All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be the masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls’ genitals and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs or stones them for falling in love. A culture that protects women’s rights by law is better than a culture in which a man can awfully have four wives at once and women are denied alimony and half their inheritance. A culture that appoints women to its supreme court is better than a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man. It is part of Muslim culture to oppress women and part of all tribal cultures to institutionalize patronage, nepotism, and corruption. The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better.
In the real world, equal respect for all cultures doesn’t translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaining a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance, and abuse.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali - from NOMAD - hardcover edition, pages 212 - 213
There is, indeed, such a thing as cultural superiority, and I, for one, think it’s racist to be unwilling to speak about it. It’s racist to pretend that you’re living up to your potential when you’re not. And because I’m no racist, I’ll allow myself the liberty of pointing out why you’re wrong.
Was Mr. Romney really a “racist” to point out that Israel’s success is not an accident? I think not. Israel’s economy is the product of an open-minded commitment to education. Israeli education needs to improve, but still, consider the culture of the Middle East. In Egypt, one study suggests, 45 percent of women are illiterate; in Israel the figure is about 4%. Is Egyptian female illiteracy also a result of the occupation? Or is it the result of culture? Am I a racist for pointing to those numbers?
Or consider universities. Israel, a tiny country with a tiny budget, ranks far beyond all Arab and other Muslim countries, including those of the Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, which have virtually limitless assets. In a 2009 ranking of the world’s top universities, the Hebrew University ranked No. 102 (shortly thereafter, it climbed to No. 57 on the strength of an award received by a professor of mathematics), Tel Aviv University was No. 114, and the Technion (Israel’s equivalent of MIT) ranked 132.
Yet in contrast, in that same study, there was not a single university in any Muslim country anywhere that made it into the top 250. King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia ranked highest among them at 266, and it was followed by the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan… at No. 350!
Others are ranked far lower. Is the failure of the Muslim world (parts of which have no budgetary constraints at all) to produce even one single worldclass university the result of the occupation? Or is this a matter of culture? Is one a racist to point this out?
Or what about Fareed Zakaria, himself a Muslim, who had this to say: “In the last 50 years, the West progressed and parts of the non-Western world also began modernizing… [But] the Arab world stayed stuck in primitive political and social arrangements. Arab politics is not culturally unique; it is just stuck in a time warp.” Is Zakaria a Muslim racist?
From the late 19th century, Arab populations grew and prospered where Jews settled (Tel Aviv, Hebron, Jerusalem) and remained stagnant and poor where they didn’t (Gaza, Nablus, Nazareth). Many Arabs found the presence of Jews a great advantage. Thus the Palestinian diaspora is among the best-educated and most competent in the Arab world—and under Israeli rule (the notorious “occupation”) the West Bank was one of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world in the 1980s.
Other Palestinians, however, found Jewish economic leadership an unbearable blow to their pride. Said one to the British Peel Commission in 1936: “You say we are better off: you say my house has been enriched by the strangers who have entered it. But it is my house, and I did not invite the strangers in, or ask them to enrich it, and I do not care how poor it is if I am only master of it.”
Sooner rule in hell than share in heaven. These actors have dominated Palestinian political culture, and terrorized Israeli and Palestinian alike, for generations.
In calling Mr. Romney’s remarks “racist” and blaming Palestinian economic difficulties on Israel’s “occupation,” Mr. Erekat illustrated one of David Landes’s major points: Blaming others for one’s own failures prolongs failure. Even though his own government daily chooses a culture of death, not life, Mr. Erekat wants to blame Israel for Palestine’s woes; no admission here that he and his colleagues might have some role in the suffering of their own people.
Such political movements cannot promote their agendas without demonizing others, thereby polarizing whole societies. Time and again, their targets have been those who have the skills and achievements that they lack. When they achieve their ultimate success, forcing such people out of the country, as in Uganda in the 1970s or Zimbabwe more recently, the whole economy can collapse.
Against this international background, the current class warfare rhetoric in American politics and ethnic grievance ideology in our schools and colleges, can be seen as the dangerous things they are. Those who are pushing such things may be seeking nothing more than votes for themselves or some unearned group benefits at other people’s expense. But they are playing with dynamite.
The semi-literate sloganizing of our own Occupy Wall Street mobs recalls the distinction that Milton Friedman often made between those who are educated and those who have simply been in schools. Generating more such people, in the name of expanding education, may serve the interests of the Obama administration but hardly the interests of America.
Could we really have expected Eskimos to have the same ability to grow pineapples as the people of Hawaii had? Could the Bedouins of the Sahara really know as much about fishing as the Polynesians of the Pacific? Could the people of the Himalayas have the same seafaring skills as people living in ports around the Mediterranean?
On a more general level, could people living in isolated mountain valleys realistically be expected to develop their own intellectual potential as fully as people living in cities that were international crossroads of commerce, cultures and ideas from around the world?
When the Spaniards discovered the Canary Islands in the 15th century, they found people of a Caucasian race living at a stone age level. Isolation and backwardness have gone together in many parts of the world, regardless of the race of the people involved.
When the topic of human sacrifice was broached in the classroom, my son reported that not one of his classmates was comfortable condemning the practice as immoral. “It was their culture,” his classmates said. And it’s wrong to impose your values on someone else’s culture.
This is not a fluke. In “Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood,” Christian Smith and his co-authors recount the results of their decade-long study of a representative sample of Americans aged 18-23. Through in-depth interviews, they examined their subjects’ lives and concluded that an alarming percentage of young people are highly materialistic, commitment averse, disengaged from political and civic life, sexually irresponsible, often heavily intoxicated and morally confused. In fact, the authors contend, they lack even the vocabulary to think in moral terms.
Those who resist the self-flagellation that travels under the name multiculturalism are accused of chauvinism. But the withdrawal from any kind of judgment is yielding a generation of moral cripples.