Dirty work: take it or leave it

By contributor Sean Carey

I recently went to a car wash at a small, edge of town shopping area near where I live in an affluent commuter town around 10 miles north of London. It is located in rented space in the car park in front of Homebase and Argos, two of the U.K.’s biggest retail chains.

Car Wash
Car Wash. Flickr/Jonathan_W
The car wash consists of a square metal hut resembling a small shipping container. Employees can stash their belongings in it and find shelter there during inclement weather.

Here is the routine at my local car wash: A driver parks behind other vehicles that are in the queue and then edges forward until a team of young men begin to perform their magical work. One employee uses a pressure water hose to remove most of the dirt and grime. Then two or three others use sponges and detergent to finish the job. The driver is still sitting behind the wheel.

After another move forward in the queue, a second group of men use chamois leathers to dry the car’s bodywork.

Now, for an extra fee the customer can request that the inside of the vehicle is cleaned. This choice entails getting out of the car. Which is what I did. As I stood and watched, three men began vacuuming and wiping interior surfaces.

I then went over to pay the owner, who I had briefly met on previous visits. It turns out that he is a Kosovar Albanian. “I have been living in the U.K. for 15 years,” he told me in response to my query about his background. “I go back Kosovo twice a year – it’s safe now – but this is now my home. My family is here.”
Continue reading “Dirty work: take it or leave it”

Dishonorable killings

So-called honor killings take the wind out of a form of cultural relativism that I refer to as absolute cultural relativism. According to absolute cultural relativism, anything that goes on in a particular culture, and is justified within that culture, cannot be questioned or changed by insiders or outsiders. For insiders, such questioning is cultural heresy; for outsiders it is ethnocentrism.

An antidote to absolute cultural relativism is critical cultural relativism, which promotes the posing of questions about practices and beliefs by insiders and outsiders in terms of who accepts them and why, and who they might be harming or helping. In other words: Who benefits, who loses? [Note: I present these terms in my cultural anthropology texts as a way to get students to think more analytically about the very important concept of cultural relativism.]

Image: Flickr creative commons licensed content. If only India, and indeed the whole world, was a domestic violence free zone.

When death, torture and structural violence are involved, it’s time to relegate absolute cultural relativism to the sidelines and bring to the fore critical analysis and discussion among insiders and outsiders. As far as I know, murder is not legal in any country in the world, including murder of one’s own kin for purposes of protecting family honor.

An article in The New York Times describes an alleged honor killing of a young unmarried Hindu woman in her family home in Jharkhand state, eastern India.

The article links the possible murder to Hindu caste values, which forbid marriage of woman to a man of a lower caste category — in this instance, the woman was of a Brahmin family and was engaged to a man of the Kayastha category, which is lower. Not only that, she had apparently engaged in premarital sex, another serious problem from the point of view of family honor.

What the article doesn’t say is that honor killings of daughters and wives by family members occur among people of other religions as well, including Christianity, that are not driven by caste purity. More deeply than particular religious values is the widespread existence of lethal patriarchy: male dominance in all domains of life — economic, political, social, sexual — that it justifies, even actively supports, murder of women and girls.

There can be no way, in this world, that anyone can get away with murder by saying that “it’s part of our culture” to kill a daughter or wife who breaks cultural rules. As if it’s their right and duty to kill.

Unfortunately, local police and the judicial system are often on the side of the killers.

Amnesty International now keeps track of so-called honor killings, but it’s likely that cases are severely under-counted. Nevertheless, any and all efforts to keep shining a very bright light on the problem of honor killings and related forms of patriarchy are essential.

See also this post on the blog Women Against Shariah.