Category Archives: honor killings

How to Deal with Honor-Shame Dynamics: With Dignity, Refuse Proleptic Dhimmitude

[apologies for not posting this months ago.]

In response to my article in MEQ on Edward Said and honor-shame dynamics, one reader wrote in:

I thought Landes’ article pushed an important point on honor and shame.  If one takes it to be true, then the way to solve some of the problems would be to send over lots of therapists.  I know it sounds crazy but I am thinking perhaps there is something to it? 

There is a brief response in MEQ (which I can no longer find). The longer response I post below:

From the perspective of those committed to primary honor-shame codes, therapists represent the forces of an effeminate culture designed to castrate them and kill their triumphalist religion. So that’s not going to work. (It is common among Jihadis to believe that the Jews have castrated the Christian West, and now plan to do so to them.)

But good therapy is better in the doing than in formal introspection, and if progressives were serious about their values, they’d be helping Arabs to grapple with this authoritarian strain in their culture, to become more capable of handling criticism and introspecting. Hopefully, the Arab world will eventually produce a school of their own therapists who can help the process of harnessing (rather than castrating) the testosteronic impulses of their long-dominant primary honor codes.

At its core, I think this is about peer pressure – who determines what’s honorable? Anthony Appiah has an excellent meditation on the problem: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, in which he treats four case studies where a society/culture changed its code: what had previously been considered honorable (slave-holding, dueling, foot-binding, and honor-killing) shifted to shameful according to the new dominant “honor group.”

From this perspective, the Muslim and Arab world have yet to undergo a passage from zero-sum, triumphalist rule-or-be-ruled, primary honor codes, to ones more tolerant of “others” – of free infidels, or independent women, in particular. (The only failed moral revolution in Appiah’s book was the shift from honorable honor-killings to shameful shame-murders in Pakistan.)

This is above all a cultural issue (exactly not, as many try to insist, a racial one); and until we learn to think about this from the perspective of the triumphalist Muslims, we cannot understand what we face. And once we do, we discover a whole range of areas where we can assert pressure, because their great weakness is now their great strength – their amazingly “thin skin.”

Right now, instead, the West (especially its “liberals”) do everything they can to avoid “shaming” the Muslim world, and so avoid pointing this out: if one brings up “honor-killings” as a symptom of a particularly regressive honor-shame culture, liberals will almost instinctively insist they have nothing to do with Islam. And while it’s true that some (few) other cultures also approve of – even insist on – killing women for the sake of family honor, it is most prominent in Islamic societies, and closely related to issues like the burka. Liberals think they’re being generous by sparing Islam criticism. Triumphalist Muslims see these same liberals as good dhimmi leaders who make sure their community does not “insult” Islam.

How Academics think about Freedom of Speech: Fisking the Email that Killed Phyllis Chesler’s Talk on Shame-Murders

In preparing an article on how Phyllis Chesler, one of the few scholars and feminists to tackle the problem of honor-killings/shame murders in the Muslim world (and elsewhere, eg, Hindus in India, Sikhs to a much lesser extent everywhere), got disinvited from a conference on the subject of honor-killings, I managed to get a hold of the email that nixed her invitation. Written by three professors from the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at University of Arkansas: Joel Gordon (History, author of email), Ted Swedenburg (Anthropology), and Mohja Kahf (Comparative Literature), it addressed Thomas Paradise, the Head of the King Fahd Center.

The letter is deeply embarrassing to its signers in its stupefying polemic, its craven reasoning, and its complete disregard for academic integrity. My guess (hope) is that its authors will object to its being made public in much the same way that “professors” of Middle Eastern Studies object to having their talks and class lectures made public.

NB: issue of terminology. “Honor-killing” is a supposedly neutral term that does not judge. Instead, I think, it enables, using “to kill” where, by any standards of modern democracy, these are murders. My use of “shame-murders” not only identifies the act as murder, but makes it clear that this is not restoring family honor – what family is honored by killing its daughter? – but rather it is a grotesque and criminal way of trying to wipe out shame.

Below, a fisking of this McCarthyite letter attempting to ban a major researcher on the basis of a dogmatic and anti-intellectual ideology.

Dear Tom:

It has come to our attention that MEST is co-sponsoring Phyllis Chesler to lecture via Skype at the University of Arkansas Law School’s symposium about honor killings on 14 April 2017. 

