Friday, December 14, 2007

Cultural Relativism - The Next Generation

At the end of November, John Tierney - a writer never afraid to "put it out there" (as the kids say) - issued a provocative question in his blog at the New York Times site:
Should African women be allowed to engage in the practice sometimes called female circumcision? Are critics of this practice, who call it female genital mutilation, justified in trying to outlaw it, or are they guilty of ignorance and cultural imperialism?
Tierney was raising the curtain on a session to be held at the then-upcoming annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association: As the organizers of the AAA panel note:
The panel includes for the first time, the critical "third wave" or multicultural feminist perspectives of circumcised African women scholars Wairimu Njambi, a Kenyan, and Fuambai Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonean. Both women hail from cultures where female and male initiation rituals are the norm and have written about their largely positive and contextualized experiences, creating an emergent discursive space for a hitherto "muted group" in global debates about FGC [female genital cutting].

Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized "feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage."

Tierney's post raised a ruckus, as you would expect. So the following week he returned to the subject. This time, he gave over much of his blogpost to a University of Chicago cultural anthropologist named Richard Shweder, whose short essay began:
"Female genital mutilation" is an invidious and essentially debate-subverting label. The preemptive use of that expression is just as invidious as starting a conversation about a women's right to choose by describing abortion as the "murder of innocent life." Pro-choice advocates rightly object to the presumptive disparagement implied by that label; many African women similarly object to naming a practice which they describe in local terms as "the celebration" or the "purification" or the "cleansing" or the "beautification" as "the mutilation". Notably in most ethnic groups where female genital surgeries are customary, male genital surgeries are customary as well and are named with the same terms.

Charles calls for a dispassionate factual examination of the risks and consequences of female genital surgeries. Fact checking has not been the strong suit of anti-"FGM" advocacy groups or of the American press. Indeed, the press in general has served as an effective outlet for the advocacy groups and has kept itself innocent of available sources of information that run counter to the received horror arousing story-line about barbaric or ignorant or victimized Africans who maim, murder, and disfigure their daughters and deprive them of a capacity to experience sexual pleasure. With rare exceptions, the only African women who have been given a direct voice and allowed to speak for themselves in our media are those who oppose the practice.
Shweder takes here to astounding new lengths what has become a foundational principle of American academia: never, ever, ever say anything negative about any practice by any non-western people, no matter how cruel, repulsive, or unjust. And it has drawn a withering retort from another anthropologist, an Australian academic named Roger Sandall, author of The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays, forwarded to me with the author's consent:
Shweder's overall strategy is to use ambiguous medical reports about the health consequences of Female Genital Mutilation to undermine human rights. In Shweder's world culture rules. Whether or not an actual statistical majority of men and women favor a traditional practice, Shwederian anthropology attributes to "culture" a metaphysical solidaristic authority that owes individuals nothing, and is an implacable force to which everyone must submit.

The Medical Argument

Shweder's invariable practice is to play down morbidity figures, minimise or deny their statistical significance, and to suppress any references they contain to victim's rights.

Some of the challengeable matters in the cited research are of a quite elementary kind. I notice that on page 223 of the essay "What About Female Genital Mutilation?" (referred to hereunder as WAFGM?), he refers respectfully to a Sudan Demographic and Health Survey of 1989-90 involving 3,805 women.

But what credit do Sudanese government reports on this subject possess? Shweder tells us that "When asked whether they favored continuation of the practice, 90 percent of circumcised women said they favored its continuation." No doubt they did. Most village women would be unlikely to say anything else, especially to government health officials. To say the opposite would identify them as cultural renegades and cruelly condemn them to the status of outcasts in their own communities. The entire circumstances of the interrogation need to be clarified. Who asked the questions? When and where? In what environment or setting? Were they asked in private? Were young women and girls questioned in the presence of older women? Etc.

