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ANDERSON: Bill S-7: Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act

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August 25, 2015 - 8:10 AM

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. Let us all act according to national customs.”

Sir Charles Napier is famously credited with the above quotation in reference to his prohibition of Sutti in India... the Hindu practise of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their late husbands. Leaving aside the inevitable post-colonial debate over what the British were doing in India in the first place, few people today would argue that Napier's abolition of Sutti was a bad thing.

That's why it's a matter of some surprise that the NDP and the Green Party refused to support Bill S-7 (Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act), which passed its final hurdle and became law on June 16. The bill raises the marriage age from 9 to 16, adds forced marriage to the Criminal Code, and removes the defence of provocation often used in court to justify honour killings. It also prevents immigration by those who engage in such practices and makes it easier to deport people who do. It is a bill every Canadian should be able to rally around unequivocally.

So who in their right mind would argue against it? While one might reasonably argue that Napier had no right to be in India at all, never mind running around abolishing things, it's hard to argue that Canadians shouldn't abolish barbaric practises in our own country, isn't it? 

Apparently not if you're a member of the NDP caucus.

"Having the words 'barbaric' and 'cultural' in the same title is offensive to some people," announced Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds - NDP MP for Dollard, QC. This is a common theme among some on the left, a sort of paternalistic racism that implies that other cultures should be excused their faults because they don't know any better. After all, no one wants to hear that their practises are barbaric.

But what if they ARE barbaric?

I wrote last week about a tendency in the west to retreat from the former Age of Scientific Progress into a new Age of Atonement, as if we in the west had come too far, aimed too high, succeeded too much, and now must quiver in fear of looming if largely imaginary apocalypses. But there's a social component that's emerged alongside the scientific guilt, and it has to do with the colonial era.

The subject of colonialism is far too large a topic to cover in a few paragraphs here, but suffice it to say that the justified soul searching the west has done in the post-colonial era has lasted far too long and gone far too far. We have reduced the complexity of historical intents and events into a sort of Manichean duality of good versus evil, in which the west is always and everywhere the bad guy and the non-west is always and everywhere the victim. This has left us deeply uncertain of our own culture, our own mores, our own values.

But such uncertainty in the case of Bill S-7 isn't justified. We may have bullied other cultures in the past, sometimes for lucre, other times for good (e.g abolishing slavery on the Barbary Coast), but those cultures are not morally innocent by virtue of being historically oppressed, and it is this that the NDP refuses to acknowledge.

Is there anything NOT barbaric about honour killings? Forced marriage? Marriage at nine years old? If they're not barbaric in the opinion of the NDP, why isn't the NDP defending them? If they are barbaric, then why won't the NDP call them barbaric? If our society can no longer even summon the courage to identify evil as evil, we are in deep, deep trouble.

There was no such moral cowardice in the mind of Napier, and generations of women have lived to thank him.

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces Reserves and a bunch of other stuff. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

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