Proud ‘n’ patriarchal

James Fergusson says everybody should calm down and not get in such a swivet about women being treated like rebellious livestock in Afghanistan.

This does not mean the west should stand by in silence. On the contrary, it is our duty to go on arguing the case for gender equality and to keep Afghans engaged in that old debate. But we have no right to be shrill…

No right to be “shrill”? Why not? Why doesn’t anybody have a right to be “shrill” about gross cruelty and vindictiveness and oppression?

Well because we don’t understand, Fergusson says.

It might help if we understood the Taliban better. The harshness of the punishments they sometimes mete out only seems incomprehensible to the west. The strict sexual propriety the Taliban insist upon is rooted in ancient Pashtun tribal custom, the over-riding purpose of which is to protect the integrity of the tribe, and nothing threatens the gene pool like extramarital relations…The Pashtuns are, famously, the largest tribal society in the world. Some 42m of them are divided into about 60 tribes and 400 sub-clans and they are intensely proud of their culture which has survived three millenniums of almost constant invasion and occupation.

What does he mean “works”? It “works” because the Pashtuns are a large tribe? So the fuck what? Who cares how big a tribe is if its bigness depends on brutal control of half its members and a life of generalized hostility?

The west views gender equality as an absolute human right and so we should. But no country, certainly not Britain, has yet managed unequivocally to establish that right at home; and we tend to forget both how recent our progress towards it is, as well as how hard the struggle has been. Full women’s suffrage was not granted in Britain until 1928. With such a track record, is it not presumptuous to insist that a proud, patriarchal society that has survived for 3,000 years should now instantly mirror us?

The fact that Britain has not yet managed unequivocally to establish gender equality is not a reason to be timid about resisting the Taliban version of gender inequality. Nobody is insisting that Afghanistan should instantly mirror Britain, but that’s not the only alternative to thinking “a proud, patriarchal society that has survived for 3,000 years” is nothing to be proud of when half its people are born to fear, deprivation and misery.

The Boers were a proud, patriarchal society too; so what? James Fergusson probably wouldn’t say “is it not presumptuous to insist that a proud, racist society should instantly mirror us?”; yet the word “patriarchal” apparently has a different kind of resonance. It shouldn’t.

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