Cultural Tolerance and the War on Terror

May 19, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

We define terror narrowly, and one of the components seems to be that it is aimed at A People, rather than individuals.  Given the overwhelming cost of dealing with it, perhaps such definitional parameters are necessary.  Certain things ought to be “merely” police problems, while “terrorism” is a larger, necessarily global issue demanding larger tools.

The arguments raging with Bush over his policies in Iraq (and potential future policies with the rest of the Middle East and, further, Islam) ought to include, on both sides, recognition of the realities on the ground.  Since 9/11 we have been engaged in a debate over cultural stereotyping.  It is wrong to paint an entire people with a single (ugly) brush.  On the other hand, it’s an error to simply say that we got it all wrong and none of them deserve opprobrium, simply because it’s a culture different from ours and that ought to be respected.

Women are in hiding in Iraq.  Indeed, in Bahgdad.  Women who have fled abusive relationships, but find it impossible to divorce or get legal protection from courts that support–implicity and tacitly–a husband’s “right” to beat even kill his wife under certain instances.  This is part and parcel of so-called Honor Killing, in which men who feel they have been humiliated by their wife’s faithlessness or lack of respect or failure to obey kill the woman do “defend the honor of the family.”

This is culturally instantiated.  Moderate muslims argue that this is not condoned by mainstream Islam.  Yet it has become part of a certain–large–stream of social practice and accepted along with all the other restrictions on females that any reasonably educated western woman would find absolutely intolerable.  This is of a fabric with clitoral circumcision (the reasoning of which is to prevent women from ever discovering orgasm and thus–because they’ll never know any better–remaining faithful to their husbands because they’ll not be tempted to find a better lover [really, now, they claim we’re sexually obsessed, but look at the attention to the most ridiculous elements of human sexuality paid by devotees of this kind of thinking]), the acceptance of polygamy (for the man, not for the woman), and a denial of education for women. 

We need to remember that while we’re trying to be tolerant of a culture different from ours, there are elements of that culture that deserve condemnation.  If we’re actually going to “democratize” the Middle East, we must be firm that these ideas apply to EVERYONE and not just the men, and be prepared–even in casual discourse–to condemn what is inhuman and, in a very real sense, terrorism.

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About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Sujay says:

    Hey Jason,

    I agree with what you've said. Respecting diversity does not mean we accept everything about other cultures. I have myself been witness to many Muslim and Hindu women in my country being subjected to horrible and unacceptable discrimination. However, you might agree with me, when I state from my own experience that simple condemnation does not work wonders. In fact, it might not achieve anything except cause indignation among those who are condemned. Cultural change is a slow process, which can come when only people of that culture realize new concepts themselves. For eg. Even after being 'democratized', women in Afghanistan are still largely discriminated against. One can only hope that such attitudes change with time!

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