The Soft Weapon

No matter what your reaction — snarling in defiance, as are the conservative voices of the West, groveling in awe, as are the liberal governments of Europe, or exulting, with growing confidence, as in the mosques and madrassas — radical Islam is rising. Those who see it, rightly, as a potentially lethal threat to all that Western civilization stands for, argue for a variety of responses: restriction of immigration, economic boycotts, intolerance of non-assimilation, expulsion of seditious agitators, ethnic profiling, intellectual debate, military intervention, and the republishing of cartoons. One hears somewhat less, however, about another sort of response, one that might be the most effective of all: the education and empowerment of Muslim women.

A fundamentalist Islamic environment is a much freer place for men than women, and sequesters its women with murderous ferocity. If we want to make cultural change from within, rather than impose it from without, we could do far worse than to aggressively offer scholarships, business grants, political asylum, Internet access, social-networking tools, birth control — and every other form of support our immense resources can provide and our ingenuity can devise — to educate Muslim women and to offer them the tools of self-reliance and communication. And within their own borders Western nations must aggressively deny all the trappings of Islamic oppression of women: the burqas, the beatings, the home-schooling of girls, the restriction of physical liberty (thankfully, it seems that honor killings are still considered beyond the pale in Europe, though one wonders for how much longer).

I realize, of course, that the very women we need most urgently to help are the ones that are hardest to reach: poor, uneducated, at the mercy of their male kin. But are we trying as hard as we might be? Victories on this front will be far more valuable, and less dearly bought, than those won by force of arms.

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  1. bighominid says


    I agree with you here and here. (The first link might require you to dig around a bit.)


    Posted April 7, 2008 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  2. the one eyed man says

    As for denying burkas, those wacky Europeans are in the forefront. There is a bill pending in the Netherlands to ban burkas. Similar proposals are being raised by nativist politicians in other European countries.

    I always thought that freedom of religion is a pretty good thing, and if someone wants to walk down the street wearing a yarmulke or a cross or a burka, that’s their business. Is it your suggestion that this freedom ought not to be extended to Muslim women?

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    I see your point, and agree with it in general, Peter — I am a libertarian at heart — but the burqa is far more than a garment; it is arguably a conspicuous symbol of oppression, and a talisman of non-assimilation. So I am very much on the fence in this case. We already have Muslims demanding that their women must be allowed to be photographed for driver’s licenses with their faces hidden; what do you think about that?

    Suppose that a new religion appeared on the scene that required women to be led on all fours, naked, their mouths sewn shut, wearing dog collars and smeared with excrement? (Of course, I suppose that as a Bay Area resident, this may seem unexceptional to you.) Are there to be no limits, then? Has a society no claim to a minimal degree of cultural participation from its residents? Must everything be permitted, even public flaunting of a foreign and degrading ideology that is overtly hostile to its host culture, in the name of “tolerance”?

    We already have restrictions in place regarding acceptable dress in public; this is an important “edge case”, I think.

    But leaving aside banning the burqa, I’ll assume you agree about the rest of it.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    That’s the same link twice, Kevin!

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think a burqa is a symbol of oppression at all. I am sure that there are many Muslim women who believe they should wear them and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a symbol of modesty in a culture which values it — presumably they would find a bikini as offensive as the Dutch find burqas.

    When Karen Hughes went to Saudi Arabia as George Bush’s Ambassador of Soft Weaponry, she was sternly rebuked by her female audience. She basically told them that they would lead much more fulfilled lives if they could just be more like us — driving cars, voting, wearing whatever they choose — and her audience was offended by her paternalistic lecturing and told her that they were quite happy with their state of affairs.

    I would absolutely make an exception for drivers licenses and passports because there is a public safety element involved: the state has the right to be able to identify drivers in case of an accident, traffic violation, etc. Also, nobody is forced to apply for a drivers license — if they are so aghast at taking off their face covering, then they shouldn’t get the license.

    As for the putative religion which requires women to be naked and collared (besides the obvious question: how do I join?): this is a reductio ad absurdum which is just too absurd. I don’t have a problem with public decency laws, and this is clearly beyond the pale, regardless of the fact that theoretically there is a religious element to it.

