Monday, March 16, 2009
When Culture Leads To Harm
The other day on News Talk Online on Paltalk.com I was appalled by the numbers of callers who said I or "we" had no right to speak out against the court-ordered flogging of a 75-year-old woman in Saudi Arabia because it's a culturally based practice. The Saudis have the right to their culture, it was argued. And I had no right to speak out against it. I was accused of cultural insensitivity.
Now comes a story in today's Times Online in the UK which reports that government health statistics there indicate that thousands of girls in Britain have been subjected to genital mutilation. And that there have been no prosecutions. To its credit, the government is launching a campaign offering medical procedures that reverse females genital mutilation.
Would one argue that we should remain silent about this as well, as it is a cultural tradition?
Of course, in a general sense, cultural differences are to be respected not demeaned. But when those traditions bring harm to others, then isn't it time to speak up?
We tend, these days, to choose which human rights violations we will speak out against and which we won't based on the political fallout. But since when should our defense of our fellow human beings against repressive or harmful actions be limited based on who is creating those actions?
So it's OK to speak out against the Guantanamo Bay detention facility but not against giving a 75 year old woman 40 lashes for being in the company of two men not her close relative? We remain silent about genitle mutilation because we fear being accused of being culturally insensitive. We speak out against Israel's recent "disproportionate" response against Hamas but genocide in Darfur is an issue we have to think twice about before opening our mouths.
Even the United States government picks and chooses which human rights violations are worthy of attention. Clearly those perpetuated by the Chinese government are off limits for political reasons.
OK, maybe it's a cultural thing as some have argued. But the culture I grew up in says I have a responsibility to speak out against human rights violations. So I will continue to do so. And those who criticize me for it better realize they are offending my cultural sensitivities.
We talk issues like this and more weekdays at 5 PM New York time on News Talk Online on Paltalk.com
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ren84/2912048016/