Another look at “us” vs “them”

Like most of our class, I’ve been interested in the discussion revolving around honor killings. The mere idea that someone could take another person’s life because they felt they had been shamed or dishonored was really almost unbelievable to me.  Add in the fact that family members, the same ones who have laughed with, told stories with, and nurtured the victims, are often active accomplices if not outright murderers…well, needless to say, the thought of it still spins my head a bit.

About halfway through our first class discussion on honor killings, Sylvia said something that really struck me to the core.  To paraphrase, she likened honor killings to cases of domestic violence, an issue to which we in the U.S. have grown so accustomed that it barely registers a blip on the radar unless it’s affected someone we know, or happens to be a particularly gruesome instance.  By making this comparison, she made me recognize that I, even as a member of this class, had really remained in my comfort zone of thinking that the issue of honor killings was a problem with “them,” and not a problem with “us.”

Holy cow.

The normal active class discussion ensued, but I had a hard time not coming back to that comparison. I did more research and what I found really infuriated me. The numbers of killings that are reported and identified as honor killings are enough to drive you mad, even more so if you consider that most honor killings are not identified as such.

Arguments are made, sometimes almost convincingly, that honor killings are a cultural issue and need to be considered in the context of the perpetrator’s cultural beliefs. In the context of my “new” revelation, though, what does that say about our own Western culture? Does that argument hold any weight?

My gut reaction is to say, “No, of course not.” But then I stop and look at the evidence. Our culture, while not overtly embracing the violence towards women, certainly doesn’t do a lot to stop it. Popular culture, often the easy target of loud-mouthed political panelists, is certainly an easy place to start: men’s undershirts now commonly (and proudly) called wife-beaters, and “light-hearted” depictions of violence against women in shows like Family Guy and songs like “Every Breath You Take.” Who can forget the almost startling reaction of many teenaged and pre-teen girls when pop singer Rihanna was beaten up by boyfriend, Chris Brown? “She deserved it.” “She shouldn’t have thrown his keys, I’d have hit her, too.” “I think Chris Brown did what he had to do; she shouldn’t have gone through his phone.”

Take it a step further. How many reported cases are there of domestic violence in our country alone? How stringent are the penalties for domestic violence in the U.S.? In cases of rape, how many times is the question asked, “Well, what was she doing there at that time?” “Why was she dressed like that?”  “What did she think was going to happen?”

Claiming that any violence against women, particularly honor killings, is part of a cultural “norm” isn’t ok. Killing isn’t ok, period. At the end of the day, we need to take a look at the culture that we’re reflecting out onto the world at large. If we don’t want to accept violence against women from other countries and cultures, we can’t afford to ignore its prevalence in our own apartments and neighborhoods.

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