Friday, December 18, 2009

Honour Killings: An Unpleasant Look at the Truth

The murder - with the apparent knowledge of her family - of the Turkish teenager Tulay Goren has once again brought into focus the nastier side of family life. Many will no doubt have thrown up their hands in horror at this tale of patriarchalism, oppression of women, pride and shame, and thank God that we Anglo-Saxons are so much more enlightened and liberal.
Oh really?

Isn't it a matter of fact that this honour-culture is really not so very far removed from the sort of behaviour that has been rife in Western culture since the year dot? The mind-set that saw a father hunt down, tie-up, drug and eventually kill his own flesh and blood is at one end of a continuum which has its roots just as firmly in middle England as in Southern Turkey.

It's no so very long ago that a young woman, finding herself pregnant and unmarried, faced social ostracism, with recourse only to highly risky abortions or banishment until the illegitimate child was born, to distant relations or in special homes where they were treated as moral degenerates. A veil of secrecy and silence cloaked these 'shameful' events. Family members colluded with one another to suppress the truth and save face in the community. Children were raised in strange, dislocated relationships where the 'mother' was actually the grandmother, or a childless cousin. There are many stories in the media of these poor, sad birth-mothers being reunited after many, many decades of separation from their offspring, lamenting the wasted years of mourning babies who grew up without them, and of the children whose lives were often rocked or ruined by the revelation that 'we aren't actually your biological parents'. How is that sort of collusion and covert manipulation of lives any different from what we are reading in the papers this very day?

There's a lot of it about under the thin veneer of liberalism and nominal equality of our society, a poisonous, conditional love that is often granted to the very people that deserve our absolutely unequivocal support and devotion, for they are flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, our children, our families.

How often - even nowadays - do we hear of parents who 'lose' contact with children who disappoint in some way? Because these oft-labelled mavericks 'fail' the parents by attaching themselves to a partner deemed 'unsuitable' in class, creed or colour; by leading lives that the family fail to comprehend (as if real love should depend at all on comprehension or approval!), by being gay, converting or marrying out of a religion, or unemployed, mentally ill, a substance abuser, or merely humanly fallible, not measuring up in some way - 'different' from the rest of the brood, and against whom the cudgel of expectation and normality is wielded?

Snivelling humanity has a history of trying to claw its way up the social pile, careless of treading on one another in an attempt to make it to the top of the heap. There being strength in numbers, it helps if there are other climbers singing off the same hymn sheet and giving one another a bunk up on the way. Strength in numbers and all that. And while this is a seemingly altruist family-friendly scramble, the concealed underbelly revealed is that people who aren't going with the family flow and kow-towing to the pack leader are seen as endangering the ascent of the entire upwardly mobile mass.

It all has its genesis in post-WW2 Britain: A nation frightened to death by the ravening maw of totalitarian otherness, shrank into itself, wrapping desperate material greed and social aspiration around its chipper, mustn't-grumble respectability. A nation emerged that increasingly prided itself on 'having', on competing with the neighbours with one eye cocked over the top of the Daily Express and the privet hedge. Anything that compromised keeping up with the Joneses, or being seen as socially acceptable and upwardly mobile was given as short a shrift as an unwanted kitten in a weighted sack. No room for sentiment or regret. Far better if you cut out the poisoned flesh. Your child has let you down? Cast them off without a backward glance as an aberration, a bad seed. Certainly let your disapproval be felt, loud and clear - but behind bolted doors and tighly pulled curtains. Smile at the neighbours and continue as if nothing has happened: let no trace of sentiment show...this child has betrayed you, your way of life and all that you stand for!
[You say my daughter hasn't been seen around for many weeks? I shrug and smile and voice some banality about the unpredictability of girls. My family will not be shamed, I will countenance no stain on its honour, no matter the cost or the suffering. We are all united in this!]

Conditional love, love that is doled out as a reward for keeping to the script is no love at all. It is a depressing fact that many people only love those around them if they bolster their own self-image. Witness the Mums that deck their toddler girls as mini-me's to prance around in front of the X-factor. Or Dads who shout abuse at their sons from the touchlines of junior football leagues. Or husbands discarding no-longer young or desirable wives, or wives discarding newly redundant husbands.

It is a selfish 'love', one that is concerned with rewarding what a person does, not what they are. And while we are rightly appalled at the murder of a fifteen year old girl who took up with an 'unsuitable' man, we would do well to reflect on the difference between a mote and a plank, and the subtle gradations between the two.

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