At one point in his pacification of Sind, Sir Charles confronted the long-entrenched and religiously warranted practice of “suttee,” according to which a widow was thrown onto the funeral pyre of her dead husband. Napier invited the local leaders to a meeting and said, “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; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we shall follow ours.”
Suttee, as you might imagine, quickly disappeared from the areas under Sir Charles Napier’s command, as it eventually did throughout the subcontinent. Was Napier’s abolition of suttee an act of cultural aggression or religious intolerance? Is anyone prepared to argue that thriving modern India, the world’s largest democracy, would have been better off if Napier had taken the position of today’s multiculturalists, that, while there may be your truth and my truth, there’s no such thing as the truth — so who am I to impose my values on you?
This reminded me of a story a friend told me in college. He was a fellow conservative and we lived on the same floor freshman year as a very liberal girl. (Names not included to protect the clueless.) We'd had a few debates in the past among the three of us as to cultural relativism and she always came down on the side of "It's their culture, and who are we to impose our values on them?" So, one day, I got back to the dorm and he came running up to me, "Paul, you would ahve loved it. She [the liberal girl] was complaining about female genital mutilation, and how awful it was. I pointed out to her that it was their culture and who we were we to impose our values on them. Her reaction was great!"
Oftentimes, the refusal to impose values is really just a disagreement with the values being imposed, as I noted in my last post