    To use a different example: there is a homeowner near where I live who put a huge sign on her roof which said “Trust Jesus” or some such thing. The town ordered her to pull down the sign, as there is an ordinance prohibiting signs on houses. She claimed freedom of religion and lost the case: because the ordinance prohibits all signs, regardless of content, there is no infringement. Similarly, because decency laws prohibit all lewd behavior, they apply even when there is a putative religious aspect.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    “I don’t think a burqa is a symbol of oppression at all.”

    Well, if you aren’t simply joking, we certainly disagree about that. The burqa’s purpose is to prevent women from being viewed by any but the men who own them. That there are women who, raised from birth in this oppressive tradition, willingly accede to it diminishes this fact not at all; by Western standards (and I was talking here about a response by and within Western society), it is a blatant symbol of their being regarded as chattel.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  7. the one eyed man says

    1) I think there are a number of Muslim women who would take exception to that — certainly including the woman quoted in the Times article.

    (Like some of her friends, Ms. Sabbagh said Westerners failed to appreciate the advantages of wearing the traditional black head-to-foot covering known as an abaya.

    “I love my abaya,” she explained. “It’s convenient and it can be very fashionable.”)

    2) “Has a society no claim to a minimal degree of cultural participation from its residents?” No. If the Hasidim want to live in Williamsburg and never leave, that’s fine by me. If the Amish want to stay in their enclaves without any participation in the larger society, that’s OK too. Ditto for the Muslims. As long as they obey the laws and pay their taxes, they have no obligation to participate with other groups. It’s a big country.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:09 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Societies routinely set boundaries between liberty and license, and upon the sorts of relations that people may enter into. For example, we do not permit polygamy, or arranged marriages involving 12-year-olds, although Mormons in their enclaves would prefer that we do. Likewise, you cannot sell me your organs.

    It goes beyond that in this special case. The burqa is a flamboyant symbol not only of repression of women, but also of fundamentalist Islam, an ideology that is inherently inimical to Western liberal societies. Were the Amish deeply committed to the violent conversion or extermination of the non-Amish, were promulgating a message of hatred and violence around the world, and had massacred thousands in terrorist attacks, any sensible society would have reason to feel less than hospitable to ostentatious displays of Amish fundamentalism, especially if they involved the conspicuous flouting of Western social norms by proudly demonstrating how effectively they subjugate their women.

    You see everything in such absolute terms, as if there is never any justification for any curtailment of any freedom in the interest of cultural integrity. I think this is a mistake, and that there there are reasonable limits to tolerance, particularly when it comes to tolerance of the radically intolerant. I should also think, as a good liberal, that you would be offended by this affront to the freedom and dignity of women.

    Fundamentalist Islam is not Quakerism. We have good reason to regard it as an alien and hostile culture, and — given that it has made its maleficent intent abundantly clear, again and again, both in word and deed — as a threat.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think we are going to make much progress here, and I am disinclined to repeat previous threads. We view Islam quite differently. I think you have an irrational fear of Islam bordering on hysteria, and you think that I am complacent in the face of an ever-present and looming danger. I think you are conflating a religion of two billion people with an infinitesimal fraction of its adherents, and you think that I am willing to forgive all sins in the name of multi-culturalism. You think that Europe is a madhouse; I think they’re at least smart enough not to invade Muslim countries on bogus pretexts. So be it. While there are many things we would agree on, this is not one of them.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:03 am | Permalink
  10. bighominid says

    You know, I thought I’d gotten both links in there. The second link is this one.


    Posted April 8, 2008 at 3:30 am | Permalink
  11. bighominid says

    By the way, even that great liberal Tom Robbins sees the burqa as a symbol of male fear of female sexuality (see Fierce Invalids in Hot Climates).

    I agree that many women who wear burqas can find them not only agreeable but obligatory; such women would themselves be shocked by the licentious, decadent West’s neverending fleshfest. But I still tend to view those women’s attitudes as culturally bound (to be fair, our views are, too), and the cultures in which such attitudes form tend to be quite patriarchal. Robbins is right: male fear of female sexuality.

