Feb 08 2012

A twisted sense of honour

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.


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  1. 1

    Perhaps I missed something, but it seems to me that you’re saying: 1) that the killings were due to misogyny, not Islam, and 2) that the Qur’an is deeply misogynistic.

    I agree that the fatwa was a really great thing to see, and perhaps part of the movement of Muslims to engage more with the society around them (which is also really great).

    In my experience, religion leads to two things: 1) blind obedience to authority rather than personal reflection about morality, and 2) misogyny. That combination usually doesn’t work out well for women.

  2. 2

    Crommunist, thanks for writing this. You are right that the Atheist tendency to attribute crimes such as “honor killings” to religion is an error. In particular I have been worried lately by the ease with which many atheists and secularists will attribute evil to Islam. It is simply wrong to attempt to attribute all the world’s crimes to religion.

    The Atheist Movement is not here to try and cleanse the world of evil, we are here to state that there is no god and that trying to cling to illusions is counterproductive. We are here to insist on a separation of church and state. Furthermore it may appear to be in Atheists’ short term interest to ally with the increasingly popular anti-Muslim movement of the West, but in doing so we will become enmeshed in an internecine war between global tribes. This would be a morally compromised position, and would be counter to the long-term interests of atheism and secularism. Atheism and secularism are so much more than pawns in a global war.

  3. 3
    Bruce Gorton

    Honour killing is often associated with Islam, but not unique to it. I suspect it is more to do with conservative authoritarian culture than the specifics of any given religion.

    I agree that it is good to see imams speaking up about the issue. It is the sort of thing we don’t see enough of, and should be encouraged.

  4. 4
    P Smith

    My response to arguments about religious rules has usually been, “The only people who have to obey a religion are those who belong to it,” but I’m going to have to rethink the wording. It could be easily misused by dishonorable murderers claiming their victim assented to being killed by belonging to the murderer’s religion.

    I’ve got no problem with someone believing in ridiculous nonsense as long as it does’t affect others without their permission. To paraphrase the old legal maxim spoken by an unknown judge (NOT Oliver Wendell Holmes, contrary to popular opinion) as it applies to religion:

    “Your right to impose the rules of your beliefs ends just where the other man’s beliefs begin.”

  5. 5

    I think we’re in agreement that placing honour killing as a result of Islamic misogyny rather than cultural misogyny is incorrect. However, Islamic (and Sikh and Hindu) misogyny being a result of the cultural misogyny would be a correct conclusion: those religions are products of the cultural norms in effect at the time they were first being developed.

    Having said that, there are plenty of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh families out there who wouldn’t dream of committing homicide to try to preserve that family’s honour, indeed would consider the act of “honour” killing to be as dishonourable as I. Are there parallels here with the more extreme biblical commandments (against shellfish and mixed fabrics, and advocacy of stoning to death rebellious sons, for example) and most Christians’ ignoring of such instructions?

  6. 6

    I am glad that the imams came out with a statement denouncing murder, domestic violence and the misogyny that engenders them. I agree that Islam, like all the Abrahamic faiths, is terribly laden with misogyny but perhaps, like the other Abrahamic faiths, Islam can be reformed. Perhaps it is giving way to modernity, at least in Canada or the west? As an atheist, I’m happy to accept that compromise.

    I don’t like religion, but I truly do not care if others want to believe. Just keep your faith out of my civil government, don’t use it to oppress people you judge to be immoral and you can believe whatever you like.

  7. 7

    Islam grew out of a misogynistic culture so it’s no surprise that it has strong misogynistic elements. For all I know, it was feminist for its time. However, like the Torah and the Bible, there are enough contradictory statements in the Koran that one can get pretty much anything out of it. If modern Muslims want their religion to be egalitarian, I’m sure they can find scriptural support for it. The question is which bits of their holy book will they follow?

  8. 8
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I have a friend who used to be together with a guy from Albania. He wasn’t a muslim, but he totally thought it ok that he should go out and have affairs while she had to stay at home because, well, most western women object to making out with you while your girlfriend is watching and not into it.
    He also thought it OK to punch holes into her wall, thankfully not into her.
    His misogyny was based on his culture, not his religion.
    Who’s the hen, who’s the egg? Was his culture misogynistic because of Islam, or is Islam misogynistic because it grew in such a culture?

    Fact is that non-muslim men, christian men, atheist men do the exactly same things: they murder their wives/partners and children because they can’t stand the thought of losing control.
    Only if non-muslim men do it, it is called a family-drama. People are upset how such a nice guy could do something like that. With the muslim guy, it’s a clear-cut issue.
    Never mind that there are millions of mslims who fail to murder anybody during their life.

