Sunday, January 21, 2007

California seeks to ban spanking

Spank your child, go to jail? California would become the first state to explicitly ban spanking for children younger than 4 under legislation to be introduced next week. Slapping, smacking, whacking or kicking also would be outlawed. Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, a Mountain View Democrat who is crafting the measure, said corporal punishment victimizes helpless children and contributes to a society "addicted to violence." "The only thing a child learns by being beaten is that it's OK to beat or dominate children or animals that are smaller," she said. [Without offering any proof for that baseless assertion, of course] "To my mind, there's no amount of physical force that's appropriate on a child 3 years old or younger," Lieber said.

Critics blasted Lieber's proposal Thursday as silly and excessive, or "nanny government" that would step on parents' toes and force judges to decide whether a swat was a spank, a nudge, a push or a "love tap." Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, called the measure "absolutely outrageous." "What do doctors do when a child is born?" Maze said, laughing. "They spank the child."

Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, said he doesn't condone abusive practices but that a little swat, judiciously applied, should be left to parents' discretion. "If I was talking in church, I'd get thumped in the head with a prayer book once in a while," Gaines said. "It worked."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on the measure, press secretary Aaron McLear said. In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Schwarzenegger, who said that he and his wife "never" spank their four children, hinted that he has concerns about how the bill could be enforced. "Is it that when you see someone spank a kid, you go and say, 'Can I see the birth certificate of the kid?' " But Schwarzenegger also said that he understands the desire to "get rid of the physical, the brutal behavior that some parents have."

Critics noted that abusing a child, though not a simple swat, already is illegal and must be reported by doctors, social workers and others. Lieber said her measure would make spanking a misdemeanor, subject to a maximum one-year jail term and $1,000 fine. But Thomas Nazario, a University of San Francisco Law School professor who has helped develop the bill, said the goal is to change behavior -- not incarcerate parents or remove children from homes. "My guess is that people would get a citation," Nazario said. "They might go to court and, as a result of that citation, have to take a parenting class." There also is a possibility that criminal sanctions will be dropped, meaning the bill simply would serve notice that parents no longer could inflict pain on their children, he said. Nazario, a specialist in civil and children's rights, said California law currently permits spanking by parents unless the degree of force is excessive or not age-appropriate. Usually, the state doesn't intervene unless a parent "uses a closed fist, or creates a welt, or black-and-blue mark, breaks the skin or uses an (instrument) on the child," he said.

Lieber's anti-spanking proposal, for children under 4, targets youngsters who are "absolutely defenseless" and "can't really talk to anyone else about what's going on in their lives, Nazario said. "They don't understand the connection between their conduct and the spanking," he said. Teachers and child care workers already are banned from spanking, Lieber said. "If a teacher can control 30-plus students by using voice control only, then a parent can do that in the home," she said.

Lieber said passage of her bill could prompt a supermarket shopper, for example, to approach a fellow shopper who is spanking a child and warn, "That's against the law in California." But Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said such confrontations can be risky. "I don't think that would necessarily be in the best interest of any of the parties," he said. McGinness said that an anti-spanking law, if passed as a misdemeanor, could be enforced only by citizen's arrest or by a peace officer who witnessed the corporal punishment.

Critics said a spanking prohibition could spark a torrent of calls to overloaded law-enforcement and child protective agencies, but Lieber disagreed, saying problems didn't occur when corporal punishment was banned in schools.

Child behavior experts are divided on spanking as punishment. For many years, the conventional wisdom in the early-childhood education community was that child spanking is unacceptable in all circumstances, said Kimberly Gordon Biddle, an associate professor of child development at California State University, Sacramento. But during the past 10 years, research has indicated that a "light tap," accompanied by an explanation, can be effective in cases where toddlers are endangering themselves or others, she said. Personally, she said, "I just think there are so many other alternatives out there that you don't need it."

Pedestrians contacted randomly Thursday in downtown Sacramento had mixed feelings. "I'd say leave it to the parents," said Lupe De Leon, 63, of Tulare. LaQuetta Copeland, 62, of Wilton said she likes the idea of protecting children but can envision a situation where a youngster is behaving dangerously and parents respond with a quick swat out of "fright or fear." "I'd hate to see them in trouble," she said.


Hate beyond reason

A comment on the Muslim mind from Australia

Another day, another outrageous series of comments by an Australian sheik. Sydney-born Sheik Feiz Mohamed calls Jews pigs and urges Muslim children to find fulfillment as jihad martyrs. Though the group with which he is associated commands the patronage of hundreds of young people, we are assured that his extremist views appeal only to a tiny minority.

Let's be quite clear. The overwhelming majority of Australian Muslims clearly do not support this kind of extremism. They should not have to bear the burden of the bad name that such comments create. However, it is entirely reasonable to ask just what proportion of Muslims do hold views similar to the sheik's, or which might otherwise be seen as genuinely extremist. The US Middle East scholar, Daniel Pipes, argued in a book a few years ago that about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the world's Muslim population held radically extreme views, including support for jihad.

In a fascinating piece in this week's Financial Times, Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, often seen as one of the most Islamist-inclined foreign ministers Turkey has had, called on the peoples of his region to recognise that their most serious problems were home grown. He wanted them to stop blaming outsiders and get on with the business of reforming their own societies. He said it had been impossible for a mainstream to develop and wrote: "We now find that only extreme voices from the region are being heard, misrepresenting their cultures and societies ..."

Turkey is a successful society and a functioning democracy. Gul's contribution is forthright, brave and praiseworthy. And yet here is a question. Do the extremists really represent a tiny fringe or is there some much bigger mainstream part of Middle East society that supports extremism? More particularly, is there an element inherent to Islam itself that lends support to extremism?

It is right to treat religion with respect. Islam has produced magnificent cultural artifacts, much profound human culture and a generally good moral code. It contains great spiritual depth and associated intellectual discipline. But given how much violence and extremism are generated in the name of Islam it is now just not satisfactory to dismiss all this as merely a perversion of Islam.

Perhaps two elements make it more liable to extremist misappropriation than other religions. First is its high militant content. Second is the failure to distinguish between the political and the religious order. Most religions contain an injunction to improve the world, but Islam, in the view of many of its followers, requires a strictly and directly Islamic world, in which civil matters are ruled by explicitly Islamic precepts and institutions.

It is difficult to get a guide to Islamic public opinion anywhere. One of the best is a joint Asia-Europe Institute and University of Malaya survey of Malay Muslim opinion in Malaysia. I have referred to this survey before, but not previously given its results in any detail. It was exhaustive in its methodology. About 65 per cent of Malaysia's population is Muslim, and only Malay Muslims were surveyed. Malaysia is a moderate and generally tolerant country. It does not persecute its religious minorities, and it has developed successfully economically so that it can just about be considered a middle-class society. Certainly it is vastly more successful and wealthy than it was 20 years ago. If there's a Muslim population anywhere that should feel happy and content it is in Malaysia. Successful, increasingly rich, Islam afforded a special status in the constitution, Malays given substantial financial, educational, housing and other preferences, persecuted by no one, they should be among the least paranoid people in the Muslim world. If they are, then that is disturbing, for the results of the poll are unsettling to say the least. Here are highlights:

* 73 per cent of Malays, if they could choose only one identity, would choose Muslim first, only 14 per cent would choose Malaysian while 13 per cent would choose Malay. So Islam trumps citizenship, which only just edges out ethnicity.

* 77 per cent believe Malaysians should be allowed to choose their own religion but this is contradicted by a massive 98 per cent believing that Malaysian Muslims should not be allowed to change their religion. Freedom of religion means you don't have to convert to Islam, but if you are a Muslim you should have no right under the law to change your religion under any circumstances. This belief is very widespread throughout the Muslim world.

* 73 per cent said their parents had had the greatest influence on their development as Muslims, an encouraging sign of the strength of indigenous Malay traditions as opposed to contemporary Middle East influences.

* 49 per cent thought the Malaysian Government sufficiently Islamic, but almost as many, 47 per cent, thought it was not sufficiently Islamic.

* 77 per cent do not want Malaysia to become an Islamic state like Iran, but 18 per cent do want Malaysia to become an Islamic state like Iran.

* 57 per cent say Islam and politics should be separate but a substantial 40 per cent say they should be mixed.

* 57 per cent do not want strict hudud laws (stoning for adultery, and so on) implemented in Malaysia but 32 per cent do want hudud laws.

* 60 per cent say non-Muslims should not be subject to hudud laws but nearly a third, 28 per cent, actually want hudud laws to apply to non-Muslims. Similarly, some 31 per cent want sharia (Islamic law) to replace the Malaysian constitution.

* 77 per cent, a staggering figure, believe that Malaysia's existing sharia laws (which govern family matters for Muslims) are not strict enough.

* 76 per cent believe men and women in Islam have equal rights.

* 57 per cent believe wives could disobey husbands to work, but 47 per cent say if the husband forbids work, the wife should obey.

* 97 per cent, encouragingly, believe it is acceptable to live alongside non-Muslims and 79 per cent believe Malays should learn about other religions.

* 62 per cent believe suicide bombings are wrong but a disturbing 12 per cent (the exact mid-point of Pipes's estimated range) support it.

* 1 per cent like the US, 45 per cent dislike it and 39 per cent hate the US.

* 3 per cent like Europe, 38 per cent dislike it and 19 per cent hate Europe.

* 4 per cent like Australia, 37 per cent dislike it and 18 per cent hate Australia.

Overall, these results are staggering. They show a substantial residual moderation, but a degree of genuine intolerance among even the majority and authentic extremism among a substantial minority. It's hard to believe Islamic opinion is not substantially more extreme in the Middle East. The task of reforming the extremism in Islamic cultures remains vast.


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