There are people also in the Islamic world according to whom the old culture of honor was broken in the west by the French Revolution. Similar process is sadly still missing from the Muslim lands. They just might be on the right track here, even if the process has been a much longer one. One of the big mysteries (for me, at least) of our time is that how little there is studies or even talk about the role of the age-old culture of honor in the human societies.
This is true in spite of the fact that differences in culture of honor may be also a major source of friction between people living in a same country. Difficulties rise in countries that adhere strictly to the modern humanistic tradition and into which are introduced new inhabitants who still adhere to the old culture of honor.
The rise of humanistic thinking is a major reason why the old and ugly culture of honor has died out in the western world. Think about it carefully; where is honor-culture most prevalent at the moment? Answer: In the Muslim world, in countries like Japan, in the animistic cultures and to a lesser degree also in the Catholic world. They all are areas where the long western humanistic traditions that go on all the way to ancient Greece have less influence than in the rest of the world. One should bear in mind that the rise of Christianity did not eradicate the culture of honor in Europe. All of the medieval Christian societies were still strictly honor-based.
The real rise and real breakthrough of humanistic thinking was experienced in the 18th century before, during and after the French Revolution. This major social upheaval was, in fact, largely caused by the spread of this radical new way of thinking. In it all humans were seen to have similar worth and all human lives were seen also as worth a consideration.
Most of all the state was seen as a force that had the aim to help and aid its subject, not just tax and oppress them for the benefit of the ruling class. The French revolution did much to help in destroying the old medieval mindset in the fields of social and economic life, but it did also hit the old culture of honor badly.
An old cliche says that the bayonets of the armies of Napoleon did bring the new laws of the Code Napoleon with them when they conquered new lands. What is even more important is that the Code Napoleon did not recognize the culture of honor. It was built on the humanistic basic principles of the basic equality of all humans and honor-culture does not fit in at all with this idea.
It is sometimes hard to remember how our perception of history can be changed beyond recognition in just a few generations. It is amazing how in the early 19th century sources there are, for example, many German people who staunchly support Napoleon, even if we see him now as just as a French imperialist who enslaved also Germans under the French rule.
This is what we are told now. However, people who did live in the time of Napoleon saw how French revolution and the first conquests of new France did, in fact, shake the whole foundations of the deeply unjust medieval feudalistic society all over Europe.
The more progressive people saw the importance of this process. This is true, even if Napoleon did, in fact, become more and more just a French imperialist. However, where-ever his armies went they also carried the new humanistic basic ideas with them.
His conquest did transform the whole legal and ethical landscape of Europe. One of the real big changes was the start of the transformation of the into a modern western law-based system. It took the whole of the 19th and even some of the 20th century for these ideas really to be implemented universally. However, the seeds were sown by the French revolution in many countries.
The fall of the ancient culture of honor was not, however, universal at all. It was rather complete in the most northern parts of Europe. In the Catholic world the change was not as thorough. Many of the less developed areas are still strongly affected by it especially in the southern Europe and in the Balkans.
In the United States, the culture of honor was a well-known and established feature of the old slave-owning plantation-culture where humanism was a swear-word. According to many studies its remnants are being still in place in southern areas of the US. At he same time in the northern and western parts of the US the modern humanistic way of seeing human relationships is more of the norm.
However, the western humanism has had very little impact in the Islamic world outside the educated upper class. It is also just in the Islamic word the honor-culture is most prominent at the moment. The defenders of Islam are quick to point out that this honor-culture is not part of Islam, but it is driven by local customs.
However, there are many ideas in Islam that do carry the message of ugly culture of honor also. The main thing is that Islam is fundamentally based on respect and unquestioning following of tradition. Therefore, it is also even the main reason why these traditions do still flourish just in the Islamic world.
In Islam one must follow the religious traditions to the last single detail without ever questioning their meaning or value. In these conditions, how could a person question all the other values that are passed to him or her by his elders, who he or she has no right to question in any way?
Religion is, in fact, the most important single factor that keeps the ugly and violent macho-culture of honor in use in the Islamic world. It is no coincidence that in practice all of the Islamic countries are beset by this evil and unnecessary tradition to varying degrees. Sadly it has traveled with incoming Muslims even back to developed parts of the western world, from which it was happily eradicated by advent of humanism a long time ago.
(This piece was heavily edited on 14th of November, 2012)