  9. 9

    I was participating in an argument on this topic, and I think one way to look at it is that Islam (and some other religions) might not be the principal cause of misogyny, but they help maintain it and provide a way for misogynists to excuse or justify their actions.

    And all this ignores the whole “honour killing scary Mooooslims” when a Muslim man kills a female family member, and “oh, a murder” when a white, Western man does it.

  10. 10

    The way I see it is this: many people read about how less religious societies have less violence and misogyny, less religious and more liberal people tend to be smarter.

    And from that they think the answer is to end religions and convert everyone to liberalism, improve education to make them smarter. This is equivalent to saying “if A then B means if B then A”, and there is no logical reason to believe that’s true. In fact it’s straight out of logical fallacy 101.

    Why someone becomes more liberal and atheist and less violent, may very well all depend on the same thing, and it’s probably not atheism, but may all be dependent on a brain chemistry that makes one more skeptical. Or one that makes people more empathic. i.e. the underlying factors.

    If humans made religions, then it is possible that we quite deliberately made our religions misogynist and violent. In that case the misogyny and violence comes from somewhere else. And so ending religion will not end those problems.

  11. 11

    I might add that unlike other posters, I do hope to end religion, but more importantly hope to make people more skeptical, which would naturally result in ending religion, as well as protecting them (to a certain extent) from con artists and liars and bad decisions. But “ending religion” is not the answer, it’s one of the happy consequences.

  12. 12

    there are plenty of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh families out there who wouldn’t dream of committing homicide to try to preserve that family’s honour, indeed would consider the act of “honour” killing to be as dishonourable as I.

    Just to be clear here, “plenty of” means 99.9%. You’re not dealing with a mainstream view.

  13. 13

    I have a lot of respect for what you write but in this case, you are very wrong.

    Right now I’m looking at an “Estefta’” (a religious question or inquiry) from Saanei, one of the Grand Ayatollahs in Shiite Islam. The Estefta is about the murder of children by their father. The background is that murder in Islam is punished by “Qisas”, i.e., eye for an eye. In the case of a father killing is own children this does not apply. The father has to pay the blood money to their heir which is often the father himself. Thus, the question presented to Saanei is that if he agrees with this exception.

    Saanei’s answer provides a great insight on how this issue is viewed in Islam. His answer is in Farsi so I’m not going to copy/paste it here but the rough translation is the following (his answer is also rather typical so probably others can find English sources that say basically the same thing): “The exception to Qisas in Islamic sources only applies to the case when the father kills his children out of care/emotions and due to the children’s disobedience, not other reasons. In other words, the exception to Qisas only applies when a father despite his fatherly care and all his constant advice, has had enough of his children’s disobedience [then he goes on and on to list some 'bad' reasons for murder such as money, greed, and the goes on to do some theobabble. At the end, he emphasizes that the same applies if a mother does the same.]”

    While capital punishment is barbaric, it is worth noting that any murder in Islam is punished by capital punishment except when it comes to a father killing his own children. And as the above example shows, the explanation that justifies this softer punishment for the hideous crimes, makes excuses for the actions of the father. Given this background, you cannot say that ‘honor killings’ are just a cultural problem because Islam is proving context and excuses. And no, Islam does not really condemn honor killings. Islam is in fact blaming the children for not obeying their father.

  14. 14

    Yup. Repeat after me: “correlation does not imply causation”.

  15. 15

    Except (a) most Muslims are not Shia, and (b) most Shia don’t follow this advice. Most Jews don’t believe in taking slaves from the lands they conquer, despite it being explicitly recommended in the Torah. Should we say that Judaism is pro-slavery?

  16. 16

    As I said, (a) the response and the justification is not exclusive to Shia Islam, just that it’s easier for me to find Shia sources. And (b) gets entangled in the definition game of what is ‘true’ Islam which results in an irrelevant discussion. Islam, as it is traditionally understood and acknowledged by the majority of the muslims, is a combination of Quran and Hadith and it is interpreted by Ayatollahs or Muftis. The fact the westerners do not know is that a random Imam in say Toronto has no clerical authority to issue any fatwas and the fact that he lives in US/Canada makes his authority even more meaningless.

    You can think of Islam as the Catholic church. The fact that many catholics do not follow church’s position on condoms, does not change the fact that Catholicism is incompatible with condoms.

