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Oct 26 2011

Way back

I’ve been following (and doing what I could to share and draw attention to) Maryam’s work for a long time – since 2004. I did a search at the ur-B&W and had to click “previous entries” a lot of times to get to the first ones.

One of the first ones is The Politics Behind Cultural Relativism, an