Chesler’s writings frequently feature on the ultra-right Breitbart forum as well as many other right-wing platforms.

“Right-wing” is thus, by definition, not acceptable. Merely the use of the term in describing someone renders that person unpresentable, outside of the realm of acceptable speech.

On Abuse, Donkeys, Mass Murder, and Terrorism

In a recent article (HT: CRP), Rebecca Traister argued that rather than focus on Islam or Jihad

are truly looking to stem terrorism and mass violence of the sort that happened in Nice, they might do better to look to a different kind of litmus test: domestic violence and grievances against women.

The basic argument runs: all these mass murderers, Muslims and not, share a common pattern of abusing women, and in that matrix one will find the motivations for their deeds, and possibly the solutions for stopping them. The take-home message:

But that doesn’t make any religion — whether it’s Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s Islam or Robert Lewis Dear’s evangelical Christianity — the defining factor in mass shootings. Perhaps these disturbed men — and 98 percent of mass killers are men — are drawn to the patriarchal traditions upheld by some religions to make sense of or justify their anger and resentment toward women. But we might do better to examine the patterns of violence toward women themselves.

On one level, this argument is a transparent (indeed signaled at the beginning as an) attempt to take the attention away from Islam and hence foil Islamophobic rantings of right-wingers like Gingrich. On another, it’s a retooling of a familiar politically correct “feminist” argument that insists that honor-killings are merely part of a continuum with other domestic violence in which we Westerners, “we too,” are ‘just as” guilty as the cultures (largely Muslim) that practice honor-killings. Not surprisingly, some scholars think this is apologetics, and see a particular, indeed unique pattern of cultural depravity at work. How appallingly judgmental of them.

Rather than dismiss these remarks, however, I’d like to turn them from the piecemeal of individuals and statistics, and look at cultural issues. Let’s grant, for the moment, Traister’s argument that men who abuse women are more likely to a) be steeped in a testosteronic, alpha male mindset, b) find ISIS an attractive option because of its savage patriarchal attitudes, and c) in some (hopefully rare cases) engage in more rampant violence like mass murder.

Let’s then add to the mix, two further issues:

  • the fact that while women are a special object of abuse and violence, both for reasons of sexuality and jealousy, women are the object of male abuse for the same reason that many others are: they’re physically weaker. Thus, in this discussion, let’s widen the range of abused from women to weaker people, including children and animals.
  • the high correlation between people who abuse and people who have been abused, if you will, the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence. If this is true, then despite the fact that all cultures have people caught in this cycle, the nature of the culture – whether it approves or discourages this behavior – plays a significant role in both the frequency of the phenomenon, and its overall influence on life within that given culture.

It was with these thoughts about Traister’s article that I saw the following video of two Israeli policemen confiscating the terribly abused, pregnant donkey of an 11-year old Palestinian boy.

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.

The Shame of Israel: Panic in a Crooked Mirror

The Jewish World has just published a version of the article below in the Adar I 5776/March 2016 issue, dedicated to The State of World Jewry, with other essays by Jack Engelhard, Lisa Klug, Manfred Gerstenfeld, Dov Fischer, Ari Soffer, Alex Maistrovoy, Steven Apfel, and Michael Freund. Below is a longer version of the article with more links.

On the American-Israeli Jewish Divide

Jewish anti-Zionism and Proxy Honor-Murder

Peter Beinart has written many a piece about the growing split between American Jewish youth and Israel, which he sees as the inevitable cost of Israel’s failure to make peace with the Palestinians, on the one hand, and the long-term effects on liberal sentiments of seeing an Israeli Goliath bullying the Palestinian underdog, on the other. This “youth,” according to Beinart has “imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights.” Studies show Jewish youth “resist anything they see as ‘group think’… want an ‘open and frank’ discussion of Israel and its flaws… and desperately want peace.”

To these folks, raised on bedrock values, every effort of Jews to defend Israel by criticizing the Palestinians offends their sense of fairness: blaming the victim is not a winning strategy. Beinart asserts:

For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead. Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral.”

Given a choice between Zionism and liberalism, American Jewish youth choose the latter.

