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March 10, 2008

Theodore Dalrymple on the Scarlett Keeling murder in Goa: were our confused attitudes to foreign cultures a contributory factor?

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Multiculturalists claim all cultures are equally worthy - yet they show little understanding of foreign culures, argues Theodore Dalrymple.

One of the paradoxical effects of multiculturalism as a doctrine and tenet of political correctness is how completely uninterested it renders the population in the effect its behaviour has on people of other lands when it goes abroad. And there is a good logical reason why this should be so.

I have been reading recently about the case of Scarlett Keeling, the 15 year old girl recently raped and murdered in Goa. As reported in the newspapers, her mother saw fit to leave her there while she went off elsewhere in India; and the girl herself was last seen at 4.00 am on the day of her death in a drunken state as she left a beach bar. I do not know this for certain, but it seems to me unlikely that her presence there was what murderers themselves, with regard to their crimes, often call a "one off".

Nothing, of course, can possibly excuse the crime itself; and any mother who loses a child in such a way is worthy of sympathy. No error of judgement, however serious, deserves to be punished in this fashion. Nevertheless, what the mother said in response to a senior Goanese policeman's remarks, to the effect that foreign women ought to be more careful in Goa, strikes me as the very acme of immaturity, unpleasantly leavened with arrogance.

She said,

If they are saying it's dangerous for British people, then it's the government's responsibility to warn people. There should be signs up, but there aren't. Instead, it's advertised as a hippy paradise, so you don't feel it's dangerous when you walk around.
Even allowing for the guilt that the mother must be feeling, this is a remarkable statement.

What she appears to be implying is that British visitors are so important that foreign governments have the duty to protect them at all times of the day and night from the consequences of their own behaviour, however unattractive, degraded and irresponsible it might be; and that, in the absence of official warning notices, parents should assume that it is safe and proper to leave their adolescent daughters drinking into the early hours of the morning in unknown company over which they have absolutely no control. The argument seems to go, what is now almost the norm in Britain in the line of crude, vulgar and slatternly disinhibition ought to be accepted everywhere else as the norm as well.

From the behaviour that I have observed of British tourists abroad, Mrs McKeown (the mother of Scarlett Keeling) is far from being alone in her belief. Untold thousands of young British holidaymakers believe that they have the right to behave any way they like in foreign parts, and expect the protection of the foreign authorities while they do so into the bargain.

This belief has two intellectual presuppositions behind it. The first is the consumerist notion that the customer is always right, in fact can do no wrong, and that the possession of purchasing power confers upon him unlimited rights while imposing equally unlimited liabilities upon those who cater to his purchasing power. If a town, for example, relies economically upon tourism, then its inhabitants have simply to accept however the tourists choose to behave. He who takes a customer's money becomes, in effect, the customer's slave; and he must accordingly swallow his pride and his disgust.

I do not think I have to spell out to civilised people what is wrong with this attitude. However much we may value a strong commerce, we do not believe in buying people, body, mind and soul; and was it not Montesquieu who said that wherever there is a commercial people, there is a polite people? I cannot help but see in this mass boorishness a harbinger of economic as well as of cultural disaster.

The second intellectual presupposition behind this arrogant and one might even say militant coarseness is multiculturalism. There is an unfortunate and frequently unnoticed corollary of the multiculturalist dogma that all cultures are equal in worth and value, in all respects: namely, that our own pattern of behaviour, whatever it may be, is also above criticism. Therefore there is no reason for us even to try to see ourselves as others see us; the duty of others is to accept us as we are, just as we, supposedly, have accepted them as they are.

And since we have become convinced that permissiveness is the highest stage of Man, and that the enjoyment of crudely sensuous pleasure is the highest and indeed only possible worthwhile goal in life, then it follows that no one has the right to criticise our behaviour when we go in search of that goal. And since the universality of rights does not depend on geography, it also follows that, if we have a right to behave with sluttish drunkenness in Britain on a Saturday night, we have a similar right to do so in Goa, or indeed anywhere else, on any night of the week.

Now it so happens that people who behave in this disgusting fashion usually have a sixth sense as to where it will and where it will not be tolerated; that is to say, they are both bullies and cowards. This is another very unpleasant aspect of the character that multiculturalist ideas have helped to develop.

