The shame of an honor killing in the making

If you listen carefully these days, you can hear an honor killing being plotted in Saudi Arabia.

This honor killing isn’t being planned by a father, a brother or a member of the extended family, but by the people of Saudi Arabia.

By Saudi Arabia herself.

It started with a reactionary call of “Off with his head!”, a Queen of Heartsresponse to the words of one foolish man who wanted his 15 minutes of fame, and thought talking about s*x on television would get him it.

He has shamed us, people cried.

He has exposed our secrets and he has shamed us.

Off with his head!

Whether or not Mazen Abdul Jawad actually had s*x with all those men and women he claimed to have had s*x with on Lebanese television isn’t important. As is the case in every other honor killing, all that’s needed is a belief: A belief that something dishonorable has happened. A belief that someone has brought shame to someone else, and the indignant cries of an injured party.

In this case, the cries initially came from the archaically conservative margins, from the periphery where progress is a four-letter word and where blame and denial are applied as liberally as henna on the hands of a new bride.

He has shamed us, they cried. Off with his head!

But this time, for whatever reason, the cries were picked up by others – by women too long at the losing end of life’s battles, by the unemployed and under-employed youth with nothing but time and anger on their hands, by hypocrites who falsely believe that by offering up one man as a human sacrifice, their own equally shameful behaviors will be forgotten.

A few days ago, Mazen Abdul Jawad was arrested.

Yesterday it was announced that he will likely face charges of waging unlawful war against society.

In effect, he is charged with bringing shame to Saudi Arabia.

The punishment could well be beheading.

If Mazen Abdul Jawad is beheaded it will be an honor killing. He will be killed because someone thought he, like countless other victims of honor killings, brought shame to a family. This time, however, the indignant family is the people of Saudi Arabia. All of them. The ones who have lent their cries to the intolerable chorus and the ones who have remained silent.

He has shamed us, they cry collectively. Off with his head!

If Mazen Abdul Jawad is beheaded, those cries will echo across Saudi Arabia. They will reverberate throughout the Middle East. They will resonate to every corner of the world, they will take root and they will bear fruit.

He has shamed us. Off with his head!

If Mazen Abdul Jawad is beheaded, that horrifying message will be shouted triumphantly from caves and caverns around the world.

It will be a warning of vulnerability taped to bulletin boards and computer screens in newsrooms, broadcast centers and corporate headquarters in all corners of the globe.

It will be taught and recited in the halls of education and human potential where progress is growing like a frail flower under the desert heat.

It will be whispered in homes. It will be sewn into the young hearts and young mind of the world’s future.

He has shamed us, the message will repeat. Off with his head!

No matter where you come down on what one foolish man said or claimed to have done, whether you feel he is a scapegoat or a predator, a liar, a sinner or just a poor excuse for a human being, what happens next could be a watershed moment for the people of Saudi Arabia.

It could well be a watershed moment for us all.
What messages are you sending to others about shame, reputation and honor? Are those the messages you want others to get from you? What price are you willing to pay to avoid shame and thus keep your reputation and honor in tact? What price are you unwilling to pay? And why does reputation really matter that much anyway?

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