Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Wife Beating and Funeral Pyres

James Panero at Armavirumque notes the news about a German judge who refused to grant an accelerated divorce to a woman of Moroccan descent. The Moroccan woman claimed spousal abuse as justification for the acceleration of proceedings but the judge, in refusing to grant the acceleration, quoted the Koran and cited passages that lend support to wife-beating to support her argument that there were no grounds for it. The judge speculated that wife-beating was part of Moroccan culture and did not constitute anything out of the ordinary that would justify an accelerated divorce!

In response to this news, Panero quite cleverly points to Sir Charles Napier who famously responded to the custom of suttee in colonial India this way:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

Discussions - 16 Comments

Good post Julie; America needs to wake up to this now and kick out our own radical muslims. If I have time I’d love to link up the stories about Target allowing Muslims to refuse to check out pork, and Muslim taxi driver refusing to drive people w/alcohol/drunk. We’re only 20 years away from allowing wife beating if we don’t stand up.

I’m not so sure that this is a call to kick out radical muslims as much as it is a reminder that beliefs cannot be used to excuse crimes. If radical muslims commit crimes in the name of their religion, let’s get ’em out of here.

Yes, Piker, I’d rather humbly suggest that we not presume guilt here! Though I’m glad you liked my post Clint, it was meant more to suggest the dangers of giving in to the kind of soft-headed "multi-cultural" logic that animated the German (female!) judge than it suggests that some kind of "round ’em up" purge is necessary in our country. Prosecute the guilty and the conspiring. Beyond that, don’t give them traction with stupid ideas and work to change theirs.

The Curtain has fallen on that Act of the Play that displayed the horrors and dangers of suicidal multiculturalism. And the Curtain has risen on a new Act.

And in that new Act, remedial solutions and actions must be featured.

It doesn’t do anymore simply to call to attention dire occurrences. People must have the courage to speak their mind, and propose solutions that will preserve this, "the last, best hope." The West is in danger, and we need action. And we need it now.

Over the last 35 years, policies have been enacted that intended to draw muslims from the "house of islam," to the West. And now new policies must be enacted, which reverses that flow.

It’s a wonderful quote from Napier, but also disappointing. He seems to say that both practices are merely extant customs, with only British power to settle the matter.

We’d want the German judge to shape up and heed Napier but also to go further than Napier, no?

Stuff like this will continue to happen so long as we cling to the dumb view that modern democracies are somehow divorced from their cultural moorings. You can have a sharp separation between church and state so long as people come from a religious tradition that tolerates that, but once real DIVERSITY begins to form, all bets are off.

The West needs to admit that its political beliefs are rooted in unique cultural views, and that this seemingly arbitrary situations IS A GOOD THING.

Steve, I too thought there was something lacking in the Napier comment at first glance. But, upon reflection, it occurred to me that the context was all important.

I confess that I am no student of Napier or of British colonial history (other than some reading done in college about and by Winston Churchill) but I do not think that Napier meant to suggest that the British hanging of wife-burners was anything so arbitrary or relative as a mere "custom." The context of this quote shows that he was speaking to a person who would be moved by nothing rational. After all, he was speaking to a person who actually thought that it was a good idea to take a surviving widow and burn her alive on top of her husband’s funeral pyre and who was incensed by the notion that anyone would have the audacity to prevent it! Is there something besides force that could achieve justice in this situation? I rather think the answer is no.

Yet Napier’s force (or "custom" as he called it) was in the service of justice and that is something beyond the arbitrary winds of custom or culture or history. Napier, I am quite certain, did not actually intend to allow his interlocutor to burn the woman and only then hang him. His comment was meant to "persuade" him--if necessary, with a hemp persuader--to stop his madness. Since reason would not work with him, force was employed to do the job while the force of logic was allowed to remain for our continued benefit.

Where is the quotation from? What exactly IS the context? Online, I can find only the quote itself. I gather Napier was making something of an exception of suttee, allowing other "customs" to prevail.

I gather Napier was making something of an exception of suttee, allowing other "customs" to prevail. So are you now criticizing him for theoretical inconsistency? Should he have allowed suttee in order to be more seamless in the execution of respect for tradition? I know no more than you do about the actual context of the interchange--but what we both know gives us enough information, I think, to see that Napier is threatening the use of the gallows in order to protect the lives of the innocent and, if necessary, to serve justice. Not simply to respect British "custom."

I’m not criticizing anybody. I’m just trying to figure out whether it is fair to say, as other blogs (that have also quoted Napier) say, that this is a prime example of multiculturalism - which is contrary to what YOU say. You are perhaps prepared to be generous to Napier. I join you in opposition to multiculturalism! Geez.

What is really bad about reading library books is that once they go back, the titles or authors disappear from memory: the information I wanted remains, but not the references. A couple of years ago I was curious about the British in India and read several book from the library. Do I remember what I read and where? No. My recollection is that Napier was anything but multicultural. Under the British East India Company, Indian customs were allowed as a matter of profitable disregard, but once the Empire began to take over, that changed. Did you look up Napier or just the quote? He was quite a guy, and quite an imperialist, and I think quite right in his stand on suttee. The British were prepared to overlook some customs in their colonies, but some could not be ignored.


Yesterday morning I was at a college function where a spokeswoman for a local shelter for battered women denied in absolute terms that the Koran allows for wife-beating. A few of us looked at each other and rolled our eyes. And now, looking around the web on the topic I find things like "Well, you don’t HAVE to beat your wife, according to the Quran." Or then, there’s this and I suggest that one man’s crime is another man’s righteous behavior. I liked Napier’s threat.

Thanks, Kate. Napier was an interesting fellow, alright, and quite an imperialist. Unlike the German judge who started all this, Napier had both courage and, in his convictions, confidence. Of course he was right to draw the line. We have the example of Indian democracy to tell us that the British did relatively well in instilling Western ideas. Perhaps Professor Ponzi is right: more than courage and conviction should not have been expected of Napier on that occasion -- whatever exactly it was.

I am still left wondering what the arguments of prudence (if not theory) might be when rulers or "outsiders" confront unacceptable customary claims. This is a very old question, and one that also arises in Tzvetan Todorov’s book "The Conquest of America." I did not find Napier’s answer, however resourceful and manly, satisfactory.

Steve, I know we’re coming at this from the same place. I just think that you were expecting the quote from Napier to do more than it was meant to do, (i.e., serve as some kind of consistent philosophical statement on the subject of absolute right and wrong). It was, in its way, a flippant comment that served that higher philosophical purpose in my mind. It is that somewhat secret and manly force that is and must be behind and backing up abstract ideas about truth and right if they are to take any actual effect in this world (beyond the life of the mind). But I agree with you that on its own and apart from the context of an immediate threat to a woman’s life, it is insufficient as a condemnation of blind support for custom. Still, I find it illustrative. I used it when arguing with someone this weekend about cultural relativism and it had an amazing effect on the person. It concentrated the mind and forced him to confront a concrete example of what his relativism would mean. He could see, even if he could not articulate, the absurdity of his former intellectual attachment to cultural relativism.

As for your deeper question about what prudence should do in the face of unsavory custom, etc., I have always found Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop offers a subtle and beautiful argument about when to speak out and when to look the other way.

Julie - Thanks for the suggestion. I have not read it.

Indians are savages. Just read Camp of the Saints, "the best conservative novel of all-time."

Julie, the Cather book just came from the library. I had not read it, either. There goes the evening - happily. Thank you!

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