Saturday, March 11, 2017

How Non-Judgmentalism Hurts Women

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali woman who has endured genital mutilation and a forced marriage, prompting her to flee the bondage in which she suffered. She eventually found her way to the United States, after European Muslims made too many threats against her life. She is a strong advocate for women's rights with emphasis on the severe oppression women suffer throughout the Islamic world.

She recently wrote an essay for The Daily Beast in which she had some important things to say, some of which are highlighted below:
The problems being protested against [in the recent Day Without a Woman demonstration] —inequality, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity—are all too real for many disadvantaged women, but the legal protections for them are in place here in the United States. Women who are unfairly treated at work or discriminated against can stand up, speak out, protest in the streets, and take legal action. Not so for many women in other parts of the world for whom the hashtag #daywithoutawoman is all too apt.

Around the world women are subjected to “honor violence” and lack legal protections and access to health and social services. According to Amnesty International’s recent annual report, throughout the Middle East and North Africa, women and girls are denied equal status with men in law and are subject to gender-based violence, including sexual violence and killings perpetrated in the name of “honor.”

The relationship between the sexes in Muslim majority countries is inspired and often governed by a mix of tribal, traditional practices and Islamic law. Algerian author Kamel Daoud recently referred to this system as entailing “sexual misery” for both men and women throughout the Islamic world.Daoud favors the full emancipation of Muslim women, yet many commentators criticized him as being guilty of “Islamophobia,” a term increasingly used to silence meaningful debate.

International Women’s Day should be a day to raise our voices on behalf of women with no recourse to protect their rights. Yet I doubt Wednesday’s protesters will wave placards condemning the religious and cultural framework for women’s oppression under Sharia law. As a moral and legal code, Sharia law is demeaning and degrading to women. It requires women to be placed under the care of male guardians; it views a woman’s testimony in court as worth half that of a man’s; and it permits a husband to beat his wife. It’s not only women’s legal and sexual freedoms that are curtailed under Sharia but their economic freedoms as well. Women generally inherit half of the amount that men inherit, and their male guardian must consent to their choosing education, work, or travel.
Having laid the predicate - that Sharia is profoundly oppressive of women - Ali goes on to note that many feminists tacitly accept and even excuse it:
There is a growing trend among some feminists to make excuses for Sharia law and claim it is nothing more than a personal moral guide, and therefore consistent with American constitutional liberties.

Many Western feminists struggle to embrace universal women’s rights. Decades ago, Germaine Greer argued that attempts to outlaw female genital mutilation amounted to “an attack on cultural identity.” That type of deference to traditional practices, in the name of cultural sensitivity, hurts vulnerable women. These days, relativism remains strong. Too many feminists in the West are reluctant to condemn cultural practices that clearly harm women—female genital mutilation, polygamy, child marriage, marital rape, and honor violence, particularly in non-Western societies. Women’s rights are universal, and such practices cannot be accepted.
This is an important point. The elites in our culture, having abandoned the notion that there are objective moral duties imposed on us by our Creator, have adopted in its place a moral relativism that holds that members of one culture are not in a position of privilege to criticize the practices of another culture. All cultures are equally "valid," according to the relativist, thus no one in the West can judge what Middle Eastern Muslims do. This is, of course, a perfect recipe for moral paralysis.

Relativism and its corollary, non-judgmentalism, sound high-minded and tolerant, and as such they have great appeal to the bien pensant, but they have a crushing effect on women in other cultures and even the poor in our own society. Our refusal to make moral judgments, a refusal that follows from the secularization of our public life, is a tacit green light to those who think it's fine to whip and murder women for disobeying their husbands, or to hang gays, or to mutilate young girls so that as wives they're not tempted to infidelity.

Two young gay men about to be executed in Iran
Secular man has realized, if only subliminally, that having abandoned any transcendent ground for moral right and wrong there's no place left for him to stand to pronounce such practices what they are - evil. Oddly, Ali is an atheist, but she nevertheless writes as if theism is true, speaking the moral language of theism and complaining about the relativism of her fellow postmodern atheists:
Like Wednesday’s protest, a large portion of Western feminism has been captured by political ideologues and postmodern apologists....

This International Women’s Day, we should protest the oppression of women who have no access to legal protections. We should support those Muslim reformers, such as Asra Nomani, Zuhdi Jasser, and Irshad Manji, who seek to reform Islam in line with full legal equality between men and women. And we should strive to overcome domestic political divisions to defend the universality of women’s rights.
Indeed we should, but only because the treatment of women under Sharia is morally reprehensible. My heart goes out to Ayaan, but what she doesn't seem to recognize is that those postmodern relativists and apologists for Sharia, to the extent that, like her, they've adopted the assumptions of secularism, are being more consistent in this matter than she is.