    (Note that this problem doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Islam! Buddhism’s monastic provisions for nuns are pretty damn oppressive, too. If the overall point is that “women have it bad everywhere, and this must change,” then I agree. Less burqa and more bum would be a good start for Islam, where sexual liberation would be beneficial; halving the number of monastic precepts for Buddhist nuns would improve Buddhism overall, eliminating the glass ceiling in US corporate culture would be another improvement, etc., etc.)


    Posted April 8, 2008 at 3:49 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Peter, your last is a comment I can agree with. And you are right: my example above was a reductio that was too much of an absurdum (though not by much). Simply to have posited a religion that insisted on its women being covered head to toe, blindfolded, and led about on a leash would have sufficed, and is not much of a stretch in the case of hard-core Islam. Would you see that as oppressive, and something that a Western culture would have fair cause to resist? (Indeed, your response to my “absurd” example — “where do I join?” — though I know you were joking, makes me wonder.)

    You are right also that we fundamentally disagree about the severity of the problem. You think I am paranoid and reactionary, and I think you have your head inexplicably wedged in the sand. These sorts of conversations are always somewhat polarizing, and probably neither of our positions is quite as extreme as we tend to make them sound when in active debate, but yes, we obviously have clear differences in our worldview here. It is interesting, I think, to ask why that should be: you and I have known each other for forty years or so, grew up in the same local environment, and were part of the same social and cultural circle in our youth. What accounts for our divergence on such issues now, I wonder? For me as a New Yorker, watching from my roof as the towers fell on 9/11 (and not knowing for many hours whether my daughter, who was in school four blocks away, was dead or alive), was a transformative experience. Perhaps that is the difference. You have also traveled in the Muslim world and managed to avoid beheading; this has probably given you a favorable impression of the culture, I suppose.

    Kevin, I think it is important to be clear that the culture in question here is far more than merely patriarchal.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says


    I think I am being completely misunderstood on two points:

    First, I have nothing against cultural variations within a society; indeed they lend a desirable vibrancy to a complex community. I do, however, think that such diversity is only beneficial to the extent that members of these subcultures identify themselves first and foremost as members of the enclosing culture; when that is no longer the case, the subcultures begin to exert a divisive and erosive force upon social cohesion — their own internal cohesion often comes at the expense of the cohesion of the larger society. This can clearly be the case with insular religious sects.

    The second point is that when the conditions above are met, as they are in burqa-wearing fundamentalist Muslim enclaves, and the subculture in question is also one that is openly hostile to its host community, as we can have no doubt is the case with radical Islam (every day here in New York I look at a modified skyline that reinforces the point), then the host culture is amply justified in regarding such non-assimilation as a threat.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  14. the one eyed man says

    1) Every society has the right to enforce its own decency laws. I don’t find anything intrinsically wrong with leading someone who is blindfolded on a leash: you could spend five minutes on craigslist and find someone willing to oblige as either the leashed or the leashee. I don’t find this reprehensible provided both parties consent to it. (Others may disagree.) However, your comment implies coercion, which is something entirely different. We have laws on the books against spousal and child abuse, and we have a court system where abused women can get restraining orders and help from the police if necessary. If Muslim men are forcing their wives to be degraded, Western society not only has a “fair cause to resist,” but the tools in place to help them do so.

    2) As you recall, one of the planes on 9/11 was bound for San Francisco. I worked with someone who was on the plane, returning home from her grandmother’s funeral and pregnant with what would have been her first baby. I also knew her husband. I was in New York about two weeks after 9/11, and I saw the missing persons sheets everywhere. I was in an office building in midtown and looked South the see a gap where the World Trade Center had always been. So while my own child was not involved, I would never minimize the horror of that day or the evil which was behind it.

