out in front of her on the baking summer asphalt. The man pulled her arms behind her back and deftly tied them to her ankles. Then he opened the trunk of the Buick, lifted her up, and dropped her in. He closed the trunk, made a U-turn at the intersection, and disappeared into the sunlit afternoon. It was over in the time it takes a traffic light to change from red to green.

Oh it gets worse, it gets much worse.

There are those on the left who would say, "that's right, that's what it's like, and the Bush administration is beavering away as hard as they can to bring it here." The sentiment would be funny if it weren't so delusional; the utter lack of historical perspective it demonstrates is as breathtaking as it is depressingly common.

Honor killing on this scale and with this much acceptance simply never existed in the west. Yes, the Julian marriage laws of the early Roman empire legalized almost exactly this, but those were considered radical even in their day. Augustus did not have his daughter's throat cut when Julia was found in a brothel, he banished her instead.

Christianity itself abolished the legal framework that allowed such things to take place in the setting sun of the empire's power. The conquering tsunami of Germanic tribes, for whom women were comparatively powerful partners, swept away the widespread cultural acceptance of such practices just a few centuries later.

In the patrilineal agrarian societies of medieval and early modern Europe, adultery was treated as a deadly serious crime because it threatened the power and stability of society, not the ephemeral honor of a single family. Even in the heart of puritan America death for infidelity was a penalty meted by a judge and jury, not the whims or delusions of a single man. And this was only after marriage. One of the hallmarks of peasant life in the pre-industrial west, from Charlemagne to Thomas Jefferson, was the freewheeling permissiveness allowed to young people of both sexes. Virginity itself was important only to heads of state who relied on blood for power. Unintended pregnancies resulted in a quick marriage, not a quick death.

The rise of the machine age simply accelerated the trends. By eliminating physical strength and endurance as a requirement for productive labor, industrial societies willing to forego "traditional" women's roles suddenly found their pool of labor doubled, essentially for free. As their importance to the economic well-being of society increased, women successfully demanded more of the benefits, now "rights", of what they were helping to create.

This is not to say it was easy. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Fredrick Douglas's words are as relevant for women as they are for blacks. They may not have everything they want, but women in the west have indeed come a long way.

So to even imply a conservative western government has any relation at all to a pre-modern pastoral culture is ludicrous. Our society cannot be pulled back into a Dark Age of disposable women because such a dark age never existed. The requirements of industrialization alone guarantees any attempt to destroy half a country's labor force will remain the dark fantasies of cranks who scream at children on their lawn. Conservatives are famous for their love of business, and making women unhappy in the modern world is very, very bad for business.

Which is, of course, cold comfort to those unfortunate enough to be born in one of the last remaining honor cultures in the world. Christianity's radical challenge to the Mediterranean honor system succeeded, but at the cost of an apocalypse that lasted a thousand years, an eschaton in slow motion that got far, far worse before it ever got better. Islam's radical challenge to its own cultural systems failed from the start, its seeds of egalitarianism and equality never allowed to fully blossom in the sandy soil of its birthplace.

It's not clear if secular modernity will destroy the Christian culture which birthed it as totally as Christianity did to its own ancient pagan roots. What is clear is that this new leviathan can no longer ignore the mewling, half-born thing that once overmatched it, even threatened its existence so long ago. Letting them sort it out themselves is an option that died in the rubble of tall towers and low-slung offices. Yet those who dispair of the comparatively secular Iraq ever getting it right should gasp in horror at the magnitude of the job that would be required for Saudi Arabia. Those who believe the Saudis should have come first should join Socrates in admitting the only thing they know well is that they know nothing at all.

Regardless, this particular die has been cast, this particular Rubicon crossed and far behind us. What lies ahead is anyone's guess, and a guess is all it would be. But as someone who now literally cannot imagine the horrific ignorance and hatred required to draw a knife across the throat of his own daughter over honor, I can say I am grateful that we are at least trying to stop it, and not just with words but with our own blood, tears, and treasure. It took nearly two thousand years for westerners to stop leaving little baby girls to wail their life away in remote fields. It will take more than our own generation to get a different culture to stop.

But every journey, however difficult, begins with a first step. I, for one, am glad we have finally started walking.

"Which is all well and good, but you aren't asking the real question, you arrogant hypocrite. What happened to "not with my daughter?" Really, would you send her to die for this?"

"You ask the wrong question my friend. Olivia will be a grown woman and will make the decision to serve her country on her own. Children should never die before their parents, but death comes for us all. If hers should come fighting to stop old men from stuffing helpless girls into trunks, to stop the unmarked graves from piling up in the desert, to stop fathers from teaching daughters the noise their sister's throat makes when it's cut, I would call that sacrifice meaningful.

The real question should be, why don't you?"

Original article via Silflay.

Posted by scott at February 23, 2005 01:28 PM

eMail this entry!

Those sand rats still live in the stone ages. Better off kill your kids for shit you have done is essentially their motto.

Posted by: ellen on February 23, 2005 03:42 PM

I worry much more about the children right here in our country who are dying on a daily basis, also killed by their own parents as well as strangers. The last few months have been horrifying. I am almost unable to watch the news. I know these things have probably not increased in number here but the white hot light of the media has focused on the unspeakable. Something has to be done and when I think of the billions of dollars being spent in the middle east....

Posted by: Pat on May 12, 2005 10:36 AM
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