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July 11, 2006

Zidane's (Sacred) Honor

Zidane.jpgI am, sadly, among those obsessed with determining what Marco Materazzi said to Zinédine Zidane to cause Zidane to headbutt Materazzi and get himself expelled with ten minutes left in the World Cup final. (It was a startling intrusion of the primitive and brutal into shiny, carefully packaged media-land.) Most of the possible answers -- Zidane, as of this writing, not having spoken -- involve his mother, his wife, the word "whore" or a reference (Zidane is Muslim) to terrorism.

At issue would appear to be some sort of notion of honor. Is this idea that the saying of the unsayable, the forbidden, the untrue, must be punished (with brutality) a religious idea? Is revenge religious? Would a true nonbeliever not care what anyone said? Would a true nonbeliever not have any reason to do anything?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at July 11, 2006 2:46 PM


no, the desire for revenge is very natural and evolutionarily-imposed. christianity ('turn your other cheek') tries to overcome that.

Posted by: seth at July 11, 2006 2:33 PM

I don't think the desire to maintain honour has anything to do _exclusively_ with theism. It's another one of those values or human urges which the theists have attempted to co-opt, or at least those who have read the books written by theists (e.g., the Bible) have tried to claim as all their own territory. The assumption is that if I don't believe in God, and/or don't believe that I will be punished if I behave badly in this life, then there is no incentive for me to be good in this life, and to enforce things such as honour. This is completely wrong of course, and leads to atheistics being denigrated, and theists being puffed up with self-righteousness.

Posted by: Wayne at July 11, 2006 2:55 PM

Perhaps the evolutionary part of it has something to do with Y chromosomes.... I wonder, for example, if female soccer players would respond in similar ways, whatever got said ?

Posted by: JM at July 11, 2006 4:19 PM

Pro sports is an opiate produced to sell stuff. That head butt probably did more for football in this here wild west america than anything ever.

Maybe we will invent our own no holds bared version. Watching people get hurt is humane.

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 11, 2006 5:49 PM

I think you risk underestimating the importance of someone -- some set of eyes, preferably all-seeing eyes -- in front of whom the battles of honor (or morality) might be fought. The injunction to turn the other cheek is an interesting and important move in the history of religion, to be sure, but isn't Yahweh much concerned with what men say of him? Isn't Jesus, or some of the many Jesuses, also, for that matter? Zidane is non-practicing. But I still suspect some version of God was hovering over the Olympic Stadium when Zidane's forehead struck.

Posted by: mitch at July 11, 2006 8:21 PM

I don't think honour is directly related to religion, though what we call "cultures of honour" is typically very religious societies, while cultures of law are more secular societies.

My view of honour is that we need to distinguish between different kinds of honour. It is important to be able to take pride in your work, you accomplishements and achievements. That kind of honour is positive. The negative kind is the one were people get "offended" by other other people's words or acts, and need to "defend" their honour.

Zidane's reaction is clearly based on this second, primitive, kind of honour; but his act was done without thinking, acting in a moment of anger. And he clearly regrets doing it, and does not defend his act. It's a lot worse when people carefully and rationally plan acts to defend their "honour", for example if someone has offended their prophet by drawing him, or "offended" their family's honour by having sex their daughter before marriage, or something like that. And then show not regret, thinking they have done a good and necessary thing by defending their honour.

Posted by: Kristian Z. at July 12, 2006 6:07 PM

Zidane himself:

"I tell myself that if things happened this way, it's because somewhere up there it was decided that way," he said in a later interview on TF1 television.

Posted by: mitch at July 12, 2006 6:52 PM

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