    However, I would draw a sharp distinction between Al Qaeda and the religion of Islam as practiced by the overwhelming majority of its adherents. Islamic terrorism is a very real and potentially catastrophic threat, not because it is practiced by large numbers of people, but because the asymmetry of violence enables it to achieve devastating results with a very small number of people. Hannah Arendt said “if you give me one hundred men willing to die, I can change the course of history.” Well, we know how nineteen men changed history. We are an open society which has vulnerabilities which can never be fully protected against. I often wonder why nobody has thrown a bottle of ricin into the Central Park reservoir, or driven a bomb-laden van into the Holland Tunnel, or got on a tower a la Charles Whitman and picked off tourists in Times Square. You only need a few people with limited resources to cause panic and catastrophe. (The logical question: if Muslims are so inherently violent, and there are millions of Muslims here in America, why hasn’t any of this happened?)

    Out of the two billion Muslims walking the planet, nobody knows how many are terrorists who are willing and able to harm us. What we do know is that this number is much larger than it was on 9/11, principally due to our invasion of Iraq and the incessant demonization of Islam in the West. What should our proper response to 9/11 have been?

    First and foremost, protect whatever assets we can. The Bush administration has done little, if anything, to harden nuclear plants, electrical grids, ports, tunnels, bridges, and so forth.

    Secondly, invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, as we had every right to topple a government which supported people who attacked us. However, instead of listening to the neocons and abandoning Afghanistan to start the next big adventure in Iraq, if we had devoted enough resources to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan things, would be much different.

    Imagine the result of Microsoft built a computer campus in Kabul, Johnson & Johnson built a children’s hospital, and Caterpillar built roads. Imagine a central government, democratically elected, which controls the whole country, instead of the area around Kabul. Do you think the Muslim world would view us differently? Do you think we would be safer? Would it shift the balance of power in some Muslim countries towards the moderates?

    The spectacle of America recovering from the wounds of 9/11 by conquering those who attacked us and then providing generosity and expertise to the Muslim country we sent our troops to would have done far more to bring Muslims and non-Muslims alike to our cause than anything we can do with force of arms. Ultimately the only way to defeat terrorism is to gain allies who will help us gather intelligence and infiltrate terrorist cells. This is done by winning hearts and minds, and acting in a way which will convince moderate Muslims that we are peaceful and not belligerent.

    Instead, we took the opposite course, and invaded a Muslim country which neither attacked us nor had the means to attack us. The West has seemingly done everything it possibly can to inflame Muslims, from using military force to printing blasphemous cartoons to banning burqas. The consequences of the disaster in Iraq are there for all to see. One out of four Iraqis has been forced to relocate, either within Iraq or to another country. (Imagine what would happen if 75 million Americans had to leave their homes while a foreign army patrolled the streets in tanks). We’ve replaced Saddam’s torture chambers with Abu Ghraib and a government which, according to yesterday’s Times, continues to torture. We lock up Muslims in Gitmo in perpetuity, giving them no chance to contest their fate before an impartial judge and jury. When combined with our past and present support for dictatorships in Egypt and Saudi Arabia – despite the lip service we give to freedom and democracy – then it’s hard to escape the fact that the Muslim world has quite legitimate grievances against the West, which have only been exacerbated by our actions since 9/11.

    So the transformative experience is not being in Manhattan on 9/11, but trying to understand things from other perspectives. Part of this is from travel: not only did I avoid beheading in Muslim countries: I was treated very well. Probably better than they would be treated in a Western country. I don’t think Muslims are better or worse people than anyone else. I don’t think Muslim parents love their kids any less than we do. I don’t think they are more violent than we are or respect human life any less than we do. 80% of Muslims live outside Arab countries: you rarely hear of Islamic violence in Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Africa, the US, or anywhere else outside the Middle East where Muslims live.

    Does this mean there are no Muslims who commit heinous acts? Of course not. However, the great majority of Muslims lead their lives just as we do, getting by from day to day. They may have customs and beliefs which are not my cup of tea, but so do many others (including fundamentalists of all varieties). However, that is not for me to judge: as long as they obey the law, they can practice their religion however they choose so long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s rights. I believe that you can swing your arms wherever you want as long as they stop short of my nose. I believe that freedom of religion is pretty much an absolute, and trumps “cultural integrity,” whatever that is. I do not believe that the West has a monopoly on wisdom or morality, and I accept the fact that others may see the world quite differently without being wrong.

