Judgment is good – indeed, is needed

February 4, 2012

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KAMPALA, UGANDA — How refreshing to hear that an Ontario court has slammed the jail door on honour killings.

News of the Shafia family murder convictions, and Canada’s overwhelming feeling of justice served, has made it even to this side of the ocean.

The verdict can only help in the ongoing battle against cultural relativism and its wonky wrong-headedness.

Consider Bibi Aisha, the beautiful Afghani teen who ran away from her abusive Taliban husband. For that, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead.

She crawled to survival. Then her photo — those beautiful and haunting eyes, and that gaping hole where her nose once was — went around the planet.

Recently, some students from a London region high school had a good look at it. What did they see? In an education journal article called Moments of Startling Clarity, their teacher, Stephen L. Anderson, shares their observations:

“Well, we may not like it but maybe it’s OK.” And, “I don’t feel anything at all.” And, “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”

No, we must judge cultures. In fact, as someone who has lived for a decade in desperate places such as Yemen and Uganda, I can assure you that indigenous people wanting better lives often expect certain judgments. They realize that’s one way to learn to help themselves.

And who of us doesn’t make plenty of judgments from the moment we leave bed? To not do so is to live a life of paralysis, and, like teacher Anderson’s students, in a malaise without the ability to judge anything as right or wrong or good or evil.

This is the fog of cultural relativism and moral agnosticism.

A cultural relativist would say a Ugandan parliamentary bill to kill gays — it has since been softened to life in jail — is an issue of culture. But they’d strongly support gay rights in Canada.

A moral agnostic would say honour killing — common in ancient places like Assyria, Rome, Egypt, China, even Native North America — was, well, maybe OK for those places at that time.

Of course, it’s easy for any of us to drift to such dualisms. Cultural sensitivity has been a generation’s mantra in Canada. It has been pounded into our heads as the ultimate good.

But rather than solid ground on which to reason, it has given us a twisted version of the ancient golden rule, “Don’t judge or you will be judged.” It has become a secularly skewed religiosity of its own.

The Shafia family women — teenagers Zainab, Sahar and Geeti, and Rona Amir Mohammad, who they loved as a mother — would say something else. They’d say, “Please do judge. Please judge warped thinking. Please judge evil hearts.”

If their spirits could speak from their graves, they’d also say that any culture needs to find truth from outside itself, from a higher place that’s more timeless and unchanging.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, an international development agency, some 5,000 women are drowned, burned, strangled, shot and hacked to death in honour killings every year. In 2008, a Saudi Arabian woman was killed by her father for chatting on Facebook.

Sensitive types trip over themselves to point out this is a problem with culture, not religion. Does it really matter? Aren’t religion and culture somewhat inseparable?

I’m a Christian. While in Yemen, my best friend, a newspaper publisher, was a Muslim. We never feared our differences. He’d easily acknowledge that honour killings can flourish when religious law and community expectations outweigh religious grace and individual rights.

As global cultures intertwine more tightly, Canada needs this kind of clear head and stiff spine without any goofy, politically correct insecurities.

The Canada I grew up in — I’m European-born — included Maple Crest School. After the national anthem and God Save the Queen, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer. Every morning. Maple Crest is now torn down and so is that way of thinking.

Later, as a young journalist in the London region — the region where Anderson’s students now offer their wisdom — I reported on the dismantling of that so-called “religious indoctrination” in favour of today’s less offensive approach.

That was then. This is now. Have we come very far?

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February 4, 2012 • Posted in ,
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