The parents of Shafilea Ahmed have been convicted of her murder. There is much admirable refusal to excuse them because that’s “their culture.” All very well, but something is missing. Their “culture” is condemned; tradition and values and traditional values are declared non-exempt from competing values and from the law…but something is missing.
Consider what the judge said, according to the BBC.
On sentencing, Mr Justice Evans told the couple: “A desire that she understood and appreciated the cultural heritage from which she came is perfectly understandable, but an expectation that she live in a sealed cultural environment separate from the culture of the country in which she lived was unrealistic, destructive and cruel.”
Consider what the Guardian editorial said.
The police wisely refused to call Shafilea’s murder an “honour” killing. There can be no exonerating circumstance, no licence granted to those who claim cultural protection for brutality. Domestic violence and child sex abuse happen across cultures and ethnicities. But that only makes it all the more important that those charged with spotting it, supporting its victims and tackling its perpetrators, have the ability to understand what they are seeing and how to respond to it, wherever it is found.
Cultural heritage, cultural environment, culture of the country. Cultural protection, cultures and ethnicities.
It’s all culture. Not a word about religion. It’s as if the two were completely distinct, and as if religion had no influence on culture, nor any power to amplify and entrench and protect it from criticism.
Here’s a news flash for the Beeb and the Graun: culture without religion is a lot easier to shed and adapt and improve than culture with religion. “Culture” that’s indistinguishable from religion is a whole lot more difficult to escape. That’s just all the more true when organs of “culture” such as the BBC and the Guardian pretend it’s out of the picture altogether.