    There is most definitely a threat from Islamic terrorists, which we should deal with forcefully and comprehensively. However, we have faced much more dangerous adversaries before – including Russia, China, and Nazi Germany – and have not only survived but prevailed. We can do the same with Islamic terrorism, provided we adhere to the values which made America a great country. Regrettably, I fear the opposite is occurring, and we have succumbed to hysteria and fear instead, enabling bin Laden to defeat us at home when he could never defeat us on the battlefield.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    1) How, exactly, will you determine the extent to which burqa-clad women are coerced? Arguably the coercion takes the form of immersion in a repressive society from birth. We are well within our rights in the West to see this as objectionable, given that it is so at odds with our own cultural norms.

    2) To hear you describe this, one would imagine that there are perhaps ten or twenty radical Muslims on Earth, and that we are paranoid to perceive a threat. I think, on the other hand, that you are grossly minimizing the scope of the problem. We have already gone over your perception that Muslim violence is unheard of in Africa, Indonesia, etc.; in fact examples are abundant, and I have supplied them in the past. No Islamic violence in Africa, for example? Perhaps you’ve heard about some recent unpleasantness in Darfur, or the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. If you imagine that jihadist radical Islam is not being preached every day in mosques and madrassas around the world, you truly do have your head in the sand.

    I have no interest in rehashing whether or not we ought to have acted militarily in Iraq; we’ve done that to death, and we have an intractable disagreement on that score. I have agreed often that our campaign was managed with tragic and colossal ineptitude, blame for which I lay squarely at the feet of the Bush administration. About that, at least, we have no quarrel.

    You write:

    Ultimately the only way to defeat terrorism is to gain allies… This is done by winning hearts and minds, and acting in a way which will convince moderate Muslims that we are peaceful…

    Well, this is exactly what I am advocating in this post: namely that we seek the hearts and minds of Muslim women.

    I disagree with you about the absoluteness of certain freedoms; a well-integrated and functioning society lawfully limits freedoms in quite a variety of ways. The point at which other’s “rights” are violated depends upon what those rights are perceived to be. Some might say that a society has some right to insist that its moral or ethical norms not be publicly violated, as the repression of women under fundamentalist Islam arguably does.

    As for your “logical question”: the reason that we haven’t had the sort of homegrown Muslim violence here in America is due precisely to the fact that Muslims here tend to assimilate in exactly the way that I am arguing is necessary, and you seem to be arguing is not.

    I do agree that “succumbing to hysteria” is something to be wary of. And I do agree strongly that if we lose the very things we value about our own culture in our struggle, it will be a hollow victory. As you say, we have faced stern challenges in the past, such as our conflict with Nazi Germany, and prevailed; I believe we will prevail here as well. I will point out, however, that the enormous cost of dealing with Nazi Germany was due in large part to an unwillingness, based on an aversion to conflict and a near-pathological pacifism, to acknowledge a genuine threat as it loomed, despite clear warnings. Indeed, the proponents of global jihad — and there are many of them — are as clear about their aims as Hitler was in Mein Kampf.

    Finally, Peter, you caricature my position if you think that I am declaring war on all the world’s Muslims. I am advocating nothing of the sort.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  16. the one eyed man says

    1) The way you determine if Muslim women are coerced is the same way you determine whether any other woman is coerced. The woman comes to the police, or is observed by a doctor to have bruises, or whatever. However, it does not come from assuming that the woman has been “in a repressive society from birth” and hence must necessarily have been coerced. Plenty of women abide by Muslim customs because they choose to do so out of their own free will. My guess is that most, if not nearly all, Muslim women who wear burqas do so by choice. To revert to the earlier thread: why shouldn’t they have the same freedom of religion as anyone else?

    2) If we truly “seek the hearts and minds of Muslim women,” the way to do that is not to tell them what they should wear or blaspheme their deity.