  17. 17

    Yeah, I’d say a pronouncement from a religious leader in a fundamentalist, authoritarian theocracy might not be entirely representative of a range of views, especially of those people who’ve left places like that specifically to avoid leaders like that. And it’s important to remember Islam is much more fragmented than many of the major Christian denominations, with no real central leaders.

    I feel like I should give a disclaimer here that I’m not a fan of Islam (I can never get past the 3rd Sura of the Koran because the book is just so obviously written for men to read), and I would eventually like to see religion in general die off.

    But I also don’t like racist or xenophobic double-standards, and those seem to crop up a lot when Islam comes into the picture.

  18. 18

    I’m not an expert in Islam, but I thought any Imam could issue a fatwa. And any other could issue a contradictory one.

    In any case, I’m quite sure that Islam is not the equivalent of Catholicism. It is more the equivalent of Christianity: a general name to cover a lot of sects with somewhat conflicting beliefs but using the same basic text (interpreted differently, sometimes wildly differently) and agreeing on some basic principles (Allah is God, Mohammed is the prophet of God, maybe a couple of other things…but then things get weird. Weirder.)

  19. 19

    No, Islam is not like Christianity. Islam is like a collection of churches, where each is like Catholicism. As far as I know, every mainstream sect of Islam has a hierarchy. And in many issues, all those hierarchies concur and when it comes to those issues, it is valid to speak of Islam as a whole.

  20. 20
    Johnny Vector

    Lotharloo suggests the Catholic church as an analogy to Islam. But that is false. The RCC is a specific organization with a defined hierarchical structure. Christianity would be a better analogy. And so I take issue with the entire concept of asking whether “Islam” is responsible for misogyny, or particular acts thereof.

    Islam is, I suppose, a thing, in the sense that chordata is a thing. Is killing and eating others a result of being a chordate? You can tune into the Nature Channel any day of the week and watch hours of footage of lions and tigers and sharks brutally attacking and eating other living things. Or you can look at cute bunnies!

    I know almost nothing specifically about Islam, but to imagine that all people who call themselves Muslim ascribe to anything like the same views about almost anything is absurd. Shia imam Arglebarg IV does not speak for Islam any more than Pat Robertson speaks for Christianity.

    So, whence the misogyny? Okay, culture. Because culture includes the dominant religion. And for certain religion in general leads to reinforcing existing power structures. The emphasis on blind acceptance of anything the religious leaders say leads to accumulation of power. You can try soaking it out, or scrubbing it out, but you still have that nasty power buildup. And if I were Greta Christina, I would be able to say this much more eloquently and clearly. Anyway, I don’t see that you can effectively disentangle the contributions of religion and other culture.

  21. 21

    As far as I know, every mainstream sect of Islam has a hierarchy.

    True, as far as I know. At least about the Sunni and Shia. The Sufi, I’m not so sure about. But, critically, it’s not the SAME hierarchy. The Church of England, the Catholic church and the Greek Orthodox church all have hierarchies. But not the same hierarchy.

    Sunni and Shia Muslims have fought religious wars over their (to outsiders) minor theological differences. Islam is not a monolith.

  22. 22

    I do agree with you that Islam itself is not to blame for honour killings. People use religion to justify their actions, or the actions they promote. The Old Testament promotes killing children who dishonour their parents and was likely a cultural norm at the time.

    All of the ‘holy texts’ have enough contradictions and vagueness to accommodate almost any attitude. They are also modified by the writings of those who are influenced by the changing times. These commentaries are then accepted by most of the adherents, while a certain number will be much slower to follow. Also, since most religions are structured in a way that gives current commentary to leaders (Imans, Priests, Rabbis, etc) and they are influenced by more modern culture, most aspects of religion can be said to reflect some aspect of current society. This is one of the aspects of religion that allows leaders to promote their own beliefs in such things as human rights, charity, and appropriate violence.

    On the other point, I was pleased to see the moderate Islamic leaders issue the fatwa against honour killings, but I am cynical about their timing. This is not the first time honour killing have been in the news. There has been a lot of publicity of both local and international incidents. Why was this edict not issued years ago? Better late than never, but even better sooner.

  23. 23

    It seems those who do not blame Islam have only one argument: culture and the general misogyny. This is the kind of criticism that reveals they have no idea what they are talking about. It is true that honor killings and similar crimes have a cultural component, no one is denying that. But ignoring the religious component of honor killing is extremely naive. The type of honor killing where a father (or a brother) murders his children (or his sisters) is not due to sexual jealousy. It is not like a husband killing his wife due to suspicions of infidelity. It is different from a crime that can be solely attributed to misogyny. Yes, it is different from a random white American killing his wife.

