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  • Mariam Hakim

    Mariam Hakim asked in Social Sciences 8th Jan '13:

    In extreme forms of domestic violence, both in general and in the case of honour killings in some parts of the world in particular, where violence against women especially girls is perpetuated, sanctioned, and often watched by the relatives of the victim; why would parents, that were born with the basic instinct of nurturing and protecting their children at all costs, turn upon them and proceed to kill them in the most horrific ways? What are the forces that override this basic instinct?

    Keith Dobson replied 25th Feb '13:

    Reflections on the Practice of Honour Killings

    This issue deals with the complex interplay between personal and collective moral rights. An absolute position is difficult to sustain, given the variation in moral values in different countries in the world.

    Honour killings, in which a family or social group takes part in the punishment and potential murder of children (or other individuals), are naturally abhorrent in most parts of the world. The practice seems to fly in the face of normal instincts to care for, love, nurture and develop one’s children.  Also, for many people in the world, the notion that any individual’s life is or should be subservient to a moral ideal or principle, is simply wrong.  Indeed, in some countries even capital punishment is either forbidden or strictly controlled.

    The part of the world that views honour killings as morally flawed, however, is also those parts of the world were ideas related to individual rights, democracy and personal freedom are valued.  In such societies the idea that an individual’s rights, or even their life, must be held to a higher standard does not make sense.  However, in those societies where honour killings are practiced, the dominant beliefs relate to the virtue of the collective over the individual, and principles or values which supersede the individual. In such parts of the world, the value of the person can indeed be seen to be less important than the moral principle, and honour in service of the principle can demand severe sanctions or even death.

    I was born, raised and live in Canada, which has adopted the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, among other articles that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  My country has also adopted a strong Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect individuals.  Even in Canada, however, personal rights are not absolute, and are subject to such limitations as the state deems necessary to preserve a “free and just society”.  Thus, even in highly individualized and democratic societies such as Canada, there is a higher moral and social order which must be preserved above the individual.

    Moral absolutism is a dangerous position to take, whatever the position.  While I do not personally condone honour killings (nor indeed do I condone capital punishment), I can appreciate the value system that would lead people in other parts of the world to justify this position from a moral perspective. In the same way that would invite others in the world not to condemn my beliefs or practices, I would extend the same courtesy to others.

    Keith Dobson, Ph.D.
    February 7, 2013

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