    3) “Some might say that a society has some right to insist that its moral or ethical norms not be publicly violated, as the repression of women under fundamentalist Islam arguably does.” Of course society can codify its ethical norms into law – we think it is wrong to steal so we put thieves in jail – but absent evidence of abuse, the relation between a man and wife are properly outside the sphere of law, not to mention the wife’s wardrobe. I happen to think that religious fundamentalists of all (or most) varieties are repressive. Mormons have an incredibly straight-laced culture and send their kids out to evangelize. Orthodox Jews have women sit in a different part of the synagogue than men. The Amish use horse drawn buggies. Catholic kids have to go to confession and tell a priest their sins. I think religious dogma of any kind is repressive, as it is the enemy of free thought. Muslims may think that the Western norms of sexuality and promiscuity are repression of a different kind. However, there is no way to draw legitimate distinctions here, as reasonable people may disagree on what is or is not repressive. Hence the Founding Fathers gave a very wide berth to the scope of religious practice, in the belief that individuals are better equipped than the state to decide what is worth doing and believing.

    4) I’m all for assimilation. I’m also for people remaining true to their culture. One of my daughter’s friends is a Pakistani girl whose mother won’t let her go to the school dances. She doesn’t think twelve year old girls ought to dance with twelve year old boys. The girl goes to my kid’s school and is in her Girl Scout troop, but she has a restricted diet and we always have to have Mac and Cheese on hand for when she is over. People ought to assimilate to the extent that they are comfortable. If they choose not to assimilate at all, they have that right too. I would no more ask the Pakistani girl to give up her Mac and Cheese than I would ask a Hasid to eat barbecued ribs. What you are saying is not fundamentally different than what native born Americans have said when the immigrants were from Ireland, Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe. I don’t think it is necessary for all immigrants to assimilate. In due time, their kids will.

    5) We have friends who are Christians from Jordan. The father is no dummy: he came to the Valley and started a software company which he sold for $20 million. They are planning to move back to Jordan because they think that Jordanian society is a better place to raise their kids. So I wouldn’t assume that Muslim societies are repressive or a bad place for wives and children. My friends certainly don’t think so.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    1) Imagine, again, a religion in which women are led about in public on a leash, blindfolded, their ankles bound to prevent flight. They are forbidden to speak, and referred to as “Dog”. The immersion of females in this culture is effective enough that girls come to accept this fate, and as adults participate “without coercion”. So deep is their indoctrination that it would not even occur to them to seek the help of outsiders; at any rate, the consequences would be fearful. Now imagine further that the religion is a popular one in many parts of the world, and its adherents move to your town in large numbers. Are you telling me that you will simply shrug as these “dogs” are led about in public? That even in this extreme case a slavish commitment to “religious freedom” must trump a Western society’s core principles of respect for human dignity? Is there no point at which we may draw a line, at which our culture ought to stick up for its own sense of what is right and wrong, of what is acceptable within its borders?

    2) As I have said above, I think a society is within its rights to suggest that a flamboyant symbol of opression such as the burqa is not acceptable. It is not unreasonable for a nation such as the Netherlands, which is having serious difficulties with fundamentalist Islam, to argue that if radical Muslims must have their ostentatious symbols, perhaps they might go elsewhere. Anyway the banning of the burqa was a minor point in this post. What I am advocating above all is empowerment and education.


    I happen to think that religious fundamentalists of all (or most) varieties are repressive.

    Well, we can agree on that, then. A fair case can be made that many of the practices you enumerate are forms of child abuse. I disagree with you, however, that there is “no way to draw legitimate distinctions”. It is simply up to us to muster the moral courage to draw them.

    I think religious dogma of any kind is repressive, as it is the enemy of free thought.

    I agree strongly with this also, as you might imagine. Well then, if we can agree that religious fundamentalism is repressive, then perhaps we are justified, at the very least, in writing blog posts decrying it, no? Or have the enervating effects of multiculturalism and moral relativism sapped our vitality so utterly that we consider it wrong to oppose repression?


    I’m all for assimilation. I’m also for people remaining true to their culture.

    Very nice. When those two objectives are incompatible, which comes first?