Nor is Shweder's medical argument without contradictions. He places great confidence in the results of questionnaires in which African women (presumably mainly Islamic) freely respond on intimate matters to questions asked by complete strangers. Yet only a few lines into the opening section of WAFGM? he admits that "In general, these women keep their secrets secret. They have not been inclined to expose the most intimate parts of their bodies to public examination." In general, yes. But when it comes to the medical reports Shweder favors then another rule seems to apply. In these he assumes that reliable evidence is presented by women who have happily, willingly, and truthfully bared their most secret secrets to the world.

The Social and Philosophical Argument

The rest of what I have to say concerns the mixture of guile, deliberately sown confusion, and hypocrisy implicit in Shweder's philosophical position. For example, WAFGM? begins by challenging "all liberal, free-thinking people who value democratic pluralism and the toleration of differences" to take a sympathetic view of FGM. He returns to this in his Conclusion, citing a statement by the "legal scholar Lawrence Sager" regarding America's "robust tradition of constitutional liberty-including the rights of speech and belief."

Are Americans in favor of liberal "free-thinking" and the "rights of speech and belief" enshrined in their "robust tradition of constitutional liberty"? Of course they are! But in both cases that is not actually what is being defended, either by Schweder or Sager. In fact, it is the "right" of cultural collectivities to forcefully command, discipline, and punish deviant individuals within their political and legal grasp who try to exercise individual rights of speech, belief, and conduct-when dissenting individual belief and conduct opposes their clan or tribe. What Shweder is proposing is a denial of the very rights the US constitution seeks to uphold. He couldn't care less about "free-thinking" or "the toleration of differences" within cultures, where indeed the most totalitarian rules, controls, and punishment sometimes apply. In Shweder's characteristically anthropological view of the social order, individuals do not have rights: only cultural collectivities do; and they do and should exercise their quasi-divine collective authority by punishing dissenters.

At the top of page 223 of WAFGM? Shweder tells us that "Notably, most African women do not think about circumcision in human rights terms or as a human rights violation. Women who endorse female circumcision argue that it is an important part of their cultural heritage or their religion." And that's all that matters to Shweder: as noted above, "culture rules"-and forget about human rights. Today, systems of justice in various Middle Eastern states ordain the public decapitation of offenders; yesterday, in West African kingdoms 150 years ago, war and slavery were ubiquitous; in Ancient Mexico under the Aztecs whole hecatombs of sacrificial victims were slaughtered. In each place these demonstrably ugly and dispensable procedures and practices have been "an important part of their cultural heritage or religion", and it is hard to see on what basis Shweder would have them proscribed. Indeed, to interfere in any way would be, according to him, a form of "cultural imperialism". One may be confident that he would describe the Spanish suppression of Aztec sacrificial rites as an inexcusable intervention by arrogant "cultural imperialists".

"Female genital mutilation", he tells us in a recent web-posting, "is an invidious and essentially debate-subverting label. While nobody wants to see debate subverted, it is worth pausing a moment to consider Shweder's own preferred usages, and the typical tricks he gets up to. Wherever possible his terminology is designed to suppress the issue of consent; evade seriously discussing medical consequences (these are flippantly dismissed as "statistically insignificant"); excuse, defend, and glamorize the inexcusable; and ignore the question of patient's rights. Quoting Corinne Kratz he writes of "genital modification". Elsewhere he refers to "physical modification" and "female genital surgeries."

Surgery? Is that really what it is? "Surgery" in the West implies standards of hygiene, medical qualifications, expertise, and whatever antiseptic precautions and anaesthesia is appropriate in order to ensure the patient's health and wellbeing. Unless I'm mistaken, the majority of operations performed in traditional contexts throughout Africa take place using instruments such as razor blades, in the hands of elders, without benefit of either antiseptic or anaesthetic of any kind. To speak of "surgery" is willfully misleading, a false and tendentious gloss on a hideous practice.

