We might not always consider that there was once a system of “honor killing” here in the United States. Have you ever watched an Old Western? Traditionally, these films pit a good guy versus a bad guy in a duel over some form of disagreement: a woman, a theft, etc. You get the picture. There’s a reason why these films evolved to tell this kind of a story. It’s the same reason why nomadic cultures evolved to focus on mob-inspired fear and reprisal for crimes committed: because there wasn’t much in the way of authority.
And that’s not to say that it never existed at all. The point is that when the law seems non-existent or at the least “far away,” then men have always taken it upon themselves to dole out “frontier justice.”
One author explains: “Cultures of honour therefore appear amongst Bedouins, Scottish and English herdsmen of the Border country, and many similar peoples, who have little allegiance to a national government; among cowboys, frontiersmen, and ranchers of the American West, where official law-enforcement often remained out of reach, as famously celebrated in Western movies; and among aristocrats, who enjoy hereditary privileges that put them beyond the reach of general laws. Cultures of honour also flourish in criminal underworlds and gangs, whose members carry large amounts of cash and contraband and cannot complain to the law if it is stolen.”
We also forget about the latter point: there are always hierarchies of society that don’t want to be bothered by the law, and those hierarchies are certainly more apt to resort to violence to implement their own archaic forms of justice; i.e. revenge.
Sexual abuse attorney Paul Mones made it his mission to find compensation for the boyscouts who were victims to abuse over the years, and famously noted how many of them would never be granted the opportunity to have their day in court. But “court” and lawyers like Mones weren’t available to those who faced personal injury before entire communities settled down in one place. They had to make changes themselves. Sometimes, violence seemed like the only way.
The aforementioned author said, “Once a culture of honour exists, it is difficult for its members to make the transition to a culture of law; this requires that people become willing to back down and refuse to immediately retaliate, and from the viewpoint of the culture of honour this appears as a weak and unwise act.”
And perhaps from a western perspective, it’s important to note the cultural relevance between the system of honor killing and the cultivation of radicalism. Once a bomb lands in a Middle Eastern country, many feel that honor has been stolen from them — and again, that debt must be repaid. Thus are terrorists born into the world. When we counterattack, more terrorists are born. As long as one side refuses to back down, the cycle will inevitably repeat. The same is true when considering traditional honor killings.
Until society in the east accepts that laws are more important than longstanding cultural traditions, honor killings will continue unabated.