Sunday, December 03, 2006

What is honour?

Honour ... what exactly does that mean? This is what I ask myself every time some-body (usually a man and usually one in anger) mentions the word 'honour'.
We've had some 'honour-murders' during the last couple of month in Germany, cases in which young women who just wanted to lead a - by western European standards - normal life. They wanted to life alone, they wanted to decide whom to marry. To their families this obviously meant a loss of honour, so their brothers or cousins went out and killed them to restore the family honour. And that's something I, as a western European woman with a more or less Christian background, find very, very hard to understand. It seems to be a Muslim thing, the kind of honour that leads to those murders. Most vic-tims in Germany came from Turkish families - who are the majority of Muslims in this country.
From what I've seen and read, the honour of the family is the honour of the patriarch - the father, normally. But this honour is mainly defined not by his behaviour, but by that of the women of the family, the wife (or wives) and daughters. So in order to main-tain his honour he has to control them.
In an environment where everybody sees the world his way - somewhere in the coun-tryside in Turkey, for example - this isn't difficult as the women don't have another choice than to life the way the men want them to. They grow up with a strong and maybe sometimes even tyrannical father, they get bartered for marriage (a marriage which is organized by their family, they have no say in it), they go to another family with a ruling patriarch and a husband who will in some way one day become a patriarch himself, they have children which they raise to act the same way and one day they die. Not knowing anything else, they may even be content with their lives.
But then the family comes to Germany, a country with a different background, a country in which the women have fought - and are still fighting - for their rights, and the traditional family is in danger. The daughters go to school - better schools quite often than they would go to in Turkey - and there have contact with other girls; girls who are free, girls who are allowed to go out alone, girls who will have a job one day and lead a life of their own ... even should they decide to get married. Imagine that, as a girl brought up to think she will get married as soon as she is old enough - and not even have something to say about the man she's going to marry -, meeting girls her age who can decide whom to marry, even if they marry at all.

And so the patriarchs loose power. They are no longer in an environment where this is normal, where their kind of life is considered to be the only one. And those whose life will change most, are the women, those members of the family who define the honour by submitting to the patriarch's orders.
To a patriarch this must be a nightmare. No longer has he complete control over the family. His sons might roam this new world, but they will heed to the old traditions, because they suit them, give them power. His daughters on the other side will try to break at least some traditions to gain the freedom their female classmates already have: the freedom to go out without a brother as a male chaperone, the freedom to have a job and earn some money on their own, the freedom to have their own flat, the freedom, finally, to chose their own husband. And with each and every of those wishes the women destroy the family honour ... because this is exactly what a good and 'honour-able' woman will not do.
So, yes, you could say I understand the motives for those 'honour-murders'. What I don't get is the principle of honour.

What worth does honour have? You can't live off it, you can't buy anything with it. In a society which doesn't have the same idea of honour you have, it doesn't even exist for most people.
My father once pointed out to me that it is a man's thing... Only men, he told me, are stupid enough to value a word - and basically honour isn't anything but a word - high enough to kill or die for it. So, being a woman, I probably won't ever understand it. And I surely can't understand or accept it as a reason for killing others ... and from my point of view, nobody should.

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