Diversity springing from the multi-culture of care, share and be aware is now sitting atop the totem pole of our neo-pagan modernity. We are told to respect all cultures and customs equally because they are all equally respectable.
Though we’ve refined this idea and pushed it to its logical extreme, it’s not new. As far back as the 5th century BC, Herodotus taught that “we must respect other people’s customs.”
Having issued that injunction, about 50 pages later in the same book he mentioned in a different context that: “Burying people alive is a Persian custom.”
Nowadays suggesting that a certain hierarchy of customs just may exist and is desirable smacks of value judgement – and no values are to be judged on pain of moral ostracism or even, at times, legal prosecution. Who are we to decide that some are better than others?
As a lifelong champion of progress, I welcome this development. By all means, do let’s respect all local customs equally. But what happens when some local customs clash with some others, to the point of being mutually exclusive?
For example, we in Britain have a local custom of rather long standing that can be roughly summed up as one law for all. We may be rich or poor, male or female, black or white, aristo or prole, but that doesn’t matter. The same law applies to us all.
Hence a gentleman who can legally enjoy up to four wives in his native habitat has to limit himself to one in Britain because polygamy is against our law. Ditto the custom of immolating the wife together with her deceased husband. Ditto the custom of castrating women. Ditto… well, you get the gist.
One would assume that this point would be communicated to new arrivals the moment they land on our shores. We respect your local customs, but this is our locality and you must respect ours. One law for all.
Well, before we instruct immigrants in this vein, perhaps we ought to check that our own judges understand this custom properly. High Court Judge Mrs Justice Pauffley clearly doesn’t.
The case before her was that of an Indian chap who routinely beats his wife and 7-year-old son, which contravenes any number of British laws, such as the 2004 Children’s Act.
Now every parent knows that some little children are insufferable. A good smack is a time-honoured method of getting them back in line, and at times it’s the only possible method. Hence we may argue about the merits of the 2004 Act, though, to be fair, it only disallows putting too much pow into a smack, not a smack as such.
But it’s not Mrs Justice Pauffley’s remit to question the quality of laws in a courtroom. It’s to uphold them.
Yet, in spite of the boy’s testimony that his father habitually hit him with ‘a long belt’, Mrs Justice Pauffley saw fit to dismiss the case because: “Proper allowance must be made for what is, almost certainly, a different cultural context.”
Sorry, Your Honour, but during office hours there exists only one cultural context for which you can make allowances: the British law. Leave other cultural contexts to ethnographers, anthropologists and The Guardian.
We already have large parts of Britain where Sharia law holds sway. We really don’t need to show any more respect for ‘cultural contexts’ than we already have, and one wishes we could show a lot less. Instead do let us show some respect for our own customs by convicting all wielders of long belts – and striking off Mrs Justice Pauffley.
Speaking of local customs, the other day a group of typically barbarian European youngsters, including a British public-school girl, indulged their fashionable exhibitionism by photographing themselves naked on top of a sacred Malaysian mountain.
The local tribe then blamed the subsequent earthquake on that sacrilege and arrested the barbarians for ‘upsetting the gods’. Now they are supposed either to pay a fine of ten buffalo or face three months in prison.
Since I doubt the accused can get their hands on ten buffalo quickly, they could be going to the pokey, which I personally think would be a good idea. We may regard that particular local law, and the theology behind it, as a trifle backward, but hey – local customs are to be respected.
Similarly, when members of that Borneo tribe decide to partake of our social services by coming to Britain, one hopes they’ll show similar consideration for our laws, something that Mrs Justice Pauffley has failed to do.