‘What would you say to your dead wife or daughter if she were still here?’
‘I would say that I acted out of love, and I know that she would understand.’
This exchange appears in Witold Szablowski’s collection of reportage from Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City and simply and devastatingly illustrates the complexity of ‘honour’.
Honour, as I understand it as I sit here tapping away in East Sussex, is about acting with ethical integrity, with an awareness of a higher purpose, of doing the best one can as a human being.
But what about ‘honour’ so destructive that it leads to the violent deaths of 5,000 women a year worldwide, including about a dozen in the UK?
When I began to think about a story for Silkmoth, I had to find a way to bridge these two seemingly very different interpretations of the same word. The families who arrange for their daughters to be murdered are not psychopaths and they are not motivated by hate. Family honour is an idea thousands of years old, probably originating from nomadic tribal tradition. It’s all about survival and trade. And what does a family of precarious economic means most need to trade in order to survive? Itself. Thus the honour, social standing and economic success of a family is inextricably linked to the eligibility of its womenfolk for reproduction.
And if you think that patriarchy in the UK is buried somewhere under Stonehenge, think again. When Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997 there were many who were willing to believe that the car accident had been arranged by the royal family, that the princess had become a liability, that her relationship with Dodi Al Fayed was inappropriate and that she was bringing ‘the firm’ into disrepute. For any number of people to think that this was a possibility, the connection between a woman’s behaviour and her family’s honour had to be still live.
Turkey, India, Pakistan – Britain. You don’t have to go as far away or as far back in time as you think to begin to think about ‘honour’.
So I looked at myself. A woman: a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife. I asked myself how I had learned to know what to want, how to ask for what I need, how to love.
Silkmoth is the story of a mother complicit in the killing of her daughter. She is not a monster. She is a victim. A victim of a culture that equates sex with fear, love with control, failure with shame.
Honour killing is an outrage. It’s an outrage in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia. It’s an outrage in the US, Australia, Western Europe and it’s an outrage in the UK.
But which of us has emerged completely free from the values behind it?