Honour and the law

10 Jul

There were two stories in the news yesterday. The first concerned a trial taking place about an ‘honour’ killing. The girl’s parents are facing murder charges and the mother changed her evidence, now testifying against her husband, the girl’s father. The second story concerns the execution of a young woman by the Taliban for committing adultery. It seems the girl was forced into a sexual relationship with a local commander. There was some dispute about her status with another commander and they agreed to end the dispute by having the woman shot.
Now if it seems that I am preaching against Islam, I wish to state very firmly that I am not. What I am outraged by are actions which are justified by the perpetrators calling on tradition and tribal law. There is nothing to justify such actions within the teaching of the Prophet. What are being called on are laws made over a thousand years ago in very different times and circumstances which only seem to be remembered when prejudice and entrenched power is challenged by moderate calls for reform.
A third story concerned the call for the creation of women bishops in the Church of England (Episcopalian, if in the States). A compromise that was mooted is that priests not wishing to serve under a woman bishop can be placed under the jurisdiction of another bishop of their choosing. The tradition that women cannot be priests and officiate at the Mass dates back to quite early in the Church – but not from the Gospels. That priests had to be celibate is a much more recent invention. In this case neither tradition directly relates to the core beliefs of the religion.
That a man can murder his own daughter because she has, according to his belief, brought shame on the family or that a raped woman can be executed because she has, by that act, committed adultery according to the tradition of her judge, are acts committed at the extreme limits of evil. There is, and can be, no justification for such acts. It is not possible to call on such laws and traditions while retaining any moral credibility. This is a vile perversion of any moral code that does, might sometime or has ever existed. Just because something is traditional does not make it right. Just because someone sincerely and simply believes in this tradition does not make it a necessary part of their religion. Even in the seemingly more innocent case of the women bishops, if the same excuse is being used it must be challenged and challenged again.
It seems to me that when such acts of personal barbarism are done it is to show where power actually lies. These are brutal acts of repression. On a larger scale, those who claim to commit acts of terror in the name of religion are self-deluded or liars. What they are trying to achieve are political ends. If there is any link between morality and religion then it is the duty of all clerics to denounce such beliefs. The justification is always claimed to be that such actions will bring about some earthly paradise. In a matter of ends and means, I should like to stress one moral standpoint. It is impossible to achieve good ends through bad means. Committing immoral acts corrupts the person committing those acts.
Almost enough of this rant, I just wish to make one more point. Civil law should never be linked to religion. We live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Here in the UK there is a law of blasphemy that only applies to the Church of England. It is very seldom used. There have been calls to extend this to cover all religions. It would be much safer, fairer and simpler to remove the law altogether. Then those of all faiths and those with no faith could all be treated exactly the same.


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