Saturday, July 28, 2007

Should we just ignore female genital mutilation then?

Iain Dale has done a list of things he learned after going to Rwanda. One of them was that "We should not try to impose our way of life on others", which, another Tory blogger, Benedict White agreed with in the comments saying "yes we should not impose our way of life on other countries, they do things differently there and why not". In fairness to Iain he says we shouldn't "try" to do it, rather than that we must do it under any cost, but I must say I'm surprised with Benedict White's more forceful expression of cultural relativism.

This view that we should not impose our values on other countries and simply accept their they're just "different" is worrying. It means, consequentially that we should just turn a blind eye if a country wants to carry out forced female genital mutilation on 10 year old girls. It states, "why, that's their culture and they're entitled to do things differently!" Sorry, but they're not and we should impose our values in such circumstances.

Alternatively, in somewhere like Afghanistan where the Taliban outlawed music; forced women to wear burkhas; stoned women to death for being raped. Why bloody shouldn't we think our way of life is better than that? Our values of equity, liberty, freedom and justice are superior to that medievalism. It may sound lofty to say "we shouldn't impose our way on life on other countries" but it leads to accepting some pretty horrible things if you stick to it.

This doesn't mean you have to support imposition by the barrel of the gun, but if a country has values that are the anti-thesis to ours then why shouldn't we use other methods to impose our values on them? Especially if they want money from us? I for one don't like the idea of paying money to a country that, for example, carries out forced female circumcision on ten year olds.

So yes, we shouldn't go out and seek to impose our way of life around the world actively. However, when things are happening that run contrary to our Enlightenment values we shouldn't sit and accept it on the basis of playing equivalence. That way lies folly. Firstly, it suggests that we don't even believe in our own values (which is what Islamists quite successfully exploit already) and secondly it leads us into accepting some of the most oppressive and disgusting practices on the grounds that "oh well that's their culture".


Anonymous said...

Well said Dizzy! Nor should we be afraid of pointing out that these cultures are backward, medieval in some cases. Enough of this 'there's no such thing as inferior culture, only different culture' nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy, forgive me, but I think you are blowing my comment out of all proportion.

I don't think that we should go around forcing other people to do what we want them to do, but on the other hand we don't have to accept barbarism either, from anyone.

Tim Worstall said...

Take the "it's their culture" argument a step further then.
Rwanda is bloody poor, but it's their culture, so what are a bunch of MPs doing swanning around trying to make them less poor? And as for aid.....

Chris Paul said...

I shouldn't worry though. Iain cannot even avoid imposing his way of life on blog customers who comment. Civilisation and standards are safe with Dale after all.

Guido Fawkes said...

Should we invade Israel and force them to stop their widespread practice of male genital mutilation?

Anonymous said...

lerxst - These cultures are indeed primitive, but I don't know why you term them 'medieval'. Certainly in medieval times (and 'medieval' is defined by our history, not theirs) or tens of thousands of years before that, Brits and Europeans never engaged in such barbaric practices. In fact, even when we were barbarians we didn't do anything so foul.

Dizzy, with respect, you weaken the case when you refer to 'female circumcision'. Slicing off a clitoris has nothing in common with circumcision. It is more comparable with slicing off a penis. (That made you shiver, didn't it?)

The purpose of cutting off the clitoris is to ensure the girl never feels any sexual pleasure. Thus, she won't be inclined to roam and cause her husband and her husband's family 'shame' by running off with another man.

If she ran off with another man, the husband and his family would be obliged to kill her, for their "honour". So really, by slicing off her clitoris at age 10, they are being cruel to be kind and are actually saving her life!

I love Iain Dale to pieces and am second to none in my admiration for his talents, his drive, his good humour, tolerance and political nous.

But I would note that "lessons" that people bring home in their luggage with them after their first visit to the Third World (the Third World now being limited to African countries, everyone else having moved on) are worth zip. Every gap year student comes home with the same deep revelations, but they lie down for a while, then go out for a few bevvies with their mates and it goes away. I'm not sure a few glasses of orange squash will have the same effect.

Anonymous said...

The distinction that is often missed is between "imposing one's own values" and "making a value judgement"

I'm not afraid to do the latter, but I'm wary of the former.

dizzy said...

Guido who said anything about invasion? Word is it makes it look bigger.. that's what South Park taught me anyway.

Raedwald said...

I think I know what Iain was trying to say, and I think you have got it wrong. As an old 'Africa hand' - I spent several years working in west Africa in the 80's - I learned very quickly not to evaluate African civilisation using western European criteria.

If there's a rail crash in the UK, the Transport Minister will be videod on-scene for TV news calling for an enquiry. In Ghana, the Minister will be filmed pouring a libation of Palm wine at the accident scene to appease the spirits of the dead.

In Sussex, if you hit a child with your car you stop, call the emergency services, render whatever first aid you can. In Port Harcourt, you keep driving; the barrios are built right up to the edge of the road, and goats and children infest the tarmac. Stopping can get you lynched or necklaced.

I remember once driving into my Lagos office in the morning and turning the Merc to avoid running over the corpse of a child on the road. When I came back in the evening, it was clear that the day's truck and bus drivers had no such scruples - all that remained of the child was a cartoon-like pair of shorts and Tee squashed flat in a sticky fly-blown mess on the road.

Again in Lagos, I once called the public health department to report a bloated corpse that had drifted into the drainage ditch at the end of my garden in the compound. Two blokes arrived, and promptly demanded some 'dash' to overlook the fact that I had an illegal banana palm growing there. They were quite happy to leave the rotting corpse to disintegrate.

I can tell a score more tales of how African values differ from ours; suffice to say that when I was there I accepted their values, which included a cavalier attitude to the value of human life to say the least, without attempting to impose my own views.

I have a feeling that this is what Iain was trying to say.

Anonymous said...


Maybe I could have been clearer. These cultures are backward. Some as you suggest are just barbaric. Some have attitudes which I think can be fairly compared to those of medieval Europe, particularly towards women.

And I think you have a slightly rosy view of our past. While we may not have carried out the same specific practices, we have had our own barbaric moments - often of course, in the name of the Church, both Roman and Anglican.

dizzy said...

Raewald, I think you've actually got me completely wrong. If you read the post again you will see that I said that Iain, unlike Benedict, was far more circumspect about what he said, saying we shouldn't "try" to impose on them, not that we should never do so.

Lerxst, you're point about us may be factually true, but it is an irrelevant and dangerous one. Just because we used to be something doesn't mean we should play equivalences with others in the present who are doing what we used to do and accept it on the basis that they're just learning.

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure where you think I suggested that we should "accept it on the basis that they're just learning".

And while it may be irrelevant to what we do (or not do) in Africa, it was relevant to the discussion with Verity and her sweeping generalisation about the West having never been guilty of such barbaric acts.

flashgordonnz said...

Lets try/not try to educate the US of A, after all, they imprison without trial and practice capital punishment. And the buggers drive cars that are just completely WRONG.

dizzy said...

Cars that are only wrong in the sense that they;re crap

flashgordonnz said...

Those things that are designed to look like a hot rod (but with a 1600cc engine FFS!) should be turned away at the border.

Anonymous said...

"Especially if they want money from us"

Lets not give them any then. Simple.

We should definitely not allow such practices in this country at any rate.

"barbaric acts"

Our barbaric acts in the early 20th century were clinical and efficient but no less barbaric, as I'm sure our African cousins won't hestitate to remind us.

Anonymous said...

"as I'm sure our African cousins won't hestitate to remind us."

I can't say I'm interested in the opinions of people who are only out of the Stone Age courtesy of us.