A Veil of Silence over Murder

Reflecting on Clive James.

This article is by Clive James, in Standpoint Magazine. It is not a "nice" article. However, critical as it is of the attitude towards women inIslamic states, it at least avoids most of the racist overtones of much criticism of Islam. It asks a serious question.

In February 2005 the Australian journalist Pamela Bone, already close to her death from cancer, published an article in the Melbourne Age entitled "Where are the Western Feminists?" Some of us would still like to know.

The immediate spur to Pamela Bone's article had been the piercing silence from Western feminists on the subject of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's condemnation of how women were being treated in Islamic culture. In asking her question, Pamela Bone already knew why the Western feminists were saying so little. They were saying little not just about Islam, but about Hinduism or any other culture which, when the behaviour of its more extreme groups towards women attracts criticism, bridles as if it is being attacked as a whole. Of all the liberal democracies, Australia is the one where the idea is most firmly entrenched among the local intelligentsia that the culture of the West is the only criminal, all other cultures being victims no matter what atrocities they might condone even within their own families.

We face some difficult issues in relating to other cultures. From one end of things, I am deeply embarrassed by the assumed superiority of Australian culture, which is expressed by some of my friends in church, towards people from overseas. Our patronizing behavior can sometimes only be described as racist; benevolent or not.

I am also aware of a tendency, perhaps not in the same people, to become a little infatuated with another culture when we first meet it. I met this in myself, and in others who were sympathetic to aboriginal culture, when we worked up north. Some things were so different- so refreshingly different- from our own culture, that it took a while to stop seeing the landscape through rose tinted glasses. This was not just some hangover of the "noble savage," but a clear seeing of our shortcomings in the mirror of another culture.

A person of any sensitivity, is reluctant to criticize another culture without a reasonable amount of experience and knowledge. Much criticism of Islam, for example, seems to grasp upon obvious shortcomings in various Muslim countries, as a rationalising excuse for racist assumptions about our superiority. Strident critics of the Koran, speak of the savagery of Allah, ignoring the savagery of the Old Testament. So called 'Islamic' terrorists are condemned as the inevitable result of Islam, whilst perverse, frightening, and armed, American wing-nuts are conveniently forgotten. Who wants to be critical of Islam, or some cultural group and risk being associated with people like Limbaugh, and other shock jocks.

I am greatly impressed by the sincerity and devotion of a friend who drives taxis in Adelaide, and wears a hijaab. She seems to me to be making a statement about herself which is not one of oppression. She is by no means one of the downtrodden dull-eyed Closed Brethren women I sometimes see in their head scarves and carefully permitted denim skirts. Yet there is a part of me which says, "Looks oppressive, like oppressive, must be..."

Despite this, even a very little empathy can appreciate how our idea of justice might be very different, if we were the ones who had spent our whole life in a refugee camp. Criticism from the high ground of safety and affluence can sometimes be very blind to what that high ground has been built upon.

James says

Of all the liberal democracies, Australia is the one where the idea is most firmly entrenched among the local intelligentsia that the culture of the West is the only criminal, all other cultures being victims no matter what atrocities they might condone even within their own families.

I remember when the term "politically correct" was becoming popular. My then teenage daughter neatly turned it on its head. "Politically correct," she said, "is just an excuse for boring old farts not to change." Somewhere, however much we do not want to be seen on the side of the racists and the imperialists, and the boring old farts, we have to avoid the notion that we are the only criminal. Of course there are things in our history, and present, which are inexcusable. The only redemption possible is to avoid repeating them. But to ignore similar evils in other societies because of our own guilt is ridiculous. Wrong is wrong.

How can we be critical, yet not hypocritical? Perhaps the issue is very simple. Are we seeking to address in our own place, that which we criticize in other?

Perhaps dialogue is distinguished from race or ethnic based criticism, if along with my concern and questions about certain aspects of a religion and culture, I invite and allow criticism of my own. Especially important will be whether I take such questioning seriously, or dismiss it without much thought. Read Clive James >>>>


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