Cultural Relativism Be Damned!


In Pakistan, according to various news reports, five women were buried alive last month in "honor killings." What was their offense? Three of the women wanted to marry men of their own choosing. The other two women had come to the defense of the first three. The Washington Post reports:

It is considered an insult in some conservative regions of Pakistan for women to have affairs or marry without consent, and rights groups say hundreds are killed by male relatives every year.

The killings—which apparently occurred after the women defied tribal elders and asked a civil court to marry at least three of them—was raised in Parliament on Friday, prompting a lawmaker from Baluchistan province to claim that "only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."

"These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them," Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents the province where the women died, told the chamber on Saturday.

According to some anthropologists, cultural values are arbitrary, and therefore the values of one culture should not be used as standards to evaluate the behavior or persons outside that culture. Bull! Cultures that practice "honor killings" are barbaric. The wikipedia definition of barbarian sums it up well:

"Barbarian" is a pejorative term for an uncivilized person, either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos perceived as having an inferior level of civilization, or in an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person whose behaviour is unacceptable in the society of the speaker. Barbarians are considered distinct from savages in that they are perceived as being willfully ignorant, choosing to preserve their way of life despite contact with more civilized societies….

Liberal societies, for all their faults, are morally superior and we should not be shy about saying so.