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The Meaning of Ghairatmand….

The Meaning of Honor

In a recent piece in the Express Tribune Dr. Hoodbhoy took aim at the concept of ghaira­tmand (honor) and in so doing ignited a firestorm of protest as evidenced by the appearance of at least two articles, and numerous comments, designed to rebut his thesis. In a nation where the notion of honor may be all that is left, the backlash cannot have been unexpected.  Regardless of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s true feelings, or intent, one can hardly deny that his article, at the very least, resulted in the concept of honor becoming a subject of public discussion, rather than being accepted as an unmitigated good.  Although I believe I understand why Dr. Hoodbhoy may have presented his thesis in a way designed to provide sharply contrasting choices, I also believe he missed the chance to address a related topic in a way that would have provided additional support to his thesis.

My original title for the article was to have been, “What good is honor without a set of corresponding values?”, and I mention it here because it encapsulates not only the theme of what I am about to present, but also what I see as the underlying issue which Dr. Hoodbhoy was attempting to address.  Obviously Dr. Hoodbhoy speaks for himself and I make no claim to having access to his inner thoughts, but I wished to make it clear that I see this article as one which supports, and builds, on the foundation provided by his original article.  In essence, what I took from his article is that honor, without reason, is not honorable at all.

If my assumption is correct than we must first address why a discussion regarding values must preceed the discussion regarding honor.  Values represent the destination, while honor can sometimes be the appropriate vehicle of transportation.  “Honor” in the service of inappropriate values simply dishonors the concept itself.  From the Western, if not universal, point of view, both Japan and Germany, countries referenced in the original article, were brought to the brink of disaster as a result of their almost pathological focus on honor to the exclusion of anything else.  When honor becomes the sole criteria for determining one’s behavior all else is bound to suffer.  Where I may differ from Dr. Hoodbhoy is in my belief that honor can be an ennobling concept, but only if one has first fully examined the values which honor is designed to protect.

It is at this point where I may be jumping into the murkiest of waters without the equipment necessary to determine what lays beneath the surface.  I make this proverbial leap of faith based primarily on the fact that I have seen others, such as Dr. Hoodbhoy, make it before me, and in the hope that others might follow as a result of seeing more people, such as myself, make the jump before them.  It is the only way.  The problem is, of course, that conversations in Pakistan which propose to examine values can be fraught with danger.  The choice thus becomes a question of whether one retreats and hopes for the best, or leads the way and hopes that enough likeminded people will speak up and, in doing so, create enough momentum to ensure that the movement eventually reaches some kind of critical mass.

In any event, when discussing the Pakistani concept of ghaira­tmand, it seems that perhaps the more fundamental questions related to such concepts as which values are being defended, should they be defended, and are they being defended in an appropriate way, are often simply ignored.  Essentially, in this context, the concept of ghaira­tmand seems to be defined as nothing more than the notion that any hint on the part of others suggesting that the individual concerned should reexamine his world view and, perhaps, make appropriate changes, is seen as the highest of insults.  I would suggest that it is this inability to separate who one is (one’s individual worth), from how one thinks.  From an Islamic perspective, this might be summed up in the oft repeated phrase, “Hate the sin, love the sinner”.  In other words, if we are to accept that honor is defined by one never changing, never considering any other view than one’s own, and never taking the consequences of one’s actions into consideration, than we can only assume that no one, at any time, can ever be expected to change in any way.  The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Islam supports chaos and that eternal conflict is inevitable.  I choose to reject such intent on the part of Islam, and thus suggest that there is no dishonor in considering another’s point of view.  Honor in the defense of truth is admirable, honor used simply as a crutch to avoid responsibility for what may follow is not worthy of the term.

In conclusion I ask you to consider the following questions, as I cannot provide the answers.  Can stoning a girl to death for being raped really be justified as something that a just God would support?  Is bombing a mosque really more favored than refusing to give, or take, baksheesh?  Is cutting off the hand of a thief really going to do anything other than leave many Pakistanis short one appendage? All of us have the capability of changing ourselves, and in so doing, making the world a better place. What Pakistan needs, not that Pakistan is alone, is an open, honest, and peaceful discussion on values, after which honor, in its truest sense, will not be a problem.

Thank you.

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