A popular conceit of moral superiority
” Heshu Yones, a West London teen, fought off her father for a frantic 15 minutes. She ran from room to room in her family home one Saturday afternoon until he cornered her in a dingy bathroom, held her over the tub and slit her throat.
The father, a onetime Kurdish freedom fighter from Iraq, told authorities that his only daughter had to die. The 16-year-old had sullied the family name, he said, by dating without his permission.”
- Chicago Tribune special report; For family honor, she had to die (free registration may be required)(AP photos shown)
The story goes on to describe how some 5,000 women are killed for honor worldwide in exclusively patriarchal societies. More examples are given – including one in which a woman was shot by her teenaged brother because “she lacked morals”. In many families, the brother is chosen to carry out the killing.
It is the cover story in today’s Chicago Tribune because Europe, with its growing immigrant Muslim population, is becoming aware of traditions that had previously been literally foreign to them. Certainly where there are killings, there are many more beatings, and many more who simply live in fear. The killings, like the top of an iceberg, reveal the presence of a much larger phenomenon.
And how superior we all feel about it. How can those foreigners be so cruel towards their women? How oppressive they are! How backward!
Then I read how religious objections may keep women from receiving a vaccine that will prevent HPV, a common virus that causes cervical cancer.
“In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. “Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,” says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.”
New Scientist: Will cancer vaccine get to all women?
I have not generally referred to the James Dobson and Pat Robertson wing of American religion as “Taliban” but it really isn’t that far fetched. 4,600 women a year die in the US from cervical cancer. It is a lingering, painful, debilitating, agonizing death; and where there are deaths, there are many more whose lives are forever changed by surgery and chemotherapy. Is it possible that anyone would really risk such a death for their precious child, on the hypothetical chance that being immune might allow looser sexual morals?
When I was a little boy, my mother told me seriously that “they don’t value life over there like we do here”. She was repeating a common stereotype of third-world societies where religious leaders control every aspect of life. Like all stereotypes, it contains some truth and a lot of distortion.
But there is another stereotype, unfortunately not untrue, of Americans; as people who like to flatter ourselves as being morally superior. No wonder documentarians and commenters who hold up a mirror to our society are scorned… we just don’t want to think about it. And the high moral dudgeon of today’s Pharisees rings hollow as they accuse “liberals” of immorality.