So what is going on here? Why is this issue not on the radar?
David Hadley asks:
…within these oppressive religious regimes – in this case strict Islam – there is a form of sexual apartheid too. Where women don’t even get the luxury of being even second-class citizens. Which makes me wonder why none of the left-wing ‘progressive’ media are calling for sanctions and boycotts of these regimes.
Surely it is a great cause for them to rally behind, isn’t it?
there’s that post-colonial guilt thing going on. Women’s rights, gay rights, individual rights–they’re all so modern and western. They’re all undermining those fragile traditional cultures and turning everyone into atomized consumers who exist without real purpose in shiny soulless Corporate World. Sympathy is reserved for those proud noble tribesmen who are fighting to preserve their unique cultural heritage.
Karl nailed it, I think. It’s the authenticity thing. I was pondering this the other day – why do right-on people feel slightly (or sometimes more than slightly) uneasy about rationalist atheist feminist people from Third World countries when they don’t feel that way about atheists, rationalists, feminists from First World countries? I think it is a guilt thing. The background idea (generally, I think, not very carefully thought about or examined, as background ideas often aren’t, which is why we call them background ideas, hence one that may be vulnerable to argument, eventually) that rationalism etc are ‘Western’ importations and contaminations; that they are not authentic. I think the background idea behind that background idea is a vague postcolonialist guilt about taking away distant people’s authenticity. This relies, of course, on the still further background idea that irrational and anti-rational ideas are natural and authentic while the other kind are not (or else some even weirder idea that they’re in the DNA of Western people and not that of Third World people). I think this is an easy idea to slide into – I think I used to do it myself, hence this hypothesis is partly an extrapolation from my own lumber room of formless unexamined assumptions. I suppose we have some sort of mental picture of rationalist atheist (that’s inaccurate of course, but that’s just it) thrusting capitalist imperialism from The West injecting itself as if from a giant syringe or sexual organ into the irrationalist theist traditionalist rural homogeneous Nonwest. And of that Nonwest as uniformly and consistently Different – Other, you know – from The West, therefore (by definition) not rationalist or atheist or feminist, because those are all items in the syringe. A mental picture of the Third World as something rather like the way women used to be conceptualised – shapeless, formless, chaotic, swirling, opaque, mysterious, and above all uniformly and everywhere completely different from the invading exploiting uninvited imperialists.
In other words, I think there is a tendency to assume that for instance feminism is an importation from the West and that therefore it is, one, not authentic, and two, a contamination. It’s almost a kind of touristy idea. We don’t go to Bombay or Jakarta to eat at McDonald’s, and we don’t go there to encounter rationalist feminists of the kind we could find on any corner in Camden Town or Cambridge. Nosir. When we go abroad, god damn it, we want our exoticism, we want authentic traditionalism and primitivsm. Well, hey, what could be more primitive than oppression of women? Hah? Not much.
And there’s a feeling that it’s too easy. That’s another outcropping of the postcolonialist guilt thing. It’s too easy for us to prefer our own ideas. What’s difficult is to force ourselves to accept the things that trouble us. It’s easy to eat unfamiliar food, but to accept unfamiliar morality, that’s not so easy. So, people often unfortunately conclude, because this acceptance is difficult, therefore it is the right thing to do. Uh oh. Red flag. Wrong, Wrong, wrong, wrong. Look – the mere fact that it is difficult for us to accept that the oppression of women is okay, does not mean that it is in fact okay. It’s not a useful moral exercise for us to force ourselves to think that cruelty and deprivation are good things. That ‘too easy’ thought is one that should put people on alert. It may be a useful insight, and the starting point for asking ‘why do I think this particular idea or taboo is right?’ but it may also be a disastrous starting point for accepting horrors.
Of course all this is all wrong anyway. It simply assumes that only one kind of thinking, one kind of morality, is ‘authentic,’ and that others are importations and injections. But that’s nonsense. The West has no monopoly on rationalism and feminism (and it could be considered quite arrogant and Eurocentric and ethnocentric to think it does) and the Nonwest has no monopoly on irrationalism and antifeminism. Ideas don’t have DNA, and they don’t have passports. Anybody can think of anything. It’s insulting and ridiculous to think or even assume that atheists and feminists from Iran or Pakistan or anywhere else are the slightest bit less ‘authentic’ than misogynist theists are. So get over it, already. Tariq Ramadan is not more ‘authentic’ than Azam Kamguian, any more than the BJP is more ‘authentic’ than Amartya Sen. The ideas need to be judged on their merits. The oppression and subordination of women does not become more noble or acceptable because it’s enacted by ‘devout’ Muslims, any more than the oppression and subordination of dalits becomes more noble or acceptable because it’s enacted by ‘devout’ Hindus. Authenticity is an idea whose time has gone.