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Monday, July 03, 2006

Custom and practice

Why did a 12-year-old girl take a razor blade to her school in Sheffield and use it to slash a classmate's face in full view of the teacher? Well, it would seem the victim may have been somewhat less than angelic, and that the perpetrator has had a tough time in more ways than one. The question has been raised as to what kind of school does not take immediate disciplinary action when a teacher spots a pupil repeatedly knocking a classmate's head against a wall. Certainly not the kind to which I would be happy to entrust any putative future Grumplets.

But it was this facet of the case for the defence that particularly caught my eye...

'A psychologist told the court she was likely to have been heavily influenced by a Somali custom in which women routinely settled disputes by inflicting minor scratches on each other's faces.'


...or as another report says...

'During the trial psychologist Stuart Taylor testified that in Somali culture women routinely solve disputes by scratching each other's faces with their fingernails or sticks.

'But he said such behaviour usually resulted in superficial injuries.'

I just love that 'usually'. And you have to wonder what a boy equally heavily influenced by Somali culture might have done in the circumstances.

I wish the people of Somalia well. I wish them well rid of some of their customs. For it surely cannot be coincidental that one of the most violent socieities on Earth has a culture which institutionalizes violence even in everyday interactions between women (not to mention the popularity of female genital mutilation). So whilst I have absolutely no problem in principle with people from Somalia settling in Britain, in practice it's unrealistic to expect that they will not bring their culture with them, and it has to be said that this is a problem.

Imagine being the parent of a child in this girl's class. Almost certainly you don't have the financial means to consider any alternative educational path for your child. Do you feel that Somali customs are to be affirmed and celebrated? How do you feel about being lectured about the benefits of multiculturalism by politicians and media folk whose kids go to private schools or, at least, to comprehensives in Somali custom-free zones?

Which leads us nicely to a passage from a speech by Roger Scruton, excerpted by Laban Tall:-

"First, the double standard over 'racism': a charge constantly levelled against innocent members of the indigenous majority, and almost never levelled against guilty members of immigrant minorities..."

"... It is in the light of these double standards that the charge of 'racism and xenophobia' should be assessed. It is a charge almost invariably levelled at members of the indigenous communities of Europe, and in particular against those at the bottom of the social scale, for whom mass immigration is a cost that they have not been schooled (and through no fault of their own) to bear. It is levelled too at political parties that attempt to represent those people, and who promise them some relief from a problem that no other party seems willing to address."

The penultimate sentence encapsulates the issues raised by Somali customs in inner-city Sheffield rather well. But the last sentence worries me. Scruton was speaking as a guest of Vlaams Belang, the Flemish separatist party in Belgium. I don't know a lot about this organization, but here is one reason why I hope Scruton supped with a long spoon. And the project of persuading Flemish-speaking Belgians that it is intolerable for them to carry on living in the same state as people who speak French is not one that I find particularly admirable. Especially since there is hypocrisy built into it: they talk self-determination, but deny precisely that to the people of Brussels, who are to be incorporated willy-nilly into the Flemish statelet even though they are overwhelmingly French-speaking.

And what about Britain? Is he thinking of any party in particular? There's certainly one that springs to mind, but the problem is that its attachment to racism and xenophobia is not a hysterical liberal slander but a deeply unpleasant reality. And there's the rub. It takes something pretty compelling to motivate a politician to break free of the herd on these issues. That something doesn't have to be racism - I think in Enoch Powell's case it probably genuinely wasn't - but in practice, away from the heady intellectual heights which Powell, Scruton and their like inhabit, it's predictable that the people most willing to shrug off the charge of racism turn out to be racists indeed.

Nevertheless, the political space to which Scruton refers needs to be filled by somebody, and even lefties should prefer to see it filled by the Tories rather than the BNP, by a healthy sense of the abiding strengths of British culture rather than by malignant bigotry. The danger is that a Conservative Party which, in its desperation to appropriate New Labour's winning formula for itself, no longer believes there is anything to conserve is leaving a vacuum for others to fill.

PS Mick Hartley has news of a robust approach to Pakistani customs taken by a court in Denmark. Full marks to the Danes - in Berlin there's been a similar honour killing case where the victim's brother was convicted of carrying out the murder, but the rest of the clan not only got off scot free but were in line to gain custody of her orphaned child (details in German).

PPS Eternal fourteen-year-old department: sorry, but I can't resist passing on the information that the Blogger spellchecker suggested 'scrotum' as an alternative for 'Scruton', 'labium' for 'Laban' and 'bowels' for 'Powell's'. More material for the feminist critique of the blogosphere...

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