Mobina Jaffer: Barbaric Cultural Practices Should Not Be Labelled As ‘Barbaric’


Mobina Jaffer

It is pitiful indeed when a free, tolerant, beneficent country cannot call barbaric acts – barbaric.

If you want to know which culture is emerging in its dominance in a particular society, we can look at two things: who or what are we not allowed to mock or criticize, and who or what will the state seek to protect at all costs.

Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer recently brought Bill S-210 (2017) for a first reading to the House of Commons after it had received approval in the Senate¹. Its purpose is to repeal the short name of Bill S-7 (2015), which is currently ‘Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act’. The intent of Bill S-7 was to underline the illegality of certain practices including polygamy, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killing. It was understood that these practices are already crimes under various other acts, including the Criminal Code. The intent was to make it much clearer that these practices are crimes in Canada, even if they are legal or tolerated elsewhere in the world. So what is Jaffer up to?

Her complaint is that the words ‘barbaric’ and ‘cultural’ should not exist in the title to the bill, which, she contends, tarnishes entire cultures. Which cultures are tarnished she doesn’t say, although the implication is that it is not Canadian culture.  So her bill in essence renders the 2015 bill with ‘no name’.

The issue here, frankly, is the pairing of the words ‘barbaric’ and ‘cultural.’ By pairing these two words, we are instead removing the agency from the individual committing an action that is clearly wrong and associating it instead with a cultural group at large. We are implying that these practices are part of cultures and that these cultures are barbaric. [Mobina Jaffer]

I think what Jaffer is saying is two-fold. One, you can’t equate any ‘cultural’ practice as being barbaric. Two, that the action of an individual should not define a group. On its face this might seem reasonable. However, one, if performing an act that is part of a cultural norm or standard, then it is a cultural practice, barbaric or not. Two, it’s true that an individual’s actions should not tarnish an entire group, however if that individual is performing a practice that is due to his religious or cultural mandate, and not his personal opinion, this too is a cultural practice, barbaric or not.

Not to be outdone, Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan makes it clear that her (Pakistani-Muslim) community is not pleased with the bill’s title. How many of her community actually knew about the bill’s existence, never mind the title, until Ataullahjan pointed it out to them, she doesn’t say.

[I]n my view, [the bill’s title] is incendiary and deeply harmful, as it targets a cultural group as a whole rather than individuals who commit the specific acts. Through conversations with my community, I heard from most that they felt the short title was directed solely at them and that from their perspective it served only to further stigmatize and alienate them from the community at large. [Salma Ataullahjan]

Directed solely at them? This seems like a pretty lame and defensive excuse: stop noticing and pointing out the barbaric practices in our community! Again however, the bill refers to no single culture at all, the two senators argue that no culture can include barbaric practices, yet we need to separate ‘barbaric’ and ‘culture’ from the title.

Look, it’s not a great thing that certain cultures most certainly do partake in barbaric practices according to Canadian norms. It’s embarrassing. It’s awkward. If your own self-worth is deeply connected to your religious and cultural heritage, there is some soul-searching to be done. Some in these communities may actually have been born into cultures in their homelands where these acts were, and are still, considered to be righteous, religiously-mandated and necessary.

And these two women are forgetting one basic, fundamental thing: women. The victims here are not some nebulous individuals or communities; they are real, living, individal girls and women who have to suffer through this barbarism. What is it exactly these senators looking to really trying to ‘protect’? Obfuscating certain barbaric cultural practices, or the victims of the barbaric cultural practices themselves.

The question remains as valid as ever: does Canada have the cultural backbone to declare itself superior over certain practices in certain other cultures, or will it go the way of Europe, where their own cultures are actually considered (politically at least) to be inferior to any other culture that may arrive on its shores? Perhaps the passing of this bill, and the upcoming release of the Canadian citizenship guide² will yield the answer.

¹ National Post, Marie-Danielle Smith; ‘Senate passes bill to remove mention of ‘barbaric cultural practices’ from Harper-era law’ *
² Canadian Citizenship & FGM

* “Harper-era”? Sounds like something from the 1950s or something doesn’t it? It’s 2015!

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