Farther into the swamp of cultural relativism

Those German-Turkish women rock. Necla Kelek tells Ian Buruma what’s what.

Reading his response to Pascal Bruckner’s essay “Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?” one is tempted to say to Ian Buruma, “If only you had kept quiet!” He clearly felt himself caught out, and despite his insistence to the contrary, his reply only leads him further into the swamp of cultural relativism…Ash and Buruma are quite typical in their argumentation, and virtually exemplary in their politically dubious cultural relativism…[Buruma] maintains that one cannot make generalised statements about Islam, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali does. That is a rather astonishing statement from a man who is…a professor of democracy and human rights.

Astonishing but, as Kelek says, all too typical. Think Bunting, think Bunting on sharia. It’s one solution to the recurring problem: how to fend off (or better yet, shame out of existence) criticism of Islam and thus be kind to Muslims, at least to those Muslims who get all torn up inside when Islam is criticized. Say it’s various, or sharia is about spiritual improvement, or both. But…

Let us look at the question of human rights and women’s rights, for example. In those areas, Muslims are very united indeed. On August 5, 1990, 45 foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the highest international secular body in the Muslim world, signed “The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.” In that document, Muslims from around the world expressed their common attitudes towards human rights.

Human rights in Islam are a little different from human rights not in Islam. Okay more than a little different. Kelek points out several of the ways.

Buruma’s third stereotype goes: Critics of Islam are denunciators. He writes that Hirsi Ali’s “denunciations” are not very “helpful”…In Mr Buruma’s view, she should not have done so because as an “avowed atheist” – next stereotype – she could not contribute to the reform of Islam. Another astonishing position for an academic specialising in human rights and democracy. Cultural relativists prefer not to hear about arranged marriages, honour killings (25 deaths in Istanbul last year alone) and other violations of human rights….If Mr Buruma wants to take a serious look at the disregard of “variations” in the Muslim world, he’s set himself a large task. To cite just one out of many possible examples: What to do with all the women living in the over 60 countries where Sharia law oibtains, who are not allowed to marry without a Wali, that is, without the permission of a parent or guardian?

Yes but the thing is, it’s not helpful for avowed atheists to denounce such things, because – um – well for the same reason it wasn’t helpful for black people to denounce Jim Crow laws, or for women to denounce legal and cultural constraints on women. See?

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