Pork and Beans and Honour Killing

When I was a kid, people ate something called Pork and Beans.  It came in a can and was basically baked beans with a couple of teeny tiny pieces of…meat?… which may have originally come from a pig.  In a time before Fast Food, it was a quick and easy meal – right up there with Kraft Dinner™.  As far as I know, people had been eating Pork and Beans ever since Napoleon figured out his army marched on its stomach and served up the first MREs, sealed in champagne bottles.  Regardless, a lot of people ate Pork and Beans back in the day.

Then a curious thing happened.  A nameless Canadian bureaucrat was sitting around, picking his orifice one day, when, for some unknown reason, he took a look at the contents of the Pork and Beans can.  He discovered what everybody else on the planet had known for a hundred years: Pork and Beans was actually a whole lot of beans and not very much pork.  According to our boy, though, this was clearly a case of consumer fraud.  Canadians (at least those with the IQ of a blueberry) needed to be protected from corporate treachery and lies; otherwise, they might think they were buying a can of pork with some beans in it.  I’m not making this up, by the way: it’s a fictional depiction of a series of real events.  Anyway, the name was changed from Pork and Beans to “Beans with Pork” — to reflect the actual contents of the can.  It was our government hard at work and a presumed victory for consumer rights.  That was sometime back in the 60s, and I’m sure the nameless bureaucrat has long since received his heavenly reward.  He’s probably lounging through eternity right now, counting harp strings or divvying up the haloes.  However, I think we need to resurrect his kinda diligence these days and get a couple of things straight.

First of all, for the last two or three decades, some people have been wrapping themselves in explosives sprinkled with metal shards, ball bearings, marbles or what-have-you.  They wander into crowded public places, push the detonator, and ka-boom.  Everything (and everybody) within shouting distance is torn to ribbons.  It’s a disturbing trend.  We call such people “suicide bombers.”  What a deceit!  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Those people who just got killed in the shock and awe of intimate acquaintance with plastic explosives did not, I repeat NOT, commit suicide.  They were murdered!  And the person who pushed the button is the murderer!  There’s no other name for it.  The only way the button pusher can be called a suicide bomber is if he blew himself to smithereens in the privacy of his own home: then, he might have an argument.  However, the minute he involves other people, he (or she) becomes a murderer – full stop – and a premeditated murderer, at that!  After all, it takes a bit of doing, even in a war zone, to get your mitts on explosives, learn how to use them properly and scope out a location for maximum damage.  These might be crimes of passion, but they certainly don’t happen on the spur of the moment.  And speaking of passion, I have the feeling homicide bombers (note the more inclusive name) may be committing a hate crime as defined by Canadian law.  You really have to hate somebody a lot to blow your own guts out just to get at them.  I don’t hate anybody that much.  In fact, I don’t even know anybody who hates anybody that much.

For my money, the PR Company who thought up “suicide bomber” as the accepted term for a person who deliberately goes out and murders complete strangers should get a Clio Lifetime Achievement Award.  This is one primo euphemism that puts anything the US government ever thought of to shame.  Adbusters, where are you now?

However, if you want to talk about euphemisms, the granddaddy of them all is “honour killing.”  If you’ve been in a monastery for the last ten years, understand that honour killing is the growing tendency whereby male members of a family get pissed off with one or more female members of the family and, instead of arguing about it, they simply kill them.  Honour killing?  What an oxymoron!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there is no honour in killing people.  It’s not an honourable practice.  The only time it’s ever even condoned — and then with mucho caveats — is during times of war or in situations of extreme self defence.  That’s it!  It’s the big crime!  There’s nothing worse!  So why have journalists, social commentators and the judicial system decided that when it comes to slaughtering members of your own family, that’s somehow tangled up with familial honour?  What social faux pas could be so heinous that it deserves the death penalty?  They didn’t execute Jeffrey Dahmer for God’s sake — and he ate people!  If your wife or daughter is eating people, you might have a case, but otherwise….   Actually it should be called “really, really bad killing” for the simple reason that (at the risk of sounding a little too insensitive for the 21st century) it’s actually a worse crime than killing a stranger.  I’m not downgrading the importance of strangers, but objectively you have no serious emotional attachment to people you’ve never met.  Whereas, if you’ve held some baby in your arms, helped her take her first step, taught her to read and watched her grow, you’ve got to be one cold cowboy to murder her.  And, at the end of the day, that’s what it is – murder.

