The thing about the cultural anthropoligical view is that, unless you are a cultural anthropologist, it’s not the place to stop. Because tolerance, acceptance, neutrality, non-judgmentalism never is the place to stop. That’s one of the advantages of being human, isn’t it – we are able to second-guess things, and ask for something better, so we should never permananently and thoroughly give up that ability and right.

We can suspend it at times, obviously. You don’t go to a friend’s house and tell her how to do things. (On the other hand, if you somehow discover that serious abuse is going on, you may want to intervene, with all the attendant difficulties and worries that possible duty raises.) But that is not the same thing as, and should not be confused with, either 1) never making any critical judgment at all or 2) accepting or approving everything no matter what.

No matter what; sight unseen; unconditionally; in advance: all are bad and dangerous ways to think. The Euston Manifesto has sparked a lot of discussions of cultural relativism, and many people think (or claim to think) it’s a fiction, but it isn’t at all. The very word ‘Islamophobia’ which is so readily flung around is a symptom and an example of cultural relativism. The word itself forms a mandate not to criticise Islam because to do so is ‘phobic’: irrational, neurotic, mistaken, hostile, fearful; and also, on the assumption that Islam is a race rather than a religion (which of course it isn’t), a form of racism. That’s a lot of work for one word to do, but it does it. (Why else would Comment is Free include Bunglawala?) As long as the word Islamophobia is in popular currency and used not (inaccurately but in another sense reasonably) to mean hostility to all Muslims no matter what, but to mean criticism of Islam, then it’s no good saying there is no cultural relativism; there is a lot of it.

Perhaps it clarifies to think of it as not so much cultural relativism as in advance, unconditional, sight unseen, pre-emptive thinking, or non-thinking. They describe the same thing, but perhaps the alternative term makes it more obvious what the problem is. The problem is this business of deciding ahead of time what the mandatory conclusion is, and then always reaching that conclusion, without considering evidence and without analysis.

It’s much like the way that religious argument functions, as a matter of fact – where no amount of evidence is relevant or heeded, and attempts to cite evidence are called ‘scientism’ and reductionism and then rebuked on the grounds that they claim anything that can’t be measured doesn’t exist; all that just boils down to saying ‘don’t ask, don’t look, don’t think, don’t evaluate.’ But we need to be able to evaluate and ask and think, we need to be able to reject as well as accept. Without that ability we can’t change or correct or fix or reform anything, not political systems nor economic arrangements nor traditions nor gender relations nor anything else. Life without the ability to second-guess and then fix or change anything would be hellish.

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