Saturday, November 19, 2016

Moral Dissonance

A 25 year-old British woman named Zara-Jayne Moisey was arrested in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on charges that may astonish you. What happened was this: Miss Moisey was staying in a hotel in Dubai where she was raped by two British men. She reported the rape to the authorities and they promptly arrested her for having had extra-marital sexual relations which is a crime in UAE. Here's an excerpt from the story in The Mirror
After posting an online appeal for help, Zara's mum Sue Barber wrote: “Please help my daughter. She was raped while on holiday. She reported this to the police and now she is being held on the grounds of sexual activity outside marriage. We are not a rich family and cannot afford to pay for the defence she so desperately needs. I am going out of my mind with worry.”

Radha Stirling, founder and director of Detained in Dubai, said the nation's treatment of rape victims is "tremendously disturbing". She said: "The UAE has a long history of penalising rape victims. It is still not safe for victims to report these crimes to the police without the risk of suffering a double punishment. Police regularly fail to differentiate between consensual intercourse and violent rape. Victims go to them expecting justice, and end up being prosecuted. They not only invalidate their victimisation, they actually punish them for it."

The Foreign Commonwealth Office has confirmed it is "supporting a British woman" and will "remain in contact with her family."
Her parents are of course frantic and have been able to visit their daughter who has been released on bail, but they need money to finance her legal fees. The two accused rapists are also out on bail. You can read about it at the link.

The question I'd like to ask in relation to this is, why do we think it's wrong to imprison this woman for being raped? Is it not because we believe that even though Arab culture is in many ways different from our own, justice is a universal moral imperative and injustice, in any culture or society, is wrong? Yet many Americans have accepted the idea that we have no right to judge what other cultures do, or that we have no right to say that our ways of doing things are better than other ways of doing things.

If this is one's conviction, if all cultures and cultural practices are "valid" within that culture and we have no right to criticize them, then the person who believes that has disqualified him or herself from saying that even an injustice such as we see in the Moisey case is wrong. If someone nonetheless believes that it is indeed wrong to imprison a rape victim then their moral sentiments are at war with their cultural or sociological convictions, and they can't rationally continue to hold these two contradictory sets of beliefs.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will resolve the tension in circumstances like these by suppressing their moral intuition that justice is an imperative in every cultural setting. Their commitment to relativism and multiculturalism prohibits them from giving voice to what deep down they truly know: It's wrong to do what's being done to Zara-Jayne Moisey whether it's done to her in Beijing, London, Zimbabwe, New York, or Dubai.

Maybe a better way to relieve the dissonance in situations like this is to conclude that one's commitment to relativism and multiculturalism, though well-intentioned, is simply wrong.