For Beinart, at least, the case is pretty open and shut. Israeli political choices are illiberal, bad, and her politicians act in bad faith. The split between American Jews and Zionists, therefore, is inevitable. Beinart has little sympathy to the plaints from Israel that the neighborhood here does not permit such simplistic naïveté. Not much room in this worldview for Palestinian, Arab, contributions for the endlessness of the conflict, for their poisonous hatreds, for their insane religious violence. Don’t blame the [perceived] victim. Look at your own extremists which, you too have. Israel, says Beinart and a generation of Jewish critics of Israel, should act like a liberal, or lose our affections.

To which the obvious response from here is, “Are you kidding me? Do you know what we’re dealing with here?”

To which the apparent response is, “No. And I’m not listening… Nobody’s hearing nothing.”

But why? Why do you turn a deaf ear on us, your family, trying to explain how hard it is to maintain good, liberal values in this neighborhood? Why will you cut us no slack? Why do you join groups that claim they’re “pro-Israel, pro-peace” when they relentlessly criticize us, and team up with groups that hate us? Why do you stay silent when the US and Iraqi troops devastate the city of Ramadi, when you shouted “War crime” from the rooftops when Israel did a fraction of that damage in Gaza? What is going on here?

In a reported exchange, a J-Street organizer explained their self-perception vis-à-vis Israel:

Well, I’m the head of the J Street club on my campus and what you don’t understand is that we see Israel as our younger sister. We want our younger sister to be better — we love her and care about her.

Maybe that’s what you do in your neighborhoods (not!), but around here, you don’t show love and loyalty to your sister by trash talking her so you can hang out with the people who like to slander your sister. On the contrary, that kind of talk will get her killed much faster, because of the peculiar power here of shame and the overwhelming desire to annihilate such feelings, no matter what the actual circumstances.

The Shame of it all: Panic in a Crooked Mirror

A significant amount of this “split” in the American Jewish community between liberals and Israel can be understood not as a response to real problems in Israel – of which, like any country, especially one at war with her neighbors, there are many – but as responses to feeling ashamed of her. The feelings stem not because of what Israel has (often enough not) done, and certainly not in comparison with the behavior of our neighbors, but because of “how it looks” to outsiders. Shame comes from looking bad – awful – in the eyes of people whose opinion matters. When it comes to the emotion, it matters little what actually happened. In the most toxic of honor-shame communities, men kill their daughters and sisters not because they did something shameful, but because others think it, true or not.

Jewish anti-Zionism: The proxy honor-killing

Available in Polish, translated by Malgorzata Koraszewska here.

The recent stunning performance of Marcia Freedman at the J-Street conference, calling for a one-state solution (almost surely not called Israel), in which an Arab majority would fiercely defend the rights of a protected Jewish minority, heartily applauded by an audience of alleged “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” attendees, has once again raised the question sent to me by someone who saw The J-Street Challenge:

WHY do J Street activists take these positions that they know are destructive to Israel’s chances for survival? 

Obviously, the easy way to answer is to claim they don’t realize the destructive nature of their “plan for peace.” Certainly this would hold for Ms. Freedman, who apparently believes that once Israel becomes a “true democracy [applause]” (whatever that means), that Jews won’t need to maintain control of the levers of power, since that now truly democratic “state” would secure the rights of the Jews no matter who was in power (e.g., an Arab majority).

Only someone struck with terminal cecity could not notice that beyond Israel’s borders, Arab majorities rarely protect the rights of minorities, especially those they feel threaten them. The notion that 2000 years of determined victimization of Jews without sovereignty means nothing, and that somehow an Arab majority would “fiercely defend the rights of the Jewish minority,” such ideas defy the reality-based social and political imagination. Freedman’s speech, so totally divorced from the all-too-human reality of this part of the world, gives us a sterling example of the vapid moral angélisme that animates so many anti-Zionist Jews.

[For those not convinced that J-Street pursues suicidal policies for the polity it professes to “love” – withdraw to ’67 borders as an unreciprocated concession – I’ve written about this elsewhere.]

Here I’d like to address my correspondent’s well-posed question by slightly rephrasing it:

Why do Jews identify with and promote Palestinian lethal narratives about Israel, and ally with, encourage, and promote groups who openly desire the destruction of Israel, even as they assure us (M.F. style) that we have nothing to fear from them?

In a word, I think they’re engaged in a long-term, proxy, honor-killing.

Judith Butler, the Adorno Prize, and the Moral State of the “Global Left”

The following is a long version of a response to Judith Butler that will appear in various forms at other sites, including SPME. This version is here either for those who enjoy my overwrought prose, of those who find that the logic of edited versions elsewhere is interrupted by the cuts.

Judith Butler’s feelings are hurt because some professors who claim they’re for “peace in the Middle East,” have criticized her and openly called on the Adorno Committee to withdraw the Prize that they have announced would be offered to her this year, on Adorno’s birthday, 9-11. Stung by the criticism, Butler responded at the site of the notoriously anti-Israel Jewish blog, Mondoweiss. in her defense. The defense illustrates every aspect of the problem with Butler’s approach to the criticism of her work, including the folly of German intellectuals to raise her up as a heroic example.

The criticism of her receiving the Adorno prize involves the following three points: 1) Her criticism of Israel for violations of (her) moral standards is exceptionally harsh, even though she has very little to say about exceptionally harsh violations among Israel’s enemies. 2) She has taken this moral imbalance from mere rhetoric to determined action, supporting extensive and punishing academic boycotts of Israel (e.g., Kafka archive should not go to Hebrew University). And 3) she enables and encourages virulent anti-Semitism both in this participation in BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and in identifying some of the worst offenders where that ancient hatred is concerned (Hamas and Hizbullah) as part of the “progressive, global, Left.”

Her response was a long, rambling, self-defense (2000 words) in which she systematically misrepresents the critique, and shields herself by claiming the status of a suffering victim of a vicious attack that deeply hurt her feelings.

Acemoglu and Robinson contrast culture with institutions

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, co-authors of Why Nations Fail have weighed in on the “culture debate.” It’s a curious comment because it seems to misunderstand the culture argument (like Diamond and Zakaria), even as it uses data that supports that argument, and then concludes by swerving in a completely unsupported direction – surprise surprise – against Romney.

We were doing so well. Writing about economics and politics for the last five months here without once mentioning the US presidential race. But it’s all over. Mitt Romney has given us no choice, wading into the debate about the origins of inequality and prosperity around the world.

Here is what Mitt says:

I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.

He continues:

Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognize the hand of Providence in selecting this place.

Mitt Romney also identifies the origins of his thinking as David Landes’s The Wealth and Poverty of Nations  and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (though presumably not the origin of his numbers, which are incorrect; the gap between per capita in Israel and West Bank and Gaza is about tenfold).

Well actually, Jared Diamond doesn’t say much about culture. In fact, his thesis is about how geographic and ecological conditions led to the differential development paths and prosperity among otherwise identical peoples. In fact his theory would predict that Israelis and Palestinians should have identical levels of prosperity.

Actually Romney cites Diamond to contrast him with Landes along precisely these lines.

Cowardice and Honor: Mubarak’s Trial and the Pathologies of the Arab World

One of the most depressing things I read about honor-killings – a pretty depressing topic – was that, at least in Jordan, on suspicion of having done something wrong, the family kills the daughter (after all, the crime is blackening the family’s honor, which is about reputation, not deeds). Then you find out at the autopsy if she’s a virgin. If yes, the matter ends there; if no, you go after the suspected lover.

What this means in the clan context is, since the daughter’s own clan (her “protectors”) kill her, there’s no fear of retaliation. No one (not even international feminists) are going to defend her. The male lover is a bigger problem: he and his clan might retaliate for an unjustified killing; so you have to be more careful. As an articulation of a pathological honor-shame world, in which you concern for family honor is so great that it overrides any affection for the daughter, or even concern about whether she’s guilty or not, it’s those without protection who suffer most cruelly. A coward’s rage.

I thought of this today when I read the following analysis by Zvi Mazel about the trial of Mubarak.

Analysis: Mubarak’s trial is about the future of Egypt
By ZVI MAZEL
08/07/2011 01:49
Will the image of an old, ailing man on a stretcher in a cage become the defining event setting Egypt on a new path?

On the first day of Hosni Mubarak’s trial last week, after the whole world had seen the ousted Egyptian president brought on a stretcher and his emaciated face peering through the bars of a huge cage, representatives of all political movements in Egypt enthused about what they called a momentous historic event.

In their own ways, they hailed justice being done and the triumph of the people of Egypt over corruption and abuse.

On behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Saad Katatani emphasized that the trial ushers the phase of reconstruction and development of his country.

For the Wafd, Issam Sheikha, a member of the party’s Supreme Council, stressed that this was not vengeance but a public display of justice and a clear warning to all those who would rule Egypt in the future.