Images from top to bottom: 1, Mr Zaidi leaving court 2, a zanjeer 3, the zanjeer in action in Kandahar.
I am sickened by the way in which the criminal justice system is forced to tiptoe around the barbaric practices of certain religious groups.
In what appears at first glance to be a minor triumph for justice, 44 year old Syed Mustafa Zaidi was sentenced on Wednesday to 26 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, for encouraging two boys, one aged 13 and one aged 15, to beat themselves with a zanjeer - a wooden handled whip with five chains, each of which ends with a sharp blade.
The boys were taking part in the traditonal Shia festival of Ashura at Levenshulme mosque, Manchester. The Ashura festival commemorates the slaughter of Mohamed's grandson Hussein and his followers in the 7th century; participants flail themselves with these vicious weapons and encourage others to do likewise, in order that they recreate in some small way the suffering of the 'martyrs'.
If fully grown men want to attack themselves with particularly vicious bondage equipment then, fine, go for it. If you're deluded enough to think that a deeply held religious belief justifies causing serious damage to your skin, then no sensible person is likely to try and persuade you otherwise - at least not until you put the chained and bladed cat o' five tails safely out of reach.
Encouraging children to do it is nothing short of child abuse - religion is no excuse - making childen mutilate themselves is child abuse pure and simple.
So as I said it appears, prima facie , that British justice was able to stand up to this nonsense and let everyone know that child abuse is simply wrong.
But wait, whats this I read? Mr Zaidi was not brought to book for encouraging the children to beat themselves, but for encouraging them to use the adult version of a zanjeer, rather than one specifically designed for youngsters!. Read that again folks - if you are a devout Shia muslim, you can lawfully force young children to beat themselves up, so long as they use a kiddies whip! I was unable to find a picture of the kiddies zanjeer, so I don't know if its made of rubber or what, or whether there's a special under-fives version with extra grips for those sweaty little hands to hold on to. I have this hideous image of poor impressionable young kids watching their fathers and uncles enthusiastically mutilating themselves in the name of ancient bollocks, looking on in awe and thinking 'I can't wait 'til I'm old enough to do this with Meccano instead of Lego'.
More worryingly, I can't help wondering how many of these 'devout' men have raging hard-ons while they're whipping themselves.
Any way, I digress... The creeping capitulation of justice in the face of unsubstantiated ancient stories is much in evidence in this case. Not just in the paucity of the sentence (he'll only go down if he does it again in the next 12 months) but in the way the prosecution had to bend over backwards to make it clear that this was not a judgement against religious practices. The judge also made this quite clear. Mr Justice Atherton said, in summing up the case, that
"It should be clearly understood by everyone that the jury's verdict was not a comment upon the ceremony and no-one should misinterpret it as being such. The law recognises that children and young persons may wish to take part in some activities which it considers they should not. It is sometimes expressed as protecting themselves from themselves."
Yes, and no doubt some minors do want to have sex with their teacher, for example. This however would not stop a teacher from being widely condemned and imprisoned for considerably longer than 26 weeks, suspended. Religion, of course, trumps everything.
Sadly, the boys themselves said that they wanted to take part in the ceremony, but not 'under duress' and not using blades. I have little doubt that as soon as they're old enough, they'll be turning their backs into offal too, all in the name of a load of old tripe.
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