The debate in ethics is whether values are relative and so can change according to culture and circumstances, or whether they are unchangeable and so in some sense "absolute".
The Sunday Times recently released video clips today of the contretemps, which occurred after the historian David Starkey argued the values of the Asian men from Rochdale who were convicted of grooming young white girls for sex were "entrenched in the foothills of the Punjab or wherever it is". He went on to say that the men needed to be "inculcated in the British ways of doing things". A young blogger called Laurie Penny accused David Starkey of being racist. But was the historian really saying something all that controversial (if admittedly in a slightly overstated way?).
In another case this week, a Pakistani couple were convicted of murdering their seventeen year old daughter, Shalifea Ahmed (pictured), who refused to accept their wish that she marry a cousin in Pakistan. The judge, Justice Evans, in sentencing them said much the same thing: "you chose to bring up your family in Warrington, but although you lived in Warrington, your social and cultural attitudes were those of rural Pakistan and it was those you imposed on your children".
I think we need to recognise that values do come from culture - even if we then decide to subject them to a process of reasoned evaluation and sometimes (as the Judge suggested that the two murderers failed to do), change our views according to a better moral argument - in this case, the argument that women and men should both have a choice in shaping their own destiny (about whom to marry for example).
When a society becomes multicultural, as Britain is in some places today, it is inevitable that values will sometimes clash. Relativism, the view that values come from culture, is sometimes accused of generating a view that "anything goes" or that we need to accept cultural differences without question.
But this is a misunderstanding of the relativist position. As a description we can say, yes, values do come from culture, but also that all values need to be subject to reasoned analysis and some views, such as "honour killing is acceptable" can be absolutely rejected because of the false assumption underlying it, that men are superior to women and women are somehow the property of men.
This view has no place in liberal, democratic Britain, even if it endures in other countries and other cultures and we need to keep campaigning hard against any sort of violence against women, whoever perpetrates it and wherever it is found. Shalifeah Ahmed endured years of violence and abuse - and her life was brutally ended because of a value system which truly came from another time and place.