Honor Killings vs. Shame Murders: a cultural meditation

In my understanding of honor-shame culture, especially of the zero-sum kind, it matters far less what you did wrong, than what people think you did wrong. Hence, if you’re innocent and others (your honor group) think you guilty, you feel you are bad. If you’re guilty and others think you’re innocent, you’re fine.

Integrity works the opposite way: if you’re guilty and no one knows it, you may feel relieved, but you feel bad about yourself. If you’re innocent and others think you’re guilty, you may feel bad, but not that you’re bad.

A so-called “honor-killing” is a phenomenon one finds in many (warrior) tribal cultures, in which one must kill a family members (most often women, most often daughters) who have shamed the family in the eyes of others (honor group), in order to “wash clean” the shame she has done. This practice is enforced both internally (men feel driven to do this), and externally (the community ostracizes the family until they’ve done this). In some cases, in keeping with the logic of the phenomenon, it doesn’t matter if the woman is guilty, it only matters that “others” think she is guilty.

From an honor-shame perspective, it’s an honor killing, because one has legitimately killed a woman in the family for the sake of the family’s honor. Washing shame and refinding honor with blood.

From an integrity-guilt perspective, it’s a shame-murder, because one has committed a crime against a family member to hide the family’s shame. Compounding guilt and shame by shedding one’s own family’s blood.

These are not commensurate worlds. We must address these differences, neither pretend they’re not there, or show “respect” for so heinous a practice. And especially, we should not ignore the fact that of all the cultures that practice honor killings, Muslims alone import them to the West in any significant numbers when they immigrate.

One Response to Honor Killings vs. Shame Murders: a cultural meditation

  1. […] Balaam to have killed her, it would have been a kind of honor-killing (or, I prefer to call them, shame-murder): to save/restore his honor, he kills a weaker person (female) who has brought down shame upon […]

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