Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Cultural Relativism Rears its Head

Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram links to a post by a guy called Marc Mulholland, in which Mr. Mulholland waves the flag of relativism in a silly attempt to disarm all criticism of Islam. Mulholand does have a point when he says that such external criticism can provide armament to those whose intent is to simply demonize all Muslims without qualification, but this is a risk that comes with any form of criticism of a group's actions whatsoever, and it would be the height of folly to insist that any group be put beyond the critical scrutiny of others from outside its ranks - but that is just what Mr. Mulholland is preaching, albeit veiled in an opaquely academic style.

As a factual matter, I think the sort of cultural relativism this gentleman is trying to push is a load of nonsense; it's one thing to say that one culture's mode of dressing, greeting and so forth is no better than another's, and something else entirely to insist that a culture or religious system which regards amputations of petty thieves, the stoning of rape victims and the murder of apostates is just as deserving of respect as one which does not. I'm not in the least bit ashamed to maintain that the Western liberal tradition that we live under today is very definitely superior to the cultural norms that are prevalent throughout most of the Muslim world, just as those Muslim cultural norms were at one point superior to those of Christian Europe, and it is perfectly reasonable to insist that Muslim immigrants to Western countries adhere to the liberal norms of their new nations, rather than expect their hosts' values to bend to accomodate them; and if they don't like the deal on offer, they're at liberty to push off back where they came from.

To expect those who adhere to Western liberal values to embrace the likes of Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, simply because some Muslim community regards him as their legitimate representative, is asking far too much. On the contrary, for Muslims to expect reactionaries like Qaradawi to be embraced with open arms is the height of effrontery, and it's a sad statement about the Muslim world that the likes of him should pass in it as "moderates."