    5) I would find your story more uplifting if your friend, having profited by the enormous opportunities our generous and welcoming nation offers, were not about to grab his swag and bolt. And anyway, your friend is Christian, you said. So I expect there are no burqas in his wife’s closet.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  18. the one eyed man says

    1) The point at which “we may draw a line, at which our culture ought to stick up for its own sense of what is right and wrong” is the point where there is coercion, intimidation, or the violation of basic human rights. I think the ridiculous example of a bound and blindfolded woman forbidden to speak is pretty clearly an example of all three.

    2) If the burqa is a “flamboyant symbol of oppression,” they why do so many Muslim women choose to wear one?

    3) No problem in writing blog posts. Big problem in passing laws which discriminate against religious practices which some perceive as repressive. Big difference between the two.

    4) If the two objectives are incompatible, remaining true to one’s culture comes first.

    5) My friend paid millions of dollars in taxes and created employment for dozens of people. So it is not as if he is grabbing his swag and bolting. In any event, his wife doesn’t wear burqas – she wears Armani – but nonetheless they feel that the Muslim culture of Jordan is a better place to raise their kids.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    1) And yet you see the equally ridiculous example of a woman cowed into wearing a head-to-toe garment, so that she may not be seen by men other than her master, as an example of nothing! Is blindfolding or being forbidden to speak so much more extreme as to make a qualitative difference? I made it quite clear in my example that the women in question, having been immersed in these practices since birth, would accede “of their own free will”.

    2) See above.

    3) Well, one nice thing about democracies is that the advocacy made possible by our freedom of speech can influence legislation. So I’ll stay up here on the soapbox.

    4) Well, there you have it; we have put our finger upon the very root of our disagreement.

    This pernicious belief, which is the cardinal error of multiculturalism, is what has given us Rwanda, the Balkans, Darfur, and countless other bloodstains upon the pages of history. The opposite priority, however — exemplified by the sentiment that when one comes to America, one ought to consider oneself first and foremost an American — is what has made this nation as strong and enduring as it is. For now.

    5) I am hardly inclined to applaud.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  20. JO says

    At first I thought that this argument needed the voice of a woman. As it went along, I decided not comment as there seems to be a long history in your debate with Peter. I have been thinking about this topic a lot, though. I blogged about some of my thoughts as they differed in direction from the debate that ensued with you and Peter.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Permalink
  21. Malcolm says

    Next time, Jeanie, jump right in!

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  22. the one eyed man says

    1) and 2) The Koran requires Muslims to dress and behave modestly outside the home (for both men and women – as perhaps you’ve noticed, Muslim men are pretty well covered up too). Women are not cowed into wearing a burqa outside the house: they wear one because it reflects their beliefs to do so.

    The problem with outlawing symbols – as you propose to do – is that a symbol can mean different things to different people. While you might see a burqa as the symbol of repression, the woman who is actually wearing it feels quite differently. What right do you have to insist that your interpretation is the correct one?

    Muslims believe that women should not dress outside the house in a way which would attract men other than their husbands. That’s a little straight-laced for me – and the burqa is a pretty severe solution — but I don’t see anything wrong with it. It is less offensive for some than a woman going out in the street in short shorts and a halter. Just as I do not think the state has any business telling a woman not to wear revealing clothing – as long as it is less revealing than two bandaids and a cork – it also does not have the right to tell women they can’t wear burqas.

    The suggestion that she doesn’t know any better because she was subject to “immersion in a repressive society from birth” – and requires the help of those of us in the enlightened West who are uniquely aware of her pitiable predicament – is a little too paternalistic for me. I’m puzzled how you are so convinced that a Muslim woman would not think it would be improper for her to venture outside the home in clothing she thought was too revealing. As to what defines being too revealing: I think it should be her choice.

    Blindfolding and being forbidden to speak is a very significant qualitative difference. They are actions which speak of coercion and intimidation. A burqa is a garment and nothing more.

    The example of a woman who accedes of their own free will from birth to be bound, blindfolded, smeared with excrement, and called a dog is too absurd to be illustrative of anything.

    3) Another nice thing about democracies is that they are built on a foundation of tolerance and inclusiveness.