However, here’s the one that gets me, and I do not understand why every advocacy group in this country from The National Action Committee on the Status of Women all the way down to the Girl Guides isn’t boiling over with rage about this.  I find it terribly disturbing that this happens so frequently that we have a name for it.

When I make out a grocery list, I still write Pork and Beans.  I buy them and eat them even though there’s enough sodium in there to kill me.  I know what they are, regardless of what we call them.  The problem with linguistic gymnastics, though, is it tends to soften the blow.  It dilutes the language so offensive things are more palatable.  However, sometimes we need to be offended; we need to be shocked.  We need to call things what they are in order to recognize them and put a stop to them.  Sometimes, the sound byte should say, “Wife and three daughters killed in an alleged Cold Bloody Murder.”

Honour Killings, Domestic Violence and Murder

Last week, a man walked into a local newspaper with a weapon.  He found his estranged wife, who worked there, and stabbed her several times.  She died at the scene of the crime, and he was arrested.  The murder was witnessed by a number of people, including one guy who suffered minor injuries when he tried to intervene.  It all seems totally straightforward to me.  However, unlike the majority of big city murders, which don’t usually survive the 48 hour urban news cycle, people are still talking about this one.  In fact, a local open line radio program speculated whether or not the victim had actually provoked the attack.  Interesting.  The difference between this and most of the other homicides around town is the media is reporting it as one of the growing number of Canadian “honour killings.”

There has been much debate recently about honour killing.  Unfortunately, the discussion has been hijacked by questions of immigration and cultural rights.  This woulda/coulda/shoulda talk has tied our hands and diverted our attention from dealing with the problem effectively.  However, if we look at the situation in a critical, objective manner we can put a stop to what’s becoming a recurring social problem before it really gets started.

The hideous thing about “honour killing” is that it now occurs so frequently in our society that we’ve imported a name for it.  It’s almost as though we consider it a subset of the act of murder.  This is not good: it presupposes acceptance.  Although we must now give honour killing a separate identity among all the other heinous acts that plague us, it is a grave mistake to think of it as anything less than premeditated murder.   If we do, we run the risk of psychologically giving it a mitigating circumstance which will only hamper our ability to deal with it.

Furthermore, we are at odds with ourselves over the nature of this form of violence against women.  We must clarify.  The erroneous assumption is that honour killings are just pumped-up domestic violence.  That is not true.  Human Rights Watch defines honour killings as:

…acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life. (“Honor Killing,” Wikipedia)

This is a very specific definition which shows us that honour killings differ substantially from domestic violence in two key ways.  First of all, honour killings are premeditated, perpetrated by what would be considered normal, peaceful people – a spike of violence, if you will.  On the other hand, statistics show that most domestic violence cases, especially those resulting in death, are the culmination of escalating episodes of abuse and brutality, usually accelerated by alcohol and/or drugs.  Secondly, honour killings are aggregated acts.  In almost every instance, they have the tacit — if not the active — approval of at least one other family member.  Conversely, the vast majority of documented cases of domestic violence involve a single person, normally a husband or a boyfriend, who acts alone, usually in secret.  As we can see, honour killing and domestic violence are two different animals that must be dealt with separately.

Finally, whether we like it or not, honour killing has a cultural base.  We must face this fact straight on.  We can’t slip/slide around, trying to fool ourselves.  At the same time, however, we must understand that just because we recognize cultural differences; that doesn’t mean the door is open to racism or cultural intolerance.  In fact, just the opposite.  These are Canadian women who are being killed – make no mistake – and they’re under the protection of our entire society.  We cannot lay the blame at the feet of “those people;” those people are us.

So where do we go to from here?  Zero tolerance.  We need to quit muddying the water with useless chatter.  The debate is about murder, not government policy, immigration or cultural insensitivity.  We also need to stop making false assumptions.  Honour killing is a new and different phenomenon which we’ve never had to deal with, in large numbers, before.  We need to remember that.   Finally, and most importantly, we need to quit conjuring up tippy-toe solutions.  It must be perfectly clear: Canadians, old and new, do not tolerate murder, regardless of the circumstances or what the media calls it.  This is non-negotiable, and our penalties must reflect the seriousness of the crime.  We have been warned.  Nationally, there have been over fifteen recognizable honour killingsmurders in the last few years.  The time to stop these horrible crimes was yesterday.