Thursday 28 August 2008

'This is a part of our religion'

A 44-year-old Salford man, Syed Mustafa Zaidi, has been convicted of child cruelty after forcing two teenage boys to beat themselves with a curved blade whip, as part of a Shia Muslim ritual. According to the BBC report:

The 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time, said Zaidi told them both: "Start doing it, start doing it." The child told the court: "We said 'we don't want to do it'."  He said he saw Zaidi flogging himself before washing blood from the whip and handing it to the 15-year-old boy. He said Zaidi was "pulling him and pushing him", telling him to "keep doing it" and telling people "this is a sad moment and look he's not doing it'. The boy said Zaidi continued to pressure the older teenager to whip himself. He said the 15-year-old boy "swung it once or twice and said 'I don't want to do it anymore'."

As a result of their participation in the ritual, the boys sustained 'multiple lacerations' to their backs, with 'several deeper cuts'.

Despite the horrific details of the case, I confess to feeling a twinge of sympathy for Mr. Zaidi, an otherwise law-abiding man who seems to have had no idea that he was doing anything illegal, and who claimed as his defence: 'This is a part of our religion'. After other recent cases in which the courts have concluded that religious belief trumps anti-discrimination legislation, not to mention common sense, why shouldn't he assume that it would also override the laws against child cruelty?

Superintendent Nadeem Butt of Greater Manchester Police is reported as saying that 'the sensitivities this case raises - both legal and cultural - are significant'. Rough translation: let's not do anything to upset the fundamentalists. Meanwhile Carol Jackson of the CPS has stated that the prosecution 'was not an attack on the practices or ceremonies of Shia Muslims'. But if those practices or ceremonies routinely involve lacerating the backs of minors - why not?

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