It happened in Buffalo, New York. On February 12 Mussammil Hassan murdered and decapitated his wife Aasiya. Apparently, he did it to restore his injured honor. Since the Hassans were notably engaged in an effort to improve the image of Islam, the murder ignited a public debate about honor killings.
Multiculturalists declared that honor killings were just another form of domestic violence. In their world no culture is better or worse than another.
Then, culture warriors used the occasion to attack honor or shame cultures. Their point was: this is what happens when people have a sense of shame.
Phyllis Chesler countered the multicultural argument by showing that while our culture condemns domestic violence and considers it an aberration, other cultures prescribe honor killings as the necessary and proper way for a family to regain the honor that is lost when a teenage girl acts like a teenage girl. Link here.
Not only that, but these cultures consider that when a father is aggrieved by his daughter's behavior the only way for him to restore his manhood is to murder her.
Does this mean that honor killings actually restore a man' sense of honor and his manhood, or are we entering into something like a mass delusion? If a group of people decides that something is true, does that make it true?
If you feel, as Chesler suggests, that honor killings are honorable in name only, then you must also believe that some things are intrinsically true regardless of whether one or another group accepts them.
I would add that honor killings have nothing to do with shame cultures. My book "Saving Face" offers a full analysis of shame cultures. Link at left.
For a simple reason: honor killings are not at all the same thing as shaming people.
As Chesler reminds us, many cultures have strict rules about dating and mating. To the extent that they are shame cultures their most extreme sanctions are shunning, ostracizing, disinheriting, and sending the child away to college.
Culture warriors are happy to use honor killings to discredit the notions of honor and shame. But a man who is so overcome by shame when he sees his daughter holding hands with a boy that he can only restore his honor by murdering her does not have a strong sense of honor.
He is avenging an offense, punishing a transgression, not asserting his pride and dignity.
If his honor is mortally wounded when a teenage girl acts like a teenage girl that means that his honor is hanging by a thread, that he is extremely thin-skinned.
Being hypersensitive to slights is a sign that a people have an insufficiently developed sense of honor, dignity, and pride. Or better that what they take as pride is really false pride... only they are terrified that someone will find out.
A true shame culture is in the business of building pride, not only through achievement, but also by prescribing customs, rules, rituals, and an etiquette that encourages people to show each other constant respect. This will build true pride to the point that it can withstand the assault leveled by a wayward or normal child.
Honor killings are more about rough justice than about restoring dignity. They are intended to threaten and terrorize young women into behaving a certain way. They tell young women that they do not have any choice when it comes to their mate.
All cultures allow greater or lesser parental interference in this decision, but a culture that prescribes honor killings is radically different because it deprives young women of any choice at all. They can either acquiesce or die.
What would happen if the cultures that prescribe honor killings had to live in constant interaction with other cultures that see these acts as abominations? What would happen if the man who believed he was restoring the family honor was shunned and ostracized by the community at large?
At the least, he would fight to have his culture respected and validated. He would not easily accept that a practice that defined his membership in a particular group had simply been mistaken, and that he and his ancestors who practiced it had not restored their honor. He would suffer the most radical loss of honor, and thus would surely be something that he would fight for.