I hesitate to put myself forward as a paragon, because as a youth I was very far from it; but when at the age of 16 I hitchhiked with a French friend round Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and France (I thought it unduly cautious of my parents that they allowed me to go no further) I was already aware of the need, not merely practical but ethical, to make myself unobjectionable to the people among whom I moved, which required that I observe them closely.

When, for example, I stayed in a monastery in France, I realised, notwithstanding the callow youth that I was, and that I was in an environment with which I was completely unfamiliar, that this was not the moment to rehearse my village-atheist arguments against the existence of God, arguments that I believed to be absolutely irrefutably valid; and I was duly rewarded for my restraint, because, all unexpectedly, I conceived a profound admiration for the monks, and developed a sympathy for them (and nuns) that has never left me since. Indeed, I rather regret that I did not have the religious faith that would have enabled me to withdraw from the world as they had - but that, of course, is another matter.

It was not any multiculturalist doctrine that enabled me to develop a sympathetic admiration for the monks. It was rather an awareness of the ethical requirement to behave differently in different surroundings that allowed me to do so, an awareness that British tourists who think that Goa (and other places) should simply put up with their coarseness have obviously never developed: for multiculturalism assures them to behave coarsely is as good as good as behaving in any other way, and that no one has the right to object to it.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor.


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Dr Dalrymple is right but it was ever thus in Goa. When I went there in 1973 to interview the Chief Minister I can remember chatting to a local doctor who specialised in treating young Western drifters who had gone there. They suffered different diseases from his Indian middle-class patients - the Westerners had the diseases of neglect- drug overdoses and other results of drug and alcohol abuse , VD and bad sunburn from prancing around naked all day.

Goa was not dangerous and I doubt if even today it is any more dangerous than Birmingham or Liverpool or Hackney for a drunken fifteen your old girl at four in the morning. There are probably more cases of rape and murder in England. The Goan policeman was right to warn the mother but his advice would have made just as good sense in England. Why do we not put up warning signs in all our foetid inner cities to warn respectable Indian tourists that however careful they are, the local people are quite likely to molest them, not because of racial antipathy but because law and order has broken down.

In Mumbai I would return alone late from the University to my lodgings off the insalubrious Grant Road nearly tripping over the rats but I never feared the local people . In Gordon Brown's violent drunken Britain I would not dare to wander round with that degree of freedom except in an area where the people were respectable Hindus.

Posted by: Christie Davies at March 10, 2008 07:06 PM
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Odious as I find the doctrine of multiculturalism to be, I do not think it explains McKeown's irresponsible behavior. Multiculturalism argues, not only that all cultures are equally valid because validity is a cultural norm, but that cultures differ in every possible respect: hence, what is valid in one culture will not always be valid in another . Cultural sensitivity is defined as acknowledging different standards and even following them when necessary. The problems with this doctrine are, first, that it undermines the legitimacy of sovereign states to maintain the rules and norms believed by most of the population to be just. Second, it means suspending one's critical judgment when faced with universally loathsome practices such as suttee, genital mutilation, etc. Third, it has become a new form of cultural imperialism, since nations that do not accept multiculturalism are subject to opprobrium.

None of these faults seems applicable to McKeown. Her self-centerd recklessness, her childish inability to make decisions without the authorities telling her what to do, and, as Mr Dalrymple rightly points out, her customer-is-always-right attitude are enough to account for why she neglected her daughter. They are the signs of a decadent society that still holds itself superior to others without having anything to justify its haughtiness save the accumulated achievements of its ancestors.

Posted by: J. S. at March 11, 2008 12:51 PM
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in eric ambler's 'mask of demetrios' (1939) he writes (and I paraphrase) that an englishman abroad is at a severe disadvantage from his belief that one who has done no wrong has nothing to fear from the police. same old naievity, just poorer behaviour.

Posted by: s masty at March 12, 2008 03:58 AM
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Since when has leaving a teenager in the care of other adults been reckless and irresponsible? It is those who were given the responsibilty of care who are at fault, not Fiona.

New rules should be introduced I suppose, never allow a child to stay with family friends at anytime in their life, never let a teenager out of your sight, even if you trust the people they are with?
I wonder sometimes if those who pass judgement been a teenager wanting a bit of independance, let alone ever known a teenager or even been a parent of one.

It's not as if she left a toddler in an apartment on their own with no one in a responsible position is it?

Never pass judgement on someone unless you actually know them and their parentlng skills personally!