Pace Shweder, and whether or not he feels uncomfortable with it, the formal definition of the procedure as "female genital mutilation" is an accurate, technical and universal medical description. It is-as all scientific terms should be-"supra-cultural". Shweder's own preferred term, used more or less consistently in his writing, is "genital alteration". Is this an improvement on "genital mutilation"? I wonder. When a woman takes a dress to a dress-maker for "alterations" she, acting as the agent of her own desires, asks for some inanimate material to be cut. It would sound more than a little odd for her to take her daughter to the dress-maker to have "alterations" made to the hapless child's genitalia, without the unresisting victim's permission, simply to satisfy the mother's conservative belief that this highly animate piece of human material will look better after it has been shaped and cut. Though providing the woman claimed that this practice was "an important part of her cultural heritage and religion" Shweder would no doubt find everything in order-culturally speaking of course.

Reader Mark A. Tarnowski comments:
I spent years coaching women's gymnastics. Worked with thousands of young women and girls from all around the globe. I can read a kid as well as anyone.

On TV some years ago - maybe on Frontline - I saw a young girl get circumcised. She was about 11-years-old and as soon as the cutting began she started screaming horrifically. Afterwards, she had the look of fear in her eyes you'd expect from someone who had just been violently gang-raped by her entire extended family. I'd be very surprised if any of the pro-mutilators have ever had the requisite honesty to show a film - any film - of this barbaric procedure.

British nativity Scene Modified to Make Political Point

A British charity is giving the traditional nativity scene a political twist this year by dividing it with a wall symbolizing Israel's controversial security barrier. The Amos Trust, a Christian group that works with needy communities around the world, is selling what it calls a nativity set with a difference -- one where "the wise men won't get to the stable." Organizers say the purpose of the sets -- made by Palestinian carpenters with olive wood from Bethlehem -- is to draw attention to the security measures put in place by the Israeli government.

The network of walls and fences being built between Israeli and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank runs along the perimeter of Bethlehem, dividing it from nearby Jerusalem. Travel in and out of the town is heavily restricted.

The nativity scenes are available in a small version, for around $30, and a larger set -- "perfect for a church" -- goes for around $115. The wall in the larger version is detachable, the Amos Trust says, to allow for the possibility the situation may change in the future. Garth Hewitt, director of the Amos Trust, said Wednesday his group wants to use the wooden sets to make people aware of what is happening, including how the Christian population of Bethlehem is rapidly shrinking. "We're worried about the entire community there," he said. "They're trapped behind the wall there. It's like a medieval siege."

Hewitt, an Anglican "honorary canon" and singer-songwriter, said proceeds from the sets will go directly to the Bethlehem tradesmen who have been economically hurt by the loss of outside visitors and tourists. "In the old days, there would have been loads of pilgrims and they would have been able to raise money that way," he said. So far, the group has sold around 100 of the smaller sets and about 50 of the larger ones.

Critics of Israel frequently blame the Israeli government for the exodus of Christian Arabs from the PA areas. Some scholars attribute the shrinking Christian population to harassment and intimidation by Islamists, however.

Two pro-Israel Christian groups criticized the nativity sets. "We are saddened by attempts to make one-sided political capital out of the Bethlehem story," Geoffrey Smith, director of the U.K. branch of Christian Friends of Israel, said Wednesday. "Nobody wants a security barrier but so long as terrorists continue to threaten the lives of Jews and of Arabs in Israel, the people there have to defend themselves in ways that will stop the bombers." He said more than 2,000 lives have been saved by the security barrier in the last five years.

Pamela Thomas, national director of the British branch of Bridges for Peace, agreed. "The wall is there to protect people from the suicide bombers that were coming in," she said. Although far from common in Britain, nativity scenes occasionally have proved controversial in recent years. Last year, the Israeli government protested after a Catholic Church in England replaced its usual nativity pageant with a 24-foot-high polystyrene replica of the security barrier. Visitors reportedly were shown protest signs and what the parish priest called "stark photographs" of the situation in Bethlehem.

This year, the BBC has come under fire from some religious groups for a modernized version of the nativity story, which the public broadcaster will screen in a live show in Liverpool on December 16. Mary and Joseph will be depicted as asylum seekers swept up during a crackdown on immigration, with the cast singing hits from the Beatles and other famous local pop bands. Despite the complaints, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool James Jones supports the program, saying that it will cause the Christmas story to "echo through the streets of Liverpool."