    I quoted some religious ruling that shows how at least one major branch of Islam enables these crimes. And it is not hard to find more. As another piece of evidence, let’s look at where these kind of honor killings happen: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and so on. These countries are widely different. They have widely different political systems, languages, culture, and cuisine. They have one thing in common: Islam. The men who beat and murder their family members cite Islam too. What more do you need to see how religion influences these men?

    And that Islam is not monolith is irrelevant. It is a fallacy to suggest that the blame should only be placed at the most precise term that describes a belief system. We can blame twisted ideology, Religion, Islam, or Sunnism for the crime Shafia committed. They all contributed to what Shafia did.

  24. 24

    As another piece of evidence, let’s look at where these kind of honor killings happen: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and so on.

    India. Oops, that’s Hindi, not Islamic. The United States. Oops, that’s mostly Christian, not Islamic. Yet “honor killings” of various sorts happen in both places. Wiki has a nice, long, gory discussion of honor killings with many references if you want a bit more data on the issue. Honor killings are often committed by Muslims, but the concept and the act are by no means exclusive to Muslims.

  25. 25

    Oops, that’s Hindi, not Islamic

    Hindu. Hindi is a language. Common error though.

  26. 26

    We can blame twisted ideology, Religion, Islam, or Sunnism for the crime Shafia committed.

    I have a novel idea: why don’t we blame Shafia for the crimes he committed?

  27. 27

    Hindu. Hindi is a language.

    You’re right. Entschuldigung.

  28. 28

    why don’t we blame Shafia for the crimes he committed?

    That’s far too reductive. The individual is, to a certain extent, responsible for their choices. However, there is merit in looking at the underlying societal causes to see if there are things we can modify to make these kinds of acts less common. I understand the point you’re making, but it’s usually a mistake to start and end by blaming an individual for anything.

  29. 29

    But there are essentially identical commandments to kill your kids if they’re disrespectful in the Torah. Why aren’t Jews and Christians commonly thought of as honour killers?

  30. 30

    However, there is merit in looking at the underlying societal causes to see if there are things we can modify to make these kinds of acts less common.

    I agree. However, in this case, I think that “blaming” (that is, convicting) Shafia may be part of making the act less common. By convicting Shafia of murder and not softening the conviction in any way (i.e. calling it a “crime of passion”) that sends the message that honor killings are not acceptable in Canada and anyone who commits one will be held accountable. By a jury of his peers who will NOT be sympathetic to the argument that “honor demanded it”. This is not, of course, the whole solution to crimes committed for “honor”, but publicly demonstrating that murder does not restore or preserve “honor” may discourage some.

  31. 31

    Though on reflection, the bottom line really is what will make this sort of thing happen less often. Who cares whether sexual jealousy or honor killing is more evil? The question is what social changes will result in fewer murders of any sort occurring. The obvious interventions are things like decreasing poverty, increasing education, increasing women’s (and men’s) freedom to leave an abusive marriage, and so on. But maybe there is some benefit to labeling honor killings as a particularly bad crime and increasing the penalty for them. Or attempting to integrate people from Islamic countries into the “western” lifestyle of their new countries more rapidly to decrease the chances that they’ll retain the concept of honor killing. If anyone can demonstrate that such an intervention would result in fewer murders, put the evidence forward. I’m willing to be convinced by p-values of less than 0.01.

  32. 32

    The argument is that “Islam, as an environmental influence, is capable of producing the kind of honor killing where a father kills his daughters for talking to strange men.” So, if I point to a whole bunch of muslim countries where these things happen, then that is a piece of evidence in my favor. On the other hand, if you point to non-muslim country where such horrors happen, then it is not a piece of evidence to the contrary.

    Acceptance of evolution is low in US because of Christianity. In fact it is as low as Turkey. And this is not contradicted by the fact that Turkey is a muslim country.

    Finally, the point is not to compare murders. No one is saying that a “crime of passion due to sexual jealousy” is better than “honor killing”. That’s a ridiculous argument. But my argument is that they are two different crimes (obviously) and that the latter has a very strong religious factor.

