Napier’s Multiculturalism

In Trafalgar Square there is a statue of General Sir Charles Napier. Sir Charles was a notably successful officer in the Peninsular War and later in the sub-continent where he rose to become Commander- in-Chief of British forces in India.

Once Sir Charles was approached by a delegation of Hindu notables complaining about the British prohibition of Sati (or suttee), the practice of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. The essence of Sir Charles’ multicultural reply was:

“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; [then] beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

The Hindus had one custom and the British had another, in this clash of cultures Sir Charles refused to allow practices he considered immoral to triumph over values he considered essential.

I would not be surprised if, in our days of cultural cringe, the stature of Sir Charles disappears from its plinth. His example of cultural confidence should not be lost. In the fuss over the events in Maza-e-Sharif more voices have been raised laying the responsibility for this action on the vain Terry Jones and his bunch of delusional acolytes.

What Jones and his followers did may have been contemptible and should be condemned. What we must not do is deny the importance of the right of free speech just because some cannot abide what we might say. Whenever progressives lay responsibility for the appalling acts in Afghanistan on Jones they send a message that the basic principles of our free society can be thrown overboard in the abject desire not to offend the religious sensibilities of the perpetually aggrieved.

There is a clash of cultural values here, If we fail to support the right of free speech we condemn our society to an existence of fear and moral degradation. We also condemn Afghanistan to constant control by medieval preachers of hate and misogyny, and tribal heroin cartels.

As I have posted previously ultimate responsibility for the atrocity lies with those who deliberately inflamed the mob. One of those is Ahmed Karzai leader of the corrupt regime controlling parts of Afghanistan.

The media in the West had for once acted responsibly and ignored the activities of Jones and his  benighted knuckledraggers. News of this event hardly percolated beyond the city limits of Gainsville Florida.

Karzai, however, saw it as a gift from Allah and an opportunity to bolster his standing with the Islamists who really rule his country. In an attempt to garner short term political gain in a violent war-ravaged country Karzai declared Jones’ deed “a crime against a religion” and “a disrespectful and abhorrent act.” He further said the UN and the USA were responsible for bringing Jones to justice. Which, given the USA’s First Amendment rights was not going to happen, unless if Jones had perhaps violated a fire code.

To recklessly incite people’s anger is irresponsible folly in a leader. Especially so when Karzai knows enough about the USA to know that Jones and his ilk represent a minute corner of Western society, and when he and other Muslim political and religious leaders urge us to remember that Islamic terrorists are a minority in their own society.

For all his considerable failings, Jones did not commit a single act of violence or cause any person physical harm, he burned a book. It was leaders in Afghanistan, who whipped their people into a frenzy, and the rioters themselves who are to blame for the deaths.

Mr. Karzai’s is not the only voice in Afghanistan. Where are the other leaders of that country who have the moral authority to condemn the violence and the courage to speak out against the bigotry and intolerance endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Sir Charles Napier may have been politically incorrect, but he was a leader who had the courage and clear sense of purpose to uphold the values of a civilised society, despite whatever political problems it might have led to. Perhaps those in leadership positions today may gain the same courage and clarity.

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About Campbell

Now retired but once upon a time a parish minister in Glasgow, before that the South West and initially the Black Isle. Been a prison chaplain and lecturer. Still am constantly bemused by the weird world around me.
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