Posted by: very un middle class family friend at March 12, 2008 10:21 AM
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"Since when has leaving a teenager in the care of other adults been reckless and irresponsible? It is those who were given the responsibilty of care who are at fault, not Fiona."

...but whom did "Fiona" choose to blame? Not the "other adults" (in this case, a 25-year old man, her 15-year-old daughter's newly acquired lover). No, she blasted the police for daring to call into question her attitudes to parenthood.

"New rules should be introduced I suppose, never allow a child to stay with family friends at anytime in their life, never let a teenager out of your sight, even if you trust the people they are with?"

Of course! If one takes a dim view of underage sex and an almost-anything-goes alternative lifestyle, then logic dictates that one must therefore be in favour of incarcerating children until they are aged twenty-one. Everyone knows that.

"I wonder sometimes if those who pass judgement been a teenager wanting a bit of independance, let alone ever known a teenager or even been a parent of one."

Well, absolutely. Dalrymple clearly glosses over his teenage yearnings for "independance", putting himself forward as a paragon of teenaged conformity. Particularly in the bit where he says

"I hesitate to put myself forward as a paragon, because as a youth I was very far from it"

And the final paragraph was deliciously pious.

"Never pass judgement on someone unless you actually know them and their parentlng skills personally!"

Leaving aside the fact that her statements to the press provide a fairly clear picture of her attitudes towards parenting, does your keenness to pass favourable judgement mean that you "know them and their parentlng skills personally"? Or does it just mean that, as a "very un middle class family friend", you regard "Fiona" as a fellow traveller and thus worthy of the usual tribal defence?

Down with the bourgeoisie!

Posted by: Paul H. at March 27, 2008 05:49 PM
•••

Dear Paul H,

The mother was not blaming the police - she was ensuring the RAPE and MURDER of her daughter was not passed off as a drowning. I find it so bizarre that people like yourself seem to have forgotten their is a murder involved.

Easy to judge someone after the event isn't it??! The majority of parents at one point or another have let their child/ teenager (Scarlett was nearer 16 than 15) do something or go somewhere that afterwards they may have wondered if it was the correct thing to do.

I'm really hoping all these points of view slating Mrs MacKeown's parenting skills are from exemplary parents of teenagers, it would be an injustice if they weren't.

Posted by: Debra at April 4, 2008 10:52 PM
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"The mother was not blaming the police - she was ensuring the RAPE and MURDER of her daughter was not passed off as a drowning."

No, of course she "was not blaming the police" --- which is why she declared

"If police had taken more interest in previous deaths, then Scarlett might not be dead now"

...rather than reflecting on her own conduct as a parent.

"I find it so bizarre that people like yourself seem to have forgotten their is a murder involved."

So if "their is a murder involved", then questioning the role played by the victim's parent is beyond the pale?

"Easy to judge someone after the event isn't it??!"

Any reasonable person would have formed a similarly dim view of her mother's behaviour even before the event --- or if the event had never occurred. It's not a simply case of hindsight being twenty-twenty. ...And I certainly don't believe that a "majority of parents" would let a fifteen-year-old girl live the kind of lifestyle that Scarlett Keeling led (and had been leading long before she was "nearer 16 than 15").

"I'm really hoping all these points of view slating Mrs MacKeown's parenting skills are from exemplary parents of teenagers, it would be an injustice if they weren't."

No it wouldn't. No parents are perfect, but that doesn't mean that all are equally lacking in "parenting skills", and thus merely posturing hypocrites for criticising Mrs MacKeown. Of course, that assumes you actually believe in objective standards of parenting...

Even the most useless parent can see that Scarlett Keeling's horrible end was eminently preventable, and that her mother's permissiveness spawned the chaotic lifestyle which made her daughter such easy prey. Sadly, in the current intellectual and (a)moral climate, we have to pretend that this isn't so, and simply wring our hands helplessly as countless other young people are sacrificed to the me-generation's egocentrism.

I don't wish to heap further misery on Mrs MacKeown, who has no doubt suffered much and continues to suffer, but the attempt to silence criticism about bad behaviour truly is a road to Hell.

Perhaps in her shoes, I'd've done just as she did. Maybe even worse. But, hypocrite or no, I'm still going to call neglect by its proper name. As should any honest person.

Posted by: Paul H. at April 8, 2008 12:12 AM
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