  33. 33

    You are making the fallacy that “religion = whatever written in the holybook”. Islam is not defined only by Quran. For example, we all know that Muslims pray. They in fact have to pray at five specific times day and they must follow a strict protocol for praying. This is a very fundamental part of Islam and every single sect of Sunni or Shiite Islam follows it. You are not considered a muslim if you do not pray. There are some small differences but the overall thing is very uniform among all the sects. But none of it is mentioned in Quran. Nothing! The number of times, the specific times when a muslim must pray, the protocol, all of it comes from Hadith and other sources. Same for many other things that exist in Islam.

    The bottom line is at least for Islam you cannot just point to Quran. Islam is Quran + Hadith + the authority who interprets the two.

  34. 34

    So, if I point to a whole bunch of muslim countries where these things happen, then that is a piece of evidence in my favor.

    Not really. You’d also need evidence that these crimes occurred more often in Islamic countries. Preferably, but not necessarily, exclusively or almost exclusively, if you’re going to point to Islam as a or the major environmental factor leading to “honor killing”.

    But assuming you’re right then…what? What intervention are you proposing beyond condemning Islam as evil?

    No one is saying that a “crime of passion due to sexual jealousy” is better than “honor killing”.

    It seemed to me that you mentioned sexual jealousy as an “understandable” motive for murder. You describe honor killing as “different” from a random white man killing his wife and strongly imply that it is worse. If you didn’t mean that, I would appreciate a clarification, because I clearly did not understand what you meant.

  35. 35

    I’m sorry if it came across as if I was trying justify one form of killing over another. The whole point is that Islam contributes to the whole general misogyny thing in a way that makes a certain types of crimes more likely and that is wrong not to talk about Islam as one of the major causes of these crimes.

  36. 36

    You are not considered a muslim if you do not pray.

    This will be news to a number of Islamic friends and colleagues of mine.

    The bottom line is at least for Islam you cannot just point to Quran. Islam is Quran + Hadith + the authority who interprets the two.

    Sounds a lot like Judaism which is the Torah plus various non-Torah writings that have become accepted as part of the law (there’s a term for this, but I’m not coming up with it) plus the rulings of the Rabbis who interpret the law. So…what?

  37. 37

    Man, if only I had anticipated and refuted this argument already… perhaps in some sort of post that could easily be seen by scrolling up. Boy would THAT be handy!

  38. 38


    Talmud. And FWIW, I agree with much (though not everything) you’ve been saying on this and the Islamophobia thread.

  39. 39
    Allienne Goddard

    I think you are correct. The hypothetical causal factor that seems most likely to me is: economic security. Societies which reduce fear, by creating supportive economic/political systems, produce more liberal and less religious members. This, of course, would explain the difference between the United States and most other industrialized nations. Here is a bit more on this subject.

  40. 40

    You quite rightly mentioned Hindu and Sikh honour killings alongside the usual scapegoat (Islam), but for some reason you neglected to mention Christians. You do realise that Christians throughout the Middle East, Africa and South Asia engage in honour killings/genital mutilation as well? Sometimes Westerners need to be reminded that there are Christian cultures outside Europe.

  41. 41

    You are treating “Islam” as a monolithic culture. There is no Pope in Islam, no one invested with divine innerrancy, only a multitude of scholars who are supposed to interpret the religion according to their own understanding. (Admittedly, Shia Muslims may believe that the Imams have divine authority handed down to them, but they are in a minority, and besides a lot of Shia I know do things like drinking alcohol or whatever, just as Catholics use contraception, which suggests that they don’t actually believe in divine leaders.)

    You said that you don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion of what is true Islam and what isn’t, but that’s not a tangential point. In fact, it’s the heart of the issue. If we cannot establish that there is one true Islam, any more than there is one true Christian church, then why on earth would one Ayatollah’s remarks be taken as representative of the entire religion?

    I don’t agree with the idea that the most fundamentalist, retrograde interpretation of a religion is the most correct one. I used to think that fundies were the only religious people to follow their religion honestly, and liberal/moderate believers were just picking and choosing bits from their religion to make it compatible with 21st century values (a view shared by many “New Atheists”). But the more I learn about the early history of major religions, the more I see that’s emphatically not the case. Even when Jesus or Muhammad were alive, there were a variety of interpretations and arguments among their followers about how to interpret their religon, the nature of god, good and evil, etc. No one can claim that their religion is the most correct one.

    A church can try to kill off the other sects and then claim that theirs is the one true sect and all others are aberrations (as many Christian and Muslim sects have done for centuries) but that doesn’t make it true. Religions have always been in a state of flux, reinventing themselves with each generation, absorbing new ideas from the culture of the time and discarding old ones (despite religious believers claims that their beliefs are eternal and unchanging). In which case, why would anyone privilege the most backward sects over the more modern ones? And why would you take those as representative of the “true” Islam or Christianity? That’s like taking Stalinism as representative of “true” atheism.

