Sunday, February 25, 2007

It is Way too Small a World!- at least for women in Islam...

Back from Disney!
My boys had a fantastic time and I got some time to think and renew. My primary reaction I is, “What a great country this is!” The place was jammed- you couldn’t stop walking with out having several people pile up behind you. In spite of long lines and fierce competition for places, I didn’t hear an uncivil word spoken all week. This has to be the most courteous and genuinely gracious group of people in the history of the human race!

I did find one thing a bit unnerving though. I refer to the ride “It’s a small world”. I wasn’t put off by the kitsch- I find that entertaining and cute. No, I tolerated that alright. I had, after all, resolved to make an effort to leave behind my usual critical edge and try to see the whole thing through my sons’ eyes.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it’s a Small World it’s a pretty typical Disney ride for the younger kids. You get into a little boat and you are floated along a sort of metaphorical stream that carries you past what seems like dozens of dioramas filled with animatronic figures representing a very broad sampling of world cultures. In each diorama a host of child-like animatronics, dressed in appropriately ethnic garb, serenades you with the tune “It’s a Small World”. In every setting there is some distinctive lilt or syncopation or inflection added to give the song an ethnic flavor. That was OK, I suppose, but then, toward the end of the ride, we came around another one of the bends in that “world river” that ran through all the settlements of the worlds children and we came upon an Arab grouping. There they were, with their veils, turbans and harem pants singing,
“There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small small world”

The thought occurred to me that the problem with multiculturalism might be deeper than I thought. Here we are teaching our kids to unconditionally offer to accept the good will of people who are not even remotely friendly.

We have fallen for the ideal of multiculturalism without thoroughly understanding what it is or what it requires. Multiculturalism comes with the benign sounding proposition that “society should consist of, or at least allow and include, distinct cultural groups, with equal status”. The trap in multiculturalism is that it offers uncritical acceptance of foreign influences that may be illegal, immoral or injurious to society. It leaves to door open to everything from sickening animal sacrifice rituals to culturally sanctioned beating and murder of women. In doing so we have mistaken the maxim that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion” for its evil twin “no opinion is any better than any other”. Now we are faced with a sizable portion of the Islamic world that calls us the “Great Satan” and believes that every single one of us should either believe exactly as they do or be killed. Yes, killed.

So who are these homunculi at Disney World who are lulling us and our children with this lethal lie of one world with a single dream of harmony? They are our wish that we could, by being of sufficiently good will, make them see that our way is better and that they should subscribe to our common dream. They are not about to do that though, and we need to temper our uncritical good will with a real defense against their evil.

Do I think that Disney should change the display to leave the Arab scenes out? Am I advocating that they turn them into a more realistic display where the children are being taught to chant "death to America, death to Jews!"? I am not sure that either is either possible or advisable. There are other things we need to do immediately however.

The first thing we need to do is to rethink our taboo against looking with a critical eye and speaking openly about other cultures and religions. We need to make value judgments on the basis of what we can see.

Consider the words of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, in her acceptance speech when she was given the Martin Luther King International Brotherhood Award, she said: “Human beings are equal; cultures are not.” Hirsi herself is proof of this. Since she fled the Islamic culture in which she was raised and westernized herself she has become one of the most powerful and sincere defenders of Western ideals. She has also earned a death sentence (fatwa) from Islamic clerics for her outspoken opinions.

Hirsi told an interviewer
“Almost nobody in the West wants to understand that Islam's problems are structural. Contemporary Islam hardly exists. Islam stopped thinking in the year 900 and has stood still for more than a thousand years.”
Hirsi’s point of departure is Islam’s treatment of women. Here is another quote from that speech:
“I am being acknowledged here today because CORE wants to take Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream beyond racial inequality. CORE wants to be a platform from where the greatest inequality of our time, perhaps of all time, can be battled.
This is gender inequality: an inequality most obscene, expressed through acts such as mutilation, beatings, rape and murder--and almost all this aggression is justified in the name of culture and creed. Atrocities committed against girls and women in the most intimate setting of all: in the home; by dad or mom; by a brother or a sister; by a husband or his mother. The sort of persecution I talk about is one in which the religious leaders, the politicians, aunts and uncles, fathers and mothers, all share the staunch belief that girls--that women--are born of a lesser god.

I was born into this culture. And I stress my emphasis on the word “culture”.
When I first came to a Western country, I was astonished to find men who said, "Ladies first"--yes, ladies first. I was amazed because I was born and raised in a culture that put me last because I was born a girl; where I was confined, because of my gender; where all the burden of what is considered good sexual conduct was for me to bear because I am female.”

We must believe her, we must try to use our critical faculties before it’s too late.

Everyday it’s too late for thousands of Muslim women who are mutilated, beaten, raped and murdered.

