Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A White Liberal's Nightmare, Part 2: Not All Cultures are Created Equal

As someone who's so to the left he's never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate (go, Nader!), there are certain truths people like me hold to be self-evident. One of the biggees is that one must respect and appreciate all cultures different from our own. In fact, many liberals tend to deify foreign cultures as being superior to our own consumer-driven mores.

Well, I'm not one of them. Some lean over so hard in an attempt to seem tolerant of other customs that they become tolerant of intolerance. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attempt to excuse the actions of followers of Islam.

To be fair, nobody I know tries to defend extremists like the ones who fly planes into buildings. But they do claim that those are just a few "bad apples." That those people are to Muslims what the KKK is to Christianity.

Ideologically, I think they're right. Both groups have taken something that theoretically should promote peace and used it to justify division and violence. But in terms of cultural acceptance and sheer numbers, the KKK doesn't hold a candle to Islamic extremism.

I don't like using the word "fundamentalist" because it's so vague. As The Daily Show's Senior Religion Expert Lance Johnson has astutely pointed out, if any of the major religions (and yes, I'm lookin' at you, Christianity) followed the stuff in their books to the letter, the world would be replete with child beating, slavery, rape, etc...

So I'll stick with "extremist" instead. And as far as that word goes, the Muslims are winning that contest by a mile. Here's the other article I mentioned in my blog about African-American culture a few days back:

Again, in case you're too lazy to read it (it's short), it's about author Salman Rushdie's frustration over his publishing house's decision not to distribute a novel by Sherry Jones. The book deals with the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his child bride. According to Random House publishing, they pulled the book because "'credible and unrelated sources' had warned that the book 'could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.'"

One of the world's biggest publishing houses can't print a book because it's afraid of people GETTING KILLED. OVER A BOOK.

I don't know anything about Muhammad and his child bride. I don't know if it's true/false/tawdry/offensive, or what. All I know is that threatening to commit terrorism over a STORY is ludicrous. And they've succeeded! Using fear and violence, these lunatics have gotten what they wanted. Just as they do every time a depiction of Muhammad gets pulled by any media outlet (there's a great episode of South Park about this).

I know, I know. This is just a few crazies, right? What about this paragraph, then:

"The Satanic Verses" referred to a legend - about Muhammad being tricked by agents of the devil - that enraged some Muslims. The book was banned in India, and burned by demonstrators in England. The novel's Japanese translator was murdered, the Italian translator stabbed.

People who translated the book were targeted. And as far as the "just a few extremists" goes, I don't think that the country of India qualifies.

There's a huge element of "the lady doth protest too much" in the Islamic mindset. One of their most sacred sayings is "No God but God" (I'm still workin' on the book, Lance). That phrase is some sort of logical fallacy for one thing. But what interests me more is the defensiveness of it. They want to make very clear that any other god anyone else thought up isn't their god.

We live in a varied world. Most everyone else (there are exceptions, I know, but none with the numbers of Islam) at this point has accepted the plurality of opinions and beliefs of other cultures. Muslims in vast numbers riot over cartoons.

I haven't even touched on most Muslim cultures' mistreatment of women. One of the most regrettable moments of my teaching career came when a student of mine told me she was going to Iran to see family. I replied glibly, "Oh! You're not gonna come back wearing a burka, are you?" I said it completely jokingly- this was clearly an American girl, fully assimilated in manner and dress. Still, I can't believe I said that. Talk about culturally insensitive. I think they almost revoked my Green Party membership.

Anyway, it didn't end well. The girl was upset, and understandably. I'd rather not rehash the embarrassing details. However, I stand by one thing: women shouldn't wear burkas. I don't care if it's the law, like in some places, or if it's the women's "choice," as I've heard some defenders proclaim.

Please. It's a cultural expectation, and a backward one. To paraphrase Bill Maher, this isn't just a "difference" in societal values that's to be respected. One is better; one is worse. Until the majority of the world's Muslims figure that out, I'm not letting them off the hook.

Lance wrote in one of his recent blogs "that doesn't mean that the rest of the world gets to sit pretty and say, 'Yeah, Muslims - get it together.'" Well, I don't know about the rest of the world, but I'm saying it. Until they can accept freedom of the press, differences of opinion, stop treating their women as second-class citizens, and most importantly, stop solving every problem with barbaric violence, I'm not going to respect or defend their behavior, liberal cred be damned.

However, I do oppose one element of the conservative party line: The school of thought that my father-in-law espouses that all Muslims should be doing more to apologize and condemn the behavior of the extremists.

First of all, I think they are doing this. It's just not as sexy to run sane, sensible, peaceful Muslims on the nightly news as it is to show them burning flags and hanging Danish cartoonists in effigy.

Secondly, I don't think it's fair. The Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was an army veteran. There was no rush after the attack for all the armed forces vets to apologize for something one of their brethren had done. After all, they hadn't bombed anyone, and would never think of it.

I'm sure the vast majority of Muslims felt the same way, particularly American Muslims. As far as I know, not one American Muslim has ever been implicated in a terror plot or incident. I don't know what the hell's going on over there in Britain. USA! USA! USA!

1 comment:

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Good blog. Just to clarify though - what I meant by the rest of us not just "sitting pretty" is that yes, we should indeed point out the problems of the extremists in Islam. However, we shouldn't get complacent about any kind of extremists within our own groups.