Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Not all pieties are equal"

Reacting to the news that American soldiers in Afghanistan have been ordered to ignore the sex crimes of their Afghan allies, Jonah Goldberg recounts perhaps my favorite story from the period of British imperialism in India.
.... General Charles Napier was the British commander-in-chief of colonial India. His most notable military accomplishment was conquering the province of Sindh — now in modern Pakistan — despite not having been instructed to do so. After securing victory, he reportedly sent a one-word message back to the Home Office: “Peccavi.” In Latin, “Peccavi” means “I have sinned.”

But that’s not the story I have in mind. On one occasion a delegation of Hindu priests came to Napier to repeat their objection to the British prohibition of sati, the practice of widows’ throwing themselves onto their husbands’ funeral pyres, sometimes under compulsion. You Brits, they explained, do not appreciate what a venerable custom this is in India.

Napier replied:
Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.

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