Societies differentiate themselves through cultural practices. Many insist on long-established protocols that others find amusing, incomprehensible, reckless, or even barbaric. Some traditions are driven by religious beliefs; the origin of others are lost in time.
The West, especially the liberal West that imagines itself the product of the Enlightenment, abhors the idea of female genital mutilation, yet it is widely practised elsewhere.
We, not so long ago, insisted on disciplines that seem as bizarre as the idea of leprechauns dancing a strathspey in an urban garden. In the lifetime of our president, teachers were dismissed because they lived with partners to whom they were not married. Not only that, the courts found that the school authorities were entitled to take that action.
One of the cultural practices the liberal West finds incomprehensible is America’s attitude to gun ownership.
Most Europeans cannot understand how a society can encourage self-inflicted carnage by allowing citizens to own military-grade weapons.
A steady rise in suicides involving firearms has pushed the rate of gun deaths in America to its highest in more than 20 years. Almost 40,000 Americans died in shootings in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet, any suggestion, even after massacres like the Las Vegas bloodbath in October, 2017, when 58 people were randomly murdered, that lethal weapons be banned, provokes vehement opposition.
Those suggestions, which seem logical in most of the world, are regarded as an assault on Americans’ fundamental rights. Forty-four states have laws that echo the second amendment to America’s constitution, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.
Not so in New Zealand. Showing the kind of proactive political leadership that most of the world can only envy, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced a ban on military-style rifles, following the murder of 50 people in Christchurch.
She expects laws to be in place by April 11 and a €120m buy-back scheme will be established. Australia banned semi-automatic weapons after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, in which 35 people were gunned down, yet America remains unmoved.
Cultural differences are written in blood. Our culture vigorously celebrates the enriching idea of céad míle fáilte.
We try to make this the island of welcomes, in part repaying the welcomes extended to generations of Irish emigrants, which were celebrated so widely last weekend. In that context, it is unfortunate that, because of difficulties with a lease, the Department of Justice has said it will not be opening a direct provision centre at the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey.
The hotel was to accommodate 80 asylum-seekers but suffered two arson attacks earlier this year.
These attacks follow a pattern, as another fire was set at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville, Co Donegal, in November 2018 (it was to open as a direct provision centre for 100 people).
The Rooskey decision may be unavoidable, but it creates an unfortunate and inaccurate impression. Just as New Zealand moved quickly to ban automatic weapons, we must move quickly to find an alternative, so those opposed to
migration will not have even the briefest of victories.