I’ve wondered for a while now what kind of a thing called honor could possibly be restored by killing someone. Honor is an abstract concept, so we can only really understand it by viewing its effects, and this particular abstract has had me perplexed for decades.
The existence of duels taught me that honor isn’t something integral to a person. I know that it’s supposed to be. All the stories tell me so. They tell me that so-and-so is a man or woman of honor, that this protagonist or that historical figure behaved with honor.
However, when honor can be taken away by a word and only returned on the point of a sword or the ball of a pistol, it can’t be internal. You can behave bravely and altruistically, and your honor can still be lost–to a lie, no less! Then it can only be returned by public contest. So honor, as it turns out, is really just petty reputation.
Then there is honor killing, or should we call it “reputation killing.” Here we eliminate the competition involved in determining where honor lies. I suppose that’s more fair than a duel, in a way. I can steal your honor with my clothing or my education or by falling in love. You can steal it back with my life. But it does tell me more about the nature of honor.
With a duel, as with many of the practices of the time in which they were popular, the idea of a contest was that God could intervene to pick the rightful winner. If your honor was truly yours to begin with, God would make that obvious by guiding your hand. An honor killing, on the other hand, cuts the uncertain hand of God out of the equation. It is a simple case of revenge, the dishonored killing the dishonoring.
At least, that’s what I thought until I read this article:
The appeal court rejected an appeal by the father “F” against a decision last July refusing him a residence order allowing the baby to live with him.
The judge ordered that “baby Q” should be adopted by a couple, also Muslim, from the same country as the mother, but from a different community.
She found there would be “a very significant risk of two and two being put together” if the child went to the father because Q was quite obviously not the child of his wife, who had a child of her own.
If the child’s maternal grandfather found out about the affair “it would be a matter of intense almost unimaginable shame to him and his family,” said the judge.
The appeal court said on Wednesday: “It was plainly the judge’s view that this might provoke action to preserve the family’s honour.”
Q’s mother managed to hide the pregnancy from her father. Now the courts have allowed her to hide the baby as well, far away from its father, so grandpa doesn’t sniff this out and kill the child.
Suddenly, honor no longer looks like a game of reputation football with deadly stakes. It looks like more like one of those silly mystery novels in which hiding the corpse of one’s dead honor inevitably results in a trail of bodies that point the entire world’s attention directly at you. I’m pretty sure this is not the intended effect.
This honor thing is going to take me a while to sort out.