We also need to look at ourselves differently. Hirsi can help us get started there too. Instead of exclusive focus on negatives and shortcomings we need to recognize that we are the world’s best hope. Hirsi puts it this way:

A culture that celebrates femininity is not equal to a culture that trims the genitals of her girls.
A culture that holds the door open to her women is not equal to one that confines them behind walls and veils.
A culture that spends millions on saving a baby girl’s life is not equal to a one that uses its first encounter with natal technology to undertake mass abortion simply because baby girls are not welcome.
A culture with courts that punish a husband for forcing his wife to have sex with him is not equal to a culture with a tribunal that decrees a young woman be gang-raped for talking to a boy of an allegedly higher caste.
A culture that encourages dating between young men and young women is not equal to a culture that flogs or stones a girl for falling in love.
A culture where monogamy is an aspiration is not equal to a culture where a man can lawfully have four wives all at once.
A culture that protects women’s rights by law is not equal to a culture that denies women their alimony and half their inheritance.
A culture that insists on holding open a position for women in its Supreme Court is not equal to a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is worth half of that of a man.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality has become a reality for some and remains a dream for many. It has become a reality for the few people privileged enough to live in this culture that values the human individual regardless of race or gender. It is this culture that provides me with the vocabulary, the legal tools, the material resources, the platforms, and most of all, the opportunity to meet like minded individuals who will stand for the rights of those fellow girls and women who haven’t been as lucky as me or you.

It is within this culture that it pays to fight for equality.
Unfortunately, it is this culture that is under threat today. Many of those born into it take it for granted--or worse, apologize for it.

So dear men and women of colour, and dear women of all colour: Let’s join together to protect this culture of life, this culture of liberty, this culture of "ladies first."

As a first step, lets stop apologizing. Then we can begin working on a firmer grasp on reality.


Unknown said...

this is a fascinating post and raises huge problems we must address. the problem is that the gap is so immense between the west and (say) the arabs, that just to acknowledge is to blow the fuses on the radar screen with which we, in a multicultural universe, have learned to use.

much of the discussion of other cultures as "equal" is a form of therapeutic encouragement. "we know you guys are just as nice as we think we are, and we'll encourage you by treating you as equals." the problem with this, as with hyper-self-criticism (the obverse of the coin), is that if you take this inflated language (really a kind of moral affirmative action gone wild) for a description of reality -- israel is a racist imperial state, the palestinians just want the area up to the green line, islam is a religion of peace -- then you're in real trouble when you interact with reality.

part of the problem with multi-culturalism is not the opening to other cultures, it's the lack of understanding that this "opening" is complex and demands (at least minimal) reciprocity. when you filter reality thru such insane principles as "moral equivalence" then you're asking to get flattened, no matter how great, good, and generous your culture or your own personal intentions.

congratulations for fearlessly confronting these problems. if we make it through the coming decades, it'll be because of people like you speaking honestly and with a measure of modesty before what to think and do about the adversary we face, and a blogosphere that picks conversation up.

if the doors of perception were cleansed, we would recognize a formidable and ruthless enemy.


Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

Exactly so! I love your image of the blown radar screen. The question is, "how can we bolster the receptive bandwith of our fellow westerners quickly enough?" I thhink that the theme I started this blog with is the only way. The personal story, told to evoke the original innocence and pain of the "first encounter" is the most effective "mind changer". It is the magical opening in the Five books of Moses by which the cultural evolution of the west has been guided. I have been hoping that others would write their own personal accounts of their initial "blown screens" and let me post them here...

Séamas Poncán said...

That ride was at the New York World's Fair in 1963/4 (I saw it as a kid there). So this goes back a long way. It is hopeful and naive. It looks for the good in everyone, and though I agree with your point completely, I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. On the other hand, it is typical of the 60's (and since) thinking that says if I am nice then my enemies will love me.

Dan said...

You wrote

"The first thing we need to do is to rethink our taboo against looking with a critical eye and speaking openly about other cultures and religions. We need to make value judgments on the basis of what we can see."

Part of the problem as I see it is that the Multiculturalists have taken one essentially untenable position - they do not believe that good and evil exist; everything is simply culturally specific. If you can't straightforwardly point to something evil and say "that is evil" then I don't believe there's any hope for you.

The multiculti approach is the triumph of hope over experience (I forget what that quote actually applies to) - an assumption that because you feel kind and decent, everyone else does as well. The Beast you refer to is evil, and until people acknowledge that they will not understand the need to stand against it.

Purim Sameach.


Jude the Obscure said...

I read quite a good article a couple of years ago which seems relevant to this post. It is called 'The Land that Developmental Time Forgot' by Robert Godwin Ph.D. You may have seen it but if not the address is or google the title. (I seem unable to paste the link.)