A judge’s shockingly inept attempts at “multicultural understanding” have landed her in some very hot water in Germany. According to the New York Times, the judge cited “cultural differences” between Muslims and Westerners in refusing to grant a German Muslim woman’s request for a fast-track divorce from her wife-beating husband. The woman, a German citizen, had requested that she be allowed to divorce her husband without waiting for the one-year separation ordinarily required by law, on the ground that her husband had physically abused her and was threatening her life. (In fact, the same judge had previously ordered the husband to move out of the couple’s home and had entered a restraining order against him.)
The judge refused her request, ruling that the woman was not suffering an “unreasonable hardship” because – are you ready for this? — both she and her husband were of Moroccan descent. “In this cultural background,” she wrote, “it is not unusual that the husband uses physical punishment against the wife.” Moreover, in explaining her ruling, the judge pointed to a verse in the Koran that permits a husband to use physical punishment to “discipline” his wife. And just in case the wife was still under the misimpression that she might be entitled to at least a few of the rights that other German women enjoy, the judge delivered the final blow, suggesting that the wife’s Western lifestyle might have given her husband reason to claim that his “honor” had been sullied.
To be sure, Germany, like the rest of Western Europe, is navigating some tricky waters when it comes to reconciling Western values with the more traditional values of some members of its Muslim population. But this is ridiculous. Thankfully, the ruling has been roundly condemned by just about everyone in Germany — including German Muslim leaders, who point out that mainstream Muslims long ago rejected wife-beating “as a relic of the medieval age.” The judge has been removed from the case. But it almost – not quite — makes me re-think my firm belief (expressed in earlier posts) that we can usually trust judges to get it right.