Skip to comments.CULTURAL RELATIVISM – THIS ERA'S FASCISM
Posted on 05/06/2005 5:08:25 PM PDT by Lorianne
The following is Maryam Namazies speech on cultural relativism given at a forum on womens rights in Iran. The forum, organized by the International Campaign in Defense of Womens Rights in Iran (ICDWRI), was held in Toronto, Canada on November 28, 1998. Other speakers included representatives of the ICDWRI, Amnesty International and the Ontario Coalition against Poverty.
· In Germany, in August 1997, an 18-year-old woman was burnt to death by her father for refusing to marry the man he had chosen. A German court gave him a reduced sentence, saying he was practicing his culture and religion.
· In Iran, women and girls are forcibly veiled under threat of imprisonment and lashes, and cultural relativists say that it is their religion and must be respected.
· In Holland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that Irans prisons are satisfactory for third world standards," allowing the forcible return of asylum seekers.
Cultural relativism serves these crimes. It legitimizes and maintains savagery. It says that peoples rights are dependent on their nationality, religion, and culture. It says that the human rights of someone born in Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan are different from those of someone born in the United States, Canada or Sweden.
Cultural relativists say Iranian society is Muslim, implying that people choose to live the way they are forced to. It's as if there are no differences in beliefs in Iran, no struggles, no communists, no socialists, and no freedom-lovers. If so, why have 150,000 people been executed for opposing the Islamic Republic of Iran? If its the entire society's culture and religion, why does the Islamic regime need such extensive tools for repression? If its peoples beliefs, why does the regime control their private lives - from their sexual activities, to what video they watch, to what music they listen to? If the entire society is Muslim, why did Zoleykhah Kadkhoda enter a voluntary sexual relationship for which she was buried in a ditch and stoned? If it is people's culture, why did the residents of Bukan revolt against the stoning and save her life? Why are thousands of women rounded up in the streets for improper veiling if its their culture and religion? How come, after two decades of terror and brutality, the universities are still not Islamic, according to an official of the regime? Though it's untrue, even if every person living in Iran had reactionary beliefs, it still wouldnt be acceptable. If everyone believes in the superiority of their race, does that make it okay?
Cultural relativists say that we must respect people's culture and religion, however despicable. This is absurd and calls for the respect of savagery. Yes, human beings are worthy of respect but not all beliefs must be respected. If culture allows a woman to be mutilated and killed to save the family honor, it cannot be excused. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, religion rules and has become the mass murderer of people. If religion says that women who disobey should be beaten, that flogging is acceptable, and that women are deficient, it must be condemned and opposed.
The struggle against misogynist and reactionary governments is inseparable from the struggle against reactionary and misogynist beliefs. Of course individuals have the right to their own beliefs, however offensive, but freedom-lovers are duty bound to expose and condemn reactionary beliefs and relegate them to the garbage cans of history.
Cultural relativists go further to say that universal human rights are a western concept. How come when it comes to using the telephone or a car, the mullah does not say it is western and incompatible with an Islamist society? How come when it comes to better exploiting the working class and making profits, technological gains are universal? But when it comes to universal human rights, they become western. Even if rights are western, it is absurd to say that others' are not worthy of them. In fact, though, rights are gains forcibly taken by the working class and progressive social movements. Therefore, any gain or right obtained anywhere is a gain and a right for all humanity.
Some, even among the "left" say that exposing reactionary beliefs serves racism. Opposing the rape of a nine year old girl who is forcibly married does not serve racism. Opposing the sexual abuse of a child even though the Islamic Republic of Iran's court says the father was forced to abuse the child because his wife did not satisfy him, does not serve racism - just like opposing anti-Semitism doesn't make one a Zionist. Culture for the sake of culture is not sacred. Racism and fascism also have their own cultures. A culture that cannot defend human beings to live a better life is worthless.
Struggling for universal human rights means condemning and disrespecting reactionary beliefs. The struggle against dominant reactionary ideas is a struggle against the ideas of the ruling class. After all, the ruling class must justify the barbarism of capitalism. It must make the intolerable seem tolerable and natural. It must create differences to facilitate profit. Cultural relativism serves that purpose. The idea of difference has always been the fundamental principle of a racist agenda. The defeat of Nazism and its biological theory of difference largely discredited racial superiority. The racism behind it, however, found another more acceptable form of expression for this era. Instead of expression in racial terms, difference is now portrayed in cultural terms. Cultural relativism is this eras fascism. Cultural relativists are defenders of this era's holocausts.
In an era of unprecedented barbarity we must defend the universal rights of human beings who daily hope for freedom and equality. Though a better life is only possible when this world is turned right side up, anyone who respects humanity must immediately struggle for the abolition of all backward and reactionary beliefs which are incompatible with human freedom and progress and a secular and modern society for all.
Although the speech not current, it is still relevant to today.
I agree in principle with much of this but that last sentence of the speech makes me uncomfortable. Outsiders are in no position to change beliefs, as opposed to practices. We can somehow penalize barbaric practices, or at least find ways to allow those who disagree with the practices to escape same, but expecting those who don't subscribe to a belief system to change those beliefs is unrealistic.
Furthermore, I think it requires that "we" somehow define the ideal society and that standard seems to change with time. This woman wants a secular, progressive society. I think we have that right now in the United States and I am not ready to say society as a whole is better off here than it was before it recognized the influence of religion.
I have always been uncomforable with the western women's liberation organizations preaching their current values to third world countries. Our values of easy divorce, abortion on demand, full employment rights, inheritance rights, public child care is applicable here only because our society is structured to accommodate such demands. To preach such "rights" in a nation without educational opportunities, without capital resources, without supermarkets, child care and other conveniences that make it possible for women here to be independent seems to be pretty irresponsible.
Yes, we need to condemn barbaric practices where we can but we also need to realize that every belief system has its critics and those who don't wish to adhere to the strictures of that system. What we need is not to necessarily dismantle the belief system but find ways to allow the dissenters to live the lives they wish without dire penalties such as stoning. I don't believe the sharia law should be the basis of government but I do believe it should be allowed to operate for those who voluntarily submit themselves to it.
So, by all means, work for change but don't condemn society at large because it won't storm the citadel to destroy Islam.
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