Recent statistics released in England, celebrate the rise in domestic violence prosecutions. I thought about posting on the subject, but couldn’t find any meaty discussions of how to explain the rise, so I left it alone.
Now however, I found that Nick Cohen – one of my all-time favorite journalists and social commentators – has a fascinating take on this issue.
In his article in The Spectator magazine, The Racism of the Respectable, Cohen points out that the rise in prosecution has noticeably not occurred in cases of domestic violence perpetrated against women (and girls) in certain ethnic groups in England.
In his own inimitable style:
To be a racist in Britain, you do not need to cover yourself in tattoos and join a neo-Nazi party. You can wear well-made shirts, open at the neck, appreciate fine wines and vote Left at election time.
Odd though it may seem to older readers, the Crown Prosecution Service now regards itself as a liberal organ of the state. This week it is making a great play of its success in deterring violence against women. Its lawyers brought 91,000 domestic violence prosecutions last year and secured 67,000 convictions. As I have mentioned in this space before, many criminologists believe that the willingness, not just of prosecutors and the police but of wider society, to take violence against women and children seriously explains the welcome fall in homicide rate. But officialdom’s concern for abused women is strictly colour coded. The CPS will defend women’s rights, but only the rights of white women. Girls with black or brown skins can go hang — or, rather go have their genitalia cut to pieces.
In a report for BBC Newsnight , Sue Lloyd Roberts investigated what euphemists call ‘female circumcision’. I have sympathy with the German court which said that male circumcision was an assault on boys unable to give informed consent, that no rabbi or imam parroting the dictates of Judaism or Islam could excuse.
Here I’ll have to note my that I don’t share Nick’s sympathy’s for the German court’s decision, but that’s for another discussion. The important point is that Cohen understands that male circumcision and the forms of brutality practiced against females from certain ethnic backgrounds are not cut from the same cloth – neither in terms of the violence involved, nor the repression of the victims which is actually the goal of the violence.
But the female and male versions of ‘circumcision’ are not comparable. Twenty thousand British girls, mainly the daughters of immigrants from Africa, are at risk of what the World Health Organisation calls Type III ‘infibulation’. Their mothers or grandmothers, or maybe an iman or some other variety of priest or ‘traditional healer’ cut off the inner and outer labia and clitoris with scissors or a knife. They tie together the girl’s legs for a month so that the labial tissue bonds. It forms a wall of flesh and skin across the vulva, leaving only a hole the size of a matchstick. Sexual intercourse and childbirth, and the passage of urine and menstrual blood become incredibly painful.
Beyond continuing a barbaric tradition, and one should never underestimate the appeal of doing what has always been done, FGM ensures that women remain the property of men. The bridegroom can be certain his bride is a virgin, and have some confidence that she will not sleep around, because the second object of the exercise is to reduce the woman’s libido.
Britain made female genital mutilation a criminal offence in the 1980s. Later we said it was illegal for parents to take their children abroad for the ‘procedure’. Yet although thousands of British girls are the victims of wounding with intent, the CPS has not instigated one prosecution, let alone secured a conviction.
I found this statistic shocking, to say the least.
Sue Lloyd Roberts illustrated official indifference when she interviewed Somalis in Glasgow. She came up with sensible proposals to prevent child abuse. When doctors saw a mother whose genitals had been mutilated they could insist that medics monitored her daughters. Or when families from an — how to put this in PC language? — ‘at risk’ group left the country, female doctors could examine the daughters on return. She tried to put these ideas to the representatives of Glasgow’s liberal professions — teachers, health and social workers. Not one would go on air.
To his credit, I suppose, Scotland Yard’s specialist in child abuse cases Commander Simon Foy found the courage to speak in public. Unfortunately, his words were a disgrace. ‘I am not necessarily sure that the availability of a stronger sense of prosecution will change’ the incidence of FGM ‘for the better,’ he said. Is there any other law that Commander Foy and his superiors think it pointless to enforce? Do senior officers say that prosecuting burglars or rapists or murderers makes no difference? Or is it only in the case of the mutilation of girls from other cultures that the cops abandon their belief in the deterrent power of punishment?
Imitating the French by having medical staff check girls, would infringe the girls’ rights, Foy continued, as he used the language of human rights to justify his failure to uphold the rights of women and girls. In this instance, and in this instance only, the police not only believe that putting alleged criminals on trial is pointless, they add that investigating an alleged crime is a criminal act.
Under white imperialism, colonialists had one set of rules for themselves and another for ‘lesser breeds without the law’. Nineteenth century liberals and socialists berated their double standards. Now the roles are reversed. Men and women who call themselves liberals are the new Blimps.
And here I would go a step further; I think that this inequality before the law is not simply racist, but points to fundamentally misogynistic underpinnings of the criminal justice system and society as a whole. A society unwilling protections to all of the females in its domain, is a society that fundamentally does not value females. A society willing to overlook the ongoing oppression and repression of the females in its midst is one which seeks to congratulate itself on one hand for being enlightened and progressive, while trampling on its most vulnerable members.
Their respect for other cultures and celebrations of diversity has undermined equality before the law. Anti-colonialism is no longer an opposition to foreign occupation but opposition to the ‘inappropriate’ imposition of ‘western’ values on the formerly colonised. Fear plays its part in the silence. I know doctors who worry they will be accused of racism if they protest about the mistreatment of girls. They suspect that their employers will not report protesting parents to the police but punish them instead.
I often wonder which of the beliefs or practices that we take for granted the future will regard with repugnance. My best guess is that our insouciance about man’s mass extinction of species will provoke the greatest disgust. But the liberal toleration of illiberalism may run the destruction of the natural world a close second. ‘Just think,’ people will say, ‘in the early 21st century prosecutors, teachers, doctors, social workers and police officers, who considered themselves respectable citizens, did nothing to protect innocent children from injuries they would carry for rest of their lives.’
In a heterogeneous and multicultural society, Israeli law – from the legislature to the courts – has had to grapple with the issue of balancing cultural practices against the legal and moral norms of a democratic society. For example, in early years of the State when immigrants came from cultures in which polygamy was practiced, the law allowed men who came to Israel with more than one wife to remain married, but bigamy in the new State was outlawed and prosecuted. A few months ago, I wrote about a court decision which showed an awareness of the cultural mores of the parties, an awareness which did not compromise the woman and child, but rather, enabled the court to issue a ruling which protected them.
Here in Israel we tend to run into problems when those practices actually not rooted in religious law, but in distortions thereof, become defended as religious freedoms which must be upheld. The most egregious of these violations in recent years was the issue of segregated buses – also aimed at objectifying and repressing women, though in lesser ways than the acts of violence Cohen discusses – but the important point is that the Supreme Court and lower courts have issued tough decisions against segregated buses, thanks to a number of citizen activists.
In Cohen’s final quote of the article:
A brave daughter of African immigrants described the racism of the respectable better than I can. ‘They are so terrified,’ she told the BBC. ‘They are using cultural sensitivity as a barrier to stop themselves from really doing anything. What would you do if the girls had blue eyes and blonde hair? Would FGM still be going on in the UK?’
May we all have the bravery and integrity to call violence by its name, and to do whatever necessary to defend those who need defending, and sanction those who engage in and perpetuate norms of behavior reprehensible to any moral being.