February 3, 2012

Another Honor Killing That Isn't About Honor, And Even Less About Nietzsche

honor killing canada.jpg
what a shame

KINGSTON, Ontario -- A jury on Sunday found three members of an Afghan family guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another woman in what the judge described as "cold-blooded, shameful murders" resulting from a "twisted concept of honor," ending a case that shocked and riveted Canadians.

Another killing that involves the words, "Muslim", "family", "daughters", "honor."  And "Canada."  Yikes.  Do you really need the details? You do if you want to get it right.  Otherwise, feel free to call it an honor killing and get booked on the Glenn Beck Show and Al-Jazeera on the same day.

[Canadian] Defense lawyers said the deaths were accidental. They said the Nissan car accidentally plunged into the canal after the eldest daughter, Zainab, took it for a joy ride with her sisters and her father's first wife. [The son] Hamed said he watched the accident, although he didn't call police from the scene.

The trouble is that Hamed watched the accident from inside a Lexus SUV that happened to be pushing the Nissan into the canal.  Don't worry, the four women were dead long before they got in the Nissan for their joy ride. The prosecution contends the dad and the son conspired to do this, but of course prosecutors hate men of color.

In order for this to be an honor killing in the traditional sense-- note the words honor and traditional-- the purpose of the killing has to be to remove shame from the family.  In this logic, an honor killing is not simply punitive but a selfless act, because it puts the murderer at risk of punishment (and grief) so that his descendants may live with honor.   It is for the sons so that they can grow up and marry without carrying the shame of their mother or sister's actions; for the surviving daughters so they won't be thought of as whores like their sister.

So this would make perfect sense:

Prosecutors said the defendants killed the three teenage sisters because they felt they had dishonoured the family by defying its strict rules on dress, dating, socialising and using the internet.

The problem is that this isn't why the women were killed, it is the post-hoc rationalization for why they were killed.


The prosecution said her parents found condoms in [younger daughter] Sahar's room as well as photos of her wearing short skirts and hugging her Christian boyfriend, a relationship she had kept secret. [Youngest daughter] Geeti was skipping school, failing classes, being sent home for wearing revealing clothes and stealing, while declaring to authority figures that she wanted to be placed in foster care, according to the prosecution.

shafia daughters.jpg

The daughters had been dressing western, dating, using the internet and disrespecting their old man [and brother] for a very long time-- across three Western countries-- without ever being murdered, not even once.  The father didn't like these things, thought them abhorrent, beat the girls, but did not kill them.  During all this, this honorable dad had no problem resigning his son to the fate of "brother of sluts", he wasn't worried his other daughters would be the "sisters of whores"-- or become corrupted themselves; nor did he appear mortally wounded by being the father of harlots.  

In other words, this had nothing to do with honor.  Why did this murder happen when it did?


First, let's dispense with the religion:  "He was not religious as some have said. I never saw him do prayer."  You will observe a ubiquitous lack of religiosity in North American "honor killings" up until they are actually committed.  Suddenly everyone finds God.  That's the history of America: come here for the freedom; stay for the cash; and if things get hairy say only God can judge you.

What's necessary for this kind of a murder isn't a surrounding community that supports honor killings-- where in Canada are they going to live before some Molsen swilling hockey enforcer runs them down?-- but a group of people who validate that some behaviors are shameful; again, even if they abhor honor killings themselves.  In other words, someone to crowdsource the superego.  "I don't condone what he did, but I understand."

The family had first moved to Australia, where he would not have been able to commit this crime because:

[The father]Shafia did not appreciate the local Afghan women's support group reaching out to his wives.

