article, not available on line, is worth buying this week's Nation magazine for (I'm subscriber so I read it all).
It is, at one level, about a feminist, Hirsi Ali, who is a former Muslim who attacks the most patriarchal aspects of Islam inside the Netherlands where, among the Muslims living there, honor killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and other oppressive acts against women have continued to occur. It goes without saying that such actions are inconsistent with modern civilized societies, including Dutch society.
Ali, however, has now moved from the so-called "left" to the "right" in Dutch politics because she sides with more so-called conservatives who want to limit immigration, particularly from Muslim-predominant countries. If one wishes to be critical of Ali, it is in her refusal to promote or meaningfully discuss the more tolerant side of Islam, which does exist and makes Islam no different than the Catholic religion, to take one example, with its Opus Dei
on one side and Commonweal
Catholics on the other. One must also recognize the liberation theologists
as part of this mix on the side most opposed to Opus Dei.
In any event, despite Ali's political move to the political right, a significant number of leftists and feminists support her specific
acts of bringing attention to the oppressive and isolated lives of too many Muslim women living within Dutch society.
Let us, however, view this at a more...ahem...fundamental level and the question it raises for open societies that take pride in promoting tolerance and diversity within their societies:
At what point should a society demand assimilation--and to what degree?
For years, in a nod to "diversity" and "tolerance," the Dutch government has extended its support of religious institutions to include mosques. But there is a powerful argument to be made that ending government funding of religious institutions is a key step to forcing open isolated communities, particularly in the Muslim new-immigrant communities of Dutch society, where Muslim women are the most oppressed and isolated. As we ponder this, let's jump across the Atlantic back to our shores where the nation's leading Republicans continue to want to expand direct governmental funding of religious institutions. Promoting government funding to James Dobson
, for example, could lead to cultural responses in child rearing practices
, for example, that many Americans may well find horrible and oppressive.
There is a second policy of tolerance in Dutch society that one may more often associate with both the cultural right and left in America. Dutch liberals, for example, chafed at promoting assimilation and particularly forced education for Muslim immigrants to learn the more pro-female equality values inherent in modern Dutch society. The question now is at what point should Dutch laws on equality step in and force "re-education" in addition to taking more active steps to prosecute perpetrators who force young women into marriages they do not want, attempt or engage in female genital mutilation, and attempt or partake in honor killings?
People can see cultural leftists behaving similiarly as Dutch liberals in fighting assimilationist policies such as English Only
initiatives. But cultural reactionaries don't like "political correctness" that promotes pro-female equality and access to contraception, for example. Are there distinctions between these two analogies and the situation in the Netherlands? Of cousre. However, each of these particular examples reveal why general statements of "liberal" and "conservative" are inadequate, misleading or at worst, inhibitors to finding solutions to particular problems in a way that maintains the integrity of an open society's best values.
As a solution to the problems in the Netherlands, I think of the Fresno, California district attorney who, in the 1980s, was faced with several episodes where Laotian tribesmen known as the Hmong, starting with their spritual leaders, had to undergo forced education programs to stop their practice
of using kidnapping and rape of young Hmong women as a method of courtship--a practice that was apparently common in their homeland. The article I linked to calls it "the liberal's dilemma" as if conservatives who were not racist didn't have dilemmas with respect to Bob Jones' University's pro-racial segregation policies
(Recall that the Reagan administration sided with Bob Jones in a brief to the Supreme Court and the Superme Court, more "liberal" then, rejected the Reagan administration's position. The Court ruled that it was appropriate to refuse a tax credit to Bob Jones University until it ended its segregationist policies).
Again, the lack of any consistent meaning of the words "liberal" and "conservative" in various societies or over time becomes clear in a situation such as that facing the Dutch or that facing the district attorney in Fresno, California. We as a nation should reflect upon how the most patriarchal and reactionary elements of Muslim communities turned the best Dutch values of tolerance and diversity on their heads--and how that could occur as we seek "fairness" in funding religious as well as non-religous groups under the Bush administration's "faith based" social programs.
Tolerance for oppressive ideas may sometimes, in practice, be just as dangerous to a society's well being as oppression itself. Often, as we see in the Dutch example, the particular application of that oppression is going to be directed at women.
It is why I wince at "conservatives" preaching "tolerance" for the most reactionary elements within fundamentalist Christianity and other western religions where there is a promotion of "obedience" by women to men or pressuring women into marriages they don't want, staying in marriages that are harmful to them, and denying women contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
I also wince at those on the cultural left who promote open sexual practices that go beyond mere gay marriage--such as the glorification of sado-masochism. Pardon me if I don't link to anything specific about that! Let's also realize the pro-sado-masochism lobby has much less appeal or power than religious right elements who are less than friendly to contraception rights for women.
In all, the Nation article about the challenges facing Dutch citizens regarding the growth of fundamentalist and patriarchal Islam should be released by the Nation to the web as it is very thought-provoking and intelligently written.
(Edited as I admit to still thinking through the implications of what I'm writing about--MJF)