    4) What gave us Rwanda, the Balkans, and Darfur – as well as the Holocaust, Cambodia, apartheid in South Africa, the violence in India after the British left, and many other bloodstains – has nothing to do with multiculturalism, and everything to do with the human lust for power and the ability of groups to be stirred into believing that they are superior to other groups and hence justified in subjugating them. Men and nations have been barbarous since the dawn of history, for Muslim and non-Muslim societies alike.

    5) Bah humbug.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    1) and 2): I have already retracted my initial “reductio” example; no need to bring it up again. It was unnecessary to go so far anyway; the burqa itself (which you mind-bogglingly insist is “a garment and nothing more”) is a blatant enough symbol of repression as it is. If you disagree with this, and think furthermore that the example of forbidding a woman to speak outside the house would not be just a slight extension of the same pattern of control by Muslim men over their women under which they must hide themselves from view (bear in mind that in areas under fundamentalist Muslim control the burqa and other expressions of “modesty” for women are not optional, but are forced upon them by threat of beatings and worse), then we are simply never going to agree. How you can imagine that a culture that punishes rape victims, specifies the thickness of the stick a man may beat his wife with, permits honor killings, stones adulteresses, and so forth is just a perfectly benign lifestyle choice, rather than a repugnant framework for the systematic subjugation and oppression of women, is absolutely, utterly beyond my comprehension, but there it is. Such is the depth of moral relativism to which our radical “tolerance” has brought us.

    3) No, democracies are a framework by which the people may manage their own government. Tolerance of morally repugnant cultural imports is not a requirement.

    4) You are right about the human lust for power and the ability of groups to feel superior. But you are completely missing the point: it is exactly a prioritizing of ethnic and religious allegiances over one’s broader participation in a heterogeneous society — to which you startlingly assented in item #4 of your previous comment,and which is at the core of the radical-multiculturalist folly — that fosters the walling-off of such groups in the first place. It is only to the extent that ethnic groups see themselves as Americans first that we have avoided the horrors of ethnic violence that have been so prevalent in places where a larger identity does not override these ethnic sympathies.

    5) My sentiments exactly.

    We’ve beaten this to death, old friend. Last word to you, if you like.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  24. the one eyed man says

    As I wrote last night, I don’t think we are making much progress here, so I will leave things where they are rather than simply repeating everything I have already written. I would close by humbly pointing out that if you spent some time in Muslim countries, you might see that wife beating, honor killings, adulteress stoning, and so forth is not exactly the norm. If you asked Muslims what they think about these issues, it might be an eye opening experience. The actual world is quite different than how it is portrayed by ideologues and bloggers.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  25. the one eyed man says

    Hey, did your last post just change or am I getting Alzheimers?

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 7:18 pm | Permalink
  26. Malcolm says

    I often edit stuff after I’ve posted it; there are typos and omissions that I just don’t see until after I’ve pressed the button. I also do my commenters the favor of cleaning up obvious typos and spelling errors.

    OK, one last remark: I never said these things were universal to all Muslims, only that they are common enough, and that they deserve our disapproval.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 7:26 pm | Permalink
  27. the one eyed man says

    Ah so. Once earlier I wrote a post, and after it went on your site I noticed that the post I was responding to had changed. I’m at the age when I have trouble remembering where I parked my car at the mall, so I wondered if I got it right the first time.

    On a much lighter note, here is a piece which your readers may appreciate on one of the Bay Area’s star attractions:

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
  28. Malcolm says

    Rest assured that I never make changes that would affect any aspect of the subsequent discussion, and I rarely do it at all other than in the first few minutes after I post.

    I have been known to delete a post altogether, though, if I feel that I have made an poor effort or an unsound argument (which is not the case here, of course) — though again, I don’t think I’ve ever done that once a comment thread has been generated.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  29. the one eyed man says

    Well, I suppose one of the perks of being the blogmaster is that if you think you found le mot juste the first time around, and then find a mot which is juster, you can change it whenever you want. And correcting typos would gladden any English teacher’s heart. Just don’t change my user name to Huferdina Belyscratch.

    Posted April 8, 2008 at 8:52 pm | Permalink