As I have discussed previously, I often speak about the cultural defense with a group of experts around the country, including judge Delissa Ridgway. This defense is used in both criminal and civil cases to argue that an individual did not have true intent to commit a crime or should have a mitigated sentence due to a cultural motivation or belief. There are limits however as a father discovered last week in Rome, Italy.
The father in a criminal case was arrested after beating his 12-year-old daughter with a broom handle when she could not properly recite the Koran. He was convicted of child abuse and aggravated assault.
The Italian Supreme Court rejected his claim that he was simply acting in accordance with his religion and his Islamic culture. The court correctly ruled that this was abuse — plain and simple.
I believe that there are real limits to the use of this defense, particularly in cases of violent crime. What is interesting in this case is that the man essentially argued that beating children, particularly girls, is common in Islamic countries. However, while that may be a cultural practice it is not a viable cultural defense, in my view. We have certainly seen widespread abuse of women in some Islamic countries. However, it would be a mistake for Western countries to excuse such despicable practices as culturally motivated. Not only are such beatings not required by the Islamic faith, they exist only because they are tolerated in countries like Pakistan and Iran. Western countries should not give credence to such arguments any more than they would allow human sacrifice under Mayans who wish to return to their ancient practices.