  42. 42

    Excellent point Winterwind. There are Christians from Iraq to Egypt to Ethiopia to Greece to the “Western” nations.

  43. 43
    Brian Lynchehaun

    Sorry to momentarily derail, but:

    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.

    This isn’t how Bushido operates, though it is how people believe that Bushido operates (including Japanese people).

    This belief originates from a single book (Hagakure) written by a single guy (Yamamoto Tsunetomo) in the early 1700s, which was then massively republished in the early 1900s as a way to push nationalistic pride to the surface. None of his contemporaries, or people before him, or people after him, wrote about Bushido the way this guy (who was living roughly 70 years after the last war in Japan) did.

    The prof I was taking Japanese history with wrote his thesis on this topic, and it blew my mind, as I had the same opinion as yourself at the time.

  44. 44

    The two big differences between so called honour killings and their Western equivalents is that religion isn’t usually invoked as a justification in the Western version, and the killer is far more likely to kill themself as part of the crime.

    I believe part of what drives this and other sorts of crimes against family members is an inability to see the victims as independant individuals. Instead the perpetrators seem them as extensions of themselves with no independant existence without the perpetrator, or as property.

  45. 45


    Man, if only I had anticipated and refuted this argument already… perhaps in some sort of post that could easily be seen by scrolling up. Boy would THAT be handy!

    Well if you had paying attention for what I wrote, you would have known that your refutation has serious problems.

    Your refutation is as follows:

    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.

    However, as I noted, it is a fallacy so suggest that “Islam = Qu’ranic verses”, Islam is Quran plus Hadith plus the authority who interprets them. The fact that you cannot find something in Quran does not mean that it is not part of Islam. And blaming Islam is not blaming Quran because, once again, Islam does not equal Quran. This is the criticism that you have not addressed and this is what makes your refutations invalid.

  46. 46

    Oh, I see. So your problem is that I focused on ONE book instead of TWO books. Yeah, that blows a HUGE hole in my “the religion is the product of the underlying culture as opposed to the cause of it” argument. You got me!

  47. 47


    You backed up the argument “the religion is the product of the underlying culture as opposed to the cause of it” by pointing out that these things are not found in Quran. I pointed out that the support for these kinds of honor killings come from other sources that are still part of Islam. I agree that it does not refute your position; it just leaves it with no evidence in favor of it.

    So to rephrase, how do you support your assertion that “the religion is the product of the underlying culture as opposed to the cause of it”? Religion and culture are very entangled and they both influence each other. But the fact is religion and in this Islam is founded on unchanging texts: muslims of all countries have access to the same Quran and Hadith. The followers are going to pick and choose depending on their culture and they can change their interpretations based on the culture too and noone is disputing that reality. But that does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims accept the validity of Quran and Hadith and that in return influences their culture.

  48. 48

    how do you support your assertion that “the religion is the product of the underlying culture as opposed to the cause of it”?

    You mean besides the number of people who have pointed out that ‘honour killings’ happen frequently in non-Muslim countries, but simply aren’t labeled as such? Well, I’ve written this too.

  49. 49

    The counter argument is not that “Muslims invented honor-killing”. The counter argument has two parts: 1) The existence of Quran and Hadith as unchanging texts as well as the existence of many Islamic authorities (Ayatullahs, Muftis, etc.) contribute to increase the number of innocent people killed in the name of honor. And 2) Islam is defined not just by Quran but also by Hadith and the Islamic authorities. The difference between Shia and Sunni is that they disagree on a subset of Hadith and then continue to have different religion authorities.

    If you put 1 and 2 together, then it follows that the influence of Islam should be blamed for honor killings.

    I agree that the Islamic authorities who interpret Islam are also influenced by their culture. An Imam who is born and raised in a more liberal environment will have a very different interpretation of the same texts than an Imam who was born in Saudi Arabia but that does not refute the counter argument.

  50. 50

    You’re seeking to list Islam as a proximate cause of these kinds of killings. “It happens without Islam” is indeed a refutation of that position. If you’re saying that the existence of the religious excuse makes it more possible than in a non-religious environment, you’ll have no argument from me. However, when any religion provides that excuse, then your restriction of causality to Islam (by way of the Qur’an/Hadith) is arbitrary.

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