In February 2009, a woman named Samira Jassim in the Diyala province of Iraq confessed to organizing the rape of 80 women. The “shame” these women felt at being raped allowed Jassim to recruit them as suicide bombers to “redeem” their honor.
No less shocking are the thousands of “honor killings” that take place every year in various Asian and Middle Eastern cultures as men kill their sisters and their daughters for “dishonoring” the family. Even in countries where authorities have attempted to outlaw the practice, cultural imperatives often continue to create needless tragedies. For example, Turkey’s efforts to severely punish “honor” killings (by applying life sentences not only for the perpetrator but for all family members involved in the decision-making) have given rise to the increased practice of “honor suicides” among Kurdish girls.
The story of Lucrece reminds us that these practices are not some peculiarity of the East. These beliefs and practices are part of the cultural tradition of the West, as well. And, in fact, it was consideration of the Lucrece story itself which played a large part in the philosophical revolution in Europe that overturned the beliefs that led to Lucrece’s tragedy. (For example, Thomas Aquinas’ refutation of Lucrece’s ethical justification for her suicide had, and continues to have, a major impact on the Catholic perception of the issue.)
Shakespeare’s Lucrece captures and recapitulates the entirety of this ethical and moral debate, while simultaneously personalizing it into a moving and dramatic portrayal of Lucrece’s inner and outer struggles in coping with unimaginable trauma.
Originally posted on August 12th, 2011.