Cultural Relativism and its Enemies

Phyllis Chesler and Maryam Namazie are (you should pardon the expression) singing out of the same hymnbook.


Chesler’s experiences in Afghanistan have helped shape her thoughts about the failure of feminism to engage with what she sees as the oppression of women in Islamic countries…looking at mainstream feminism in the west – in the universities, in the media, among academics and the socalled intelligentsia – there is a moral failure, a moral bankruptcy, a refusal to take on, in particular, Muslim gender apartheid. So you have many contemporary feminists who say, ‘We have to be multiculturally relativist. We cannot uphold a single, or absolute, standard of human rights. And, therefore, we can’t condemn Islamic culture, because their countries have been previously colonised. By us.’


For her commitment to a Marxism that values human rights above paper selling she has become the bane of those ‘right-thinking, left-leaning people’ who Nick Cohen in the Observer claims have backed away from her because she is just as willing to tackle their tolerance of oppression as the oppressors themselves…Her stance on cultural relativism is equally uncompromising, which she has lambasted as ‘this era’s fascism.’ ‘It promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than respect for human beings. Human beings are worthy of the highest respect, but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must they be respected?’


Western feminism’s failure to confront the problems raised by Islam, Chesler believes, is a result of the creation of a hierarchy of sins, “an intellectual culture in which racism trumps gender concerns”…The result, she argues, is that “instead of telling the truth about Islam and demanding that the Muslim world observes certain standards, you have westerners beating their breasts and saying, ‘We can’t judge you, we can’t expose you, we can’t challenge you.’ And here in the west you have a dangerous misuse of western concepts such as religious tolerance and cultural sensitivity so that one kind of hate speech is seen as something that must be rigorously protected…Chesler will not accept the Islamophobe label. She claims it is a blanket term used to silence those who portray Islam accurately…


She flags up a range of practices that reveal a nefarious dimension to cultural relativism…’Cultural relativism serves these crimes. It legitimizes and maintains savagery. It says that people’s rights are dependent on their nationality, religion, and culture. It says that the human rights of someone born in Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan are different from those of someone born in the United States, Canada or Sweden.’…She ridicules those cultural relativists who seek to conceal their tolerance for oppression by arguing that universal human rights are a western concept. ‘How come when it comes to using the telephone or a car, the mullah does not say it is western and incompatible with an Islamist society?’…Namazie also sees political Islam attempting to impose restrictions on the rights of women in Western societies…’Here the Islamists are generally more ‘civilised’…[T]hey demand the ‘right’ to veil for women and children in France when in the Middle East they impose compulsory veiling by throwing acid in the faces of those who refuse and resist. In Britain, they cry racism and Islamophobia against anyone who speaks out against Islam and its political movement, whilst in Iran and its likes they hang ‘apostates’ and ‘Kafirs’ from trees and cranes…In Europe, they call for tolerance and respect of their beliefs, when it is they who have issued fatwas and death threats against anyone who they deem disrespectful and intolerable.

That should keep Islamophobia watch busy for a day or two.

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