This may end up being yet another one of those kind of posts where I end up in a crouch against one of my fellow FTBorg. Today’s bone is picked with Matt Dilahunty of The Atheist Experience. I am similarly terrified of dueling with Matt, but I would be remiss if I let his comment pass unchallenged.
On Sunday’s episode of The Atheist Experience, a caller asked Beth and Matt for their opinion on ‘honour killings’, in light of the recent conviction of Mohammad Shafia. Beth and Matt were, in the least shocking plot twist imaginable, opposed to them. No big deal – killing is wrong, killing because of something as misguided as patriarchial, misogynistic concepts of “honour” is even more wrong. I’ve said as much before:
There’s no honour in murder. It is the weak-willed act of a coward who lacks any human decency. One might be able to persuade me that there is honour in the suicide tradition of Bushido, in which failure to act honourably moves the samurai to take his/her own life. I’m generally against the idea of suicide, but a person’s life is their own to do with what they want. What he is not entitled to do, however, is murder someone else to restore his own sense of ‘honour’. Any society in which one person’s mental state or social status trumps another’s right to the security of their person cannot stand.
Matt then pivoted from what was essentially a good point about the intolerability of murder in a sustainable society into a terrible point about religion. His argument, as best I could understand it, was that Islam provides a context in which honour killings are permissible. The implication of this statement is that Mr. Shafia’s Muslim beliefs fueled his decision to murder his three daughters and first wife. I’ve also expressed my objection to this concept:
Every time I hear of an honour killing, there is an almost-overwhelming temptation to immediately blame religion. The stories that get the most press are those in which the murderers are Muslim or immigrants from Muslim countries. I’m skeptical of this explanation for being overly simplistic, not to mention the fact that this type of killing is not founded in Qu’ranic verse… Sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like existed in the societies that spawned these religions, and they persist today. Blaming a book for a human failing neglects the larger and more accurate story that’s going on.
Matt’s mistake is in equating Mr. Shafia’s religious beliefs with his completely immoral cultural norms. These are norms which inherently devalue women, the purported “equality”* of the sexes written into the Qur’an notwithstanding. While it may be correct to say that the kind of attitude that permits this type of murder is not in contradiction with the explicit anti-woman slant of the Qur’an, one cannot say that Islam is primarily responsible. Cultural attitudes about women, sex, and shame are a much more proximate predictor than religion. While there are any number of valid reasons to criticize Islam, ‘honour killings’ do not qualify in my mind.
It is perhaps with this idea in mind (or at least the second half) that this happened:
Controversy surrounding the Shafia murder trial prompted imams from across Canada and the United States to issue a moral ruling Saturday officially condemning honour killings, domestic violence and misogyny as “un-Islamic.” Thirty-four imams belonging to the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, including a handful of American members, signed the fatwa in an effort to counter misinterpretations of the Koran, they said.
My first reaction to this announcement was to laugh at how wrong the ISCC is about misogyny being un-Islamic*. However, once my chuckles subsided, I reflected that this is precisely the kind of action that secularists and anti-theists say they wish moderate believers took more often. A large, visible, authoritative group specifically denounced a type of behaviour that is occasionally buoyed by appeals to scripture. The cynical interpretation of this fatwa is, of course, that the ISCC is acting out of pure self-interest in order to deflect the tsunami of anti-Muslim rhetoric that followed the court’s decision. To whatever extent a self-preservative instinct fueled the decision, the fatwa is aimed specifically at Muslim ears to say “killings of this type do not reflect Canadian values, nor do they reflect scriptural ones”.
When I think of the use of the word ‘honour’ in “honour killings”, I cannot help but hear echoes of a separate but similarly immoral and intellectually bankrupt context:
The names of dozens of alleged white supremacists in Canada are contained in files leaked by computer hackers in Europe intent on exposing hate movements, CBC News has learned. The alleged white supremacists’ names were revealed earlier this month by members of a loose-knit group of hackers called Anonymous on a website called nazi-leaks.net, which is now offline. In addition to emails and secret websites and blogs, the hackers uncovered photographs of children giving Nazi salutes at a gathering in Missouri, confidential legal documents and displays of Hitler tattoos.
Yes, Canada’s very own “Blood and Honour” is back in the news, this time after being exposed by Anonymous (about whom I also have conflicted feelings). I am not at all conflicted in my stance on B&H though – neo-Nazism of all stripes is the last, violent, and desperate cry of those too stupid to recognize that the world has largely left their ignorant and myopic brand of hatred behind. To see ‘honour’ in the exploded philosophy of white supremacy, and the corrolary denigration of all other groups, requires the complete perversion of the concept of honour. It belies an Orwellian capacity for inverting the meaning of the noble into the base, and the proud into the vile.
Lateral thinker that I am, I cannot help but connect the sense of ‘honour’ that drives someone to murder their family for being too ‘Western’ to the sense of ‘honour’ that drives one to revere Hitler and conspire to carry out cowardly acts of violence against visible minorities. Both ideas are built on a foundation of self-aggrandizing and megalomaniacal devotion to one’s own ego. It is not enough, in either case, to simply disagree with the ideas of others – those others must be brought to heel either through intimidation or outright violence. Women and dark-skinned folks must be taught “their place”, which is inevitably an inferior one. ‘Honour’ thereby becomes less about holding one’s self to a higher standard of virtue, but about forcing others to comply to your utterly miserable self-concept. There is nothing like true honour in that.
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*The concept of equality set out in the Qur’an is, much like the Christian concept, based on the idea that men and women are ‘complementary’. It does not take a particularly skeptical eye to see that the Qur’an is a deeply misogynistic text. Furthermore, ‘complementary’ views of gender roles reinforce underlying societal anti-woman bias.