These Australian Afghan women were supporting the women, not him.  His wives were being "seen" by enough people as individuals, more than a reflection on him. So he left.  When he got to Canada, he found this:  

Despite the overwhelming evidence presented at trial, some in Montreal's Afghan community have trouble accepting that the deaths were murder. "The parents were building a house for the sake of their children. How could they go and kill them?" asked Victoria Jahesh, who works with an Afghan women's group in Montreal.
The key difference is that even while the Canadian group would never condone honor killings,  the family is still viewed as his family, the women as his wives, etc.   He (to them) remains the main character, it's his movie, everyone else supporting cast.   I'm sure the group thought they were supporting the women in various ways, but the manner in which they understood the world-- for brevity let's just call it in this case patriarchal-- reinforced the very problems they thought they were alleviating.  "A father loves his daughters," they would say.  Yes, that's obvious.


"There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this," Shafia said on one recording. "Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows ... nothing is more dear to me than my honour."

What could possibly have been so terrible?  Such a betrayal?  She had already had sex, lots of sex, condoms in her drawer in her parents house sex.  Isn't that dishonorable enough?

No.  What got her killed was this: she got married.

In the spring of 2009, Mr. Hyderi learned that [oldest daughter] Zainab was to marry her boyfriend [a Pakastani-Canadian]... The marriage to the boyfriend was annulled after one day, and another plan was hatched for Zainab to marry Mr. Hyderi's younger brother. But before that could happen, the Shafias set off on a summer road trip....

You know what happens next.

Marriage is freedom (weird, I know.) Marriage means she belongs to another man, he has no power over her-- unless she marries an approved castmember.  And if she gets married to an outsider, then the next thing you know all the daughters get married, and he is left.......


I can understand (read: smell it from a mile away) the motivation of the father for killing his family, but in order for the son to have cooperated with this madness his father must have convinced him that what he was doing was right even though he himself knew it was wrong.  From a theological perspective, that sin is worse than murdering his daughters, because he did the "devil's work" and corrupted his son's soul, pretending it was God's will. 

When Nietzsche said "God is dead" he meant that God is not necessary for our morality anymore.  When he says we killed God, he means that our science, skepticism, education, have pushed us past the point where believing in miracles is possible; but as a consequence of this loss we are lost, have no goals, no aspirations, no values.  God was made up, but he gave us a reason to progress.

The resulting nihilism requires us to either despair, return back to medieval religion, or look deeper within us and find a new source of human values.

Yet... none of those things happened.

The post-modern twist is that we didn't kill God after all: we enslaved him. Instead of completely abandoning God or taking a leap of faith back to the "mystery" of God; instead of those opposite choices, God has been kept around as a manservant to the Id.  We accept a "morality" exists but secretly retain the right of exception: "yes, but in this case..." 

Atheists do this just as much but pretend they also don't believe in "God".  "Murder is wrong, but in this case...."  But of course they're not referring to the penal code, but to an abstract wrongness that they rationalize as coming from shared collective values or humanist principles or economics or energy or whatever.  It's still god,  it's a God behind the "God", something bigger, something that preserves the individual's ability to appeal to the symbolic.

"...but in this case..." Those words presuppose an even higher law than the one that says, "thou shalt not."  That God-- which isn't a spiritual God at all but a voice in your head-- the one that examines things on a case by case basis, always rules in favor of the individual, which is why he was kept around.

But the crucial mistake is to assume that the retention of this enslaved God is for the purpose of justifying one's behavior, to assuage the superego.  That same absolution could have been obtained from a traditional Christianity, "God, I'm sorry I committed adultery, I really enjoyed it and can't undo that, but I am sorry and I'll try not to do it again." Clearly, Christianity hasn't prevented people from acting on their impulses; nor have atheists emptied the Viagra supplies.

The absence of guilt is not the result of the justification, it precedes the justification.  Like a dream that incorporates a real life ringing telephone into it seemingly before the phone actually rings, the absence of guilt hastily creates an explanation for its absence that preserves the symbolic morality: I don't feel any guilt............................... 

.......because in this case...


But no one likes to see the consequences of abstract philosophy played out in a submerged Nissan, so I'll just offer you some advice.  Rageful narcissists are the most violent not when they are insulted or attacked or hated but when they are abandoned to objective reality, the one that doesn't comply with their mirroring demands.  Such a person invariably is backed by an enslaved God, which means all things are possible.

If you do manage to leave, don't look back.