Australia: Girl gang-rape warnings ignored by Left-indoctrinated social workers

You would have to be a Leftist moron to put the welfare of criminal black men ahead of the welfare of brutally-treated little black girls. Those, however, appear to be the sick priorities of political correctness

THE family of a 10-year-old gang-rape victim have revealed they had warned child safety authorities she would be attacked if taken out of a Cairns foster home and returned to their remote Aboriginal community of Aurukun.

Amid a continuing public outcry over the Queensland Department of Child Safety's failure to protect the girl and a Queensland District Court judge's controversial decision not to jail her attackers, her family has told of a community in crisis and "a little girl who has had the light turned off on her life". They expressed outrage at the sentence the nine males received, and claim some of the offenders had first raped the girl when she was seven. "She should never have been allowed to come back from foster care while those boys were still here. We told that to welfare. (Some of) those boys had raped her in the past," the girl's mother said.

In October, judge Sarah Bradley decided not to record convictions against six teenage attackers and gave three others, aged 17, 18 and 26, suspended sentences over the rape. The sentences will be appealed and dozens of other sex abuse cases from the cape reviewed after the lenient sentences in the gang-rape case were revealed. The prosecutor in the case, Steve Carter - who described the rape as "a form of childish experimentation" of which the victim was a willing participant - has also been stood down pending an internal investigation.

The girl's aunt said she was deeply offended by Mr Carter's claim that the victim had consented to the rape, and said suggestions underage sex was a fact of life in cape communities was abhorrent. "That's not right. It's not traditional to have sex without parents' consent. Something is not right. She is a little girl who has had the light turned off on her life," she said. Her uncle, the family patriarch, said sexual assaults, family violence and drugs had become so bad in the community he would support a Northern Territory-style intervention. "The violence happens all the time. Something needs to be done, we shouldn't have to live like this," he said.

Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson last night described the case as "just the tip of the iceberg" of dysfunction in indigenous communities. Mr Pearson blasted the notion that indigenous children taken into care and placed with non-indigenous foster carers were "another Stolen Generation" - as social workers in the Aurukun case believed. He said that where children's welfare was under threat, the placement should be "one of safety, whether it is whitefellas or blackfellas". "Those child protection practices that have sought to place Aboriginal children exclusively with Aboriginal carers have resulted in a great deal of harm for the individual children under care," Mr Pearson said.

"This is a case of children in urgent need of protection. As long as Aboriginal society is so dysfunctional that we have to take children into care and protection, we should never hear people bleat about some Stolen Generation. "Today children on communities are living in dysfunctional situations where their welfare is under threat. There should be no hesitation in taking them out of those threatening circumstances and placing them with carers - whitefellas or blackfellas."

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has vowed to take radical action and work with federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin if the review of sex abuse cases finds systemic problems. "What's not clear until we look at all of these cases is, is it a systemic issue where the standard of justice is somehow different or lower in these communities?" Ms Bligh said. "Or is this a one-off aberration from one particular officer?"

The girl's family speak to her once a week by satellite link because she is housed in a secret location in north Queensland. "She sleeps with the light on. She gets jumpy when they get new case workers," her uncle said.

The uncle said no authority had contacted the family since the story was reported. He first heard about it on the radio, and he welcomed the opportunity to speak to the media. Authorities had neglected to inform the family the case was being heard in October in a courthouse less than 100 metres from the victim's former home.


Australia: Child victims of political correctness

Jenny Macklin had better get out her red pen: there's a lot more to say sorry for than the actions of social workers more than 40 years ago. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs hailed the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report on Tuesday with the news that she was busy formulating a national apology, "from the heart", for the stolen generation. While she's at it, she should start formulating an apology to all those children murdered, raped and abused in the past decade as a direct result of the report, which, in the name of cultural correctness, has put so many obstacles in the way of removing indigenous children from unsafe homes.

Take, for instance, the case of the 10-year-old girl gang-raped in Aurukun, in remote Cape York, last year. In a decision that made headlines around the world, from The New York Times to Al-Jazeera, the Cairns District Court Judge Sarah Bradley allowed all nine attackers to walk free because the girl "probably agreed to have sex with all of you". She released six teenage males with no conviction and gave three older males, aged 17, 18 and 26, suspended sentences. She did, however, give them a stern talking to: "It is a very shameful matter and I hope that all of you realise that you must not have sex with young girls."

It was not the first time the little girl - described by a former foster carer as "just a skinny 10-year-old . not even developed"- had been raped. Reportedly "mildly intellectually impaired", having been born with foetal alcohol syndrome to an alcoholic mother, she had been gang-raped by five juveniles at the age of seven in 2002 in her hometown of Aurukun. According to The Australian newspaper, the girl was then moved between foster placements before going to a non-indigenous family in Cairns in July 2005, who ensured she went to school and received counselling.

But she stayed only nine months before being removed by social workers from the Orwellian-sounding Child Safety Department, which believed that placing an indigenous child in a white foster home was creating a new stolen generation. The girl was sent back last April to Aurukun, where she had contracted syphilis and gonorrhoea, and within a month was raped again.

The moral compass of so many authority figures in this tragic story is so out of whack with universal community standards, you wonder if they are in the grip of a sort of group delusion, in which theoretical compassion is more real than people's suffering. Only the much-maligned local police, according to Queensland's Premier, Anna Bligh, "took the matter very seriously", pursuing the charges and making sure they went to court. But there, those on the comfortable side of the bench let down the victim.

Even the prosecutor in the case, Steve Carter, who might be expected to be the girl's advocate, produced no victim impact statement, despite being asked by Bradley. Yet he offered all sorts of mitigation for the perpetrators, requesting they not receive custodial sentences. He told the court on October 24 that the attackers were "very naughty" but had just been indulging "in a form of childish experimentation [which was] consensual . in a general sense", despite the fact one of the attackers was 25 at the time. Carter gave an intriguing insight when he told the judge: " It'd be arrogant of me to stand here and start seeking [harsher sentences]." He has been stood down this week pending an appeal and a Queensland Government investigation into the case.

Bradley, too, has come under fire this week, with calls she be removed from the bench. But you can hardly blame even her, as she, too, is a model product of her culturally correct times. As recently as January this year, she gave an insight into her thinking in a speech in Perth at a judges' conference titled "Using Indigenous Justice Initiatives In Sentencing". Indigenous offenders should be treated differently, in a more "culturally appropriate" way, she said, because of their "gross over-representation in the criminal justice system". Just 2 per cent of the population, they comprised more than 22 per cent of the prison population.

She said "legislative and informal initiatives" were needed in sentencing so that "penalties can be more creative, meaningful and appropriate". She is singing from the sentimental songbook of the progressive left so perfectly it is no wonder the 1976 law graduate has been the golden girl of the Queensland Government's affirmative action program for women lawyers. The aim of lenient or "creative" penalties is to reduce incarceration rates of indigenous men, as recommended by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. But as one Cape York worker said yesterday: "You've got this spiral of dysfunction in these communities - of course the rate of imprisonment is going to increase."

To choose not to enforce the law in such dysfunctional communities only renders them even more dangerous for their most vulnerable members: children and women. Suspending the state's laws when dealing with Aboriginal offenders is what the Melbourne University academic Marcia Langton describes as the "ultimate race-hate practice", which rewards "serial rapists and murderers".

It is the behaviour of such people which prompted the former federal government's Northern Territory intervention, an attempt to stem the epidemic of child sexual abuse. There are encouraging reports trickling out of early successes, with school attendance rates up and violence down. To his credit, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has vowed to keep the intervention going, for a year at least. But there are signals of the watering down of key aspects - such as reinstating the scrapped permit system, which had so much to do with maintaining secrecy around child abuse.

Even this week, when asked about the case of the little Aurukun rape victim, Macklin indicated she is a prisoner of culturally correct thinking when she claimed at the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report that there was no connection with child protection policies today.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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