A couple of days ago here on the blog, I shared with you a piece about the Jain religion written by my boyhood friend from India, Justice Markandey Katju.
Sometimes, as we know, cultural practices, traditions and views can overwhelm a religion's teachings. That's certainly what has happened in many predominantly Islamic countries when it comes to the equal treatment of women, who felt quite liberated by the Islam that the Prophet Muhammad introduced to the world in the 7th Century. And it's certainly what has happened in the U.S., with a majority Christian population, when it comes to the idolatry of money and power.
But as Markandey, a retired justice on India's Supreme Court, notes in this blog entry, there's also a cultural clash between values that hold the individual in the highest esteem and the cultural values of shame and honor, which lie at the root of many cultures in the Middle East and parts of Asia, among other places.
The "shame and honor" system, as I think of it, requires you to respond (read retaliate) if someone has shamed you or your family or in some way dishonored you. We see elements of this system in the U.S. with the increasing use of the word "disrespect," or simply "dis," especially in gang disputes.
The extreme cases of shame and honor -- and ones that most Americans find so repugnant -- are the killing of young women who have married outside their religious tradition and, in the view of their parents, thus shamed the family.
That's what Markandey writes about when he says: "This 'honour killing' is a barbaric, heartless, cold blooded and savage feudal practice which must be put down with an iron hand by the authorities." I don't disagree with his description, but I'm not sure we've seen any evidence that putting the practice "down with an iron hand" will help.
And, of course, as an opponent of capital punishment, I disagree with Markandey that the death penalty should come into play for those convicted of honor killings.
It's interesting that Islam believes that its second most important prophet, Jesus, was never crucified. My understanding of a main reason for that is that crucifixion would have brought shame on one of God's prophets, so Islam has other explanations for Jesus' death.
And until we understand cultural systems of shame, guilt and fear, we'll never grasp why such things as honor killings happen.
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WARREN, Vt. -- While I'm in Vermont for a family wedding don't look for the usual second item here on the blog. I hereby give you back a few extra minutes a day. Use them well.