Clifford May: Gender Apartheid is going mainstream here, thanks to Muslims
by Clifford May
October 15, 2010 12:00 AM | 955 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Clifford May
Clifford May
What's your opinion of polygamy? Many consider the practice immoral and it's illegal in this country and most of the developed world. It's probably not just coincidence that few, if any, polygamous countries are liberal democratic societies in which women enjoy equal rights. Anthropologists have noted that in a polygamous society many men end up as "bare branches"-sexually frustrated and prone to enlist in violent enterprises, especially those that bring status and glory; a jihad, for example.

But the sports section of The New York Times, in a recent profile of a member of the Jordanian royal family, gave the impression that polygamy is just another lifestyle choice. The article observes that 36-year-old Princess Haya bint al-Hussein has "long challenged what it means to be a princess" by pursuing a career as "an equestrian athlete" who drives "her horses across Europe in a custom tractor-trailer." And, oh yes, by the way, she happens to be the "worldly junior wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 61, making appearances in jeans, her long hair flowing..." So it's probably for the best that, as the Times delicately adds, the Sheik's "senior wife leads a more private life."

What do you think about the niqab - sometimes also called a burqa - the veil that leaves only the eyes of a woman uncovered? Critics, not least Muslim critics such as Fadela Amara, France's secretary of state for urban policy, suggest that when a woman is forced to wear one it not only deprives her of individuality it is, effectively, a portable prison. France recently moved to ban the niqab, as have several other European countries.

Nevertheless, a recent New York Times review of a Yemeni restaurant in Brooklyn noted in passing that the diners are apparently segregated by sex, and that, next door, is "Paradise Boutique, where mannequins model chic niqabs ..."

And what do you think about the plans to build Park51, A.K.A. Cordoba House, on the edge of the crater where the World Trade Center once stood? Polls find that a majority of Americans, while acknowledging that the organizers have a right to build whatever they choose, think it inappropriate to construct an elaborate Islamic center so near the site of an atrocity carried out in the name of Islam.

Washington Post architecture critic Philip Kennicott just knows that's hogwash. The organizers, he writes, are facing "a groundswell of hostility whipped up during an election season that feeds on primitive emotions directed at a parody of a supposedly primitive religion." Kennicott denounces the "horrendous venom directed at the project," adding that this is "one of the most shameful chapters in the civic and intellectual life of America ..."

The examples above illustrate the extent to which our media and cultural elites now accept and even embrace behaviors they would otherwise find repugnant - e.g. gender apartheid and insensitivity toward the victims of terrorism - when such behaviors have Islamic roots.

What's the explanation? Fadela Amara, the French official, perceives this as a consequence of cultural relativism - Westerners declining to denounce not only polygamy and the niqab, but even "forced marriages or female genital mutilation, because, they say, it's tradition." Such condescension, she adds, is "nothing more than neo-colonialism."

To be sure, it is bigotry to assume the worst about someone because he or she is a Muslim. But is it not equally odious to draw a veil over our ability to acknowledge those Islamic practices that are inimical to such Western values as equality and free speech?

I suspect this is one form that intimidation takes - not people backing down in embarrassment but people camouflaging their fears as principles, secretly hoping that if they refrain from pointing out anything negative about Islam, if they can make themselves inoffensive to Muslims, they will be safe.

I'm convinced, too, that we've long been sliding down a slippery slope: Tolerance once meant you were willing to abide behaviors you found objectionable. Then it came to mean not judging such behaviors at all or, better yet, respecting them. Now, it's come to mean celebrating them.

If that is what is required to be a member of the enlightened elite, I'll cast my lot with the benighted masses who are willing to treat Muslims as equals and with respect but won't go along with those for whom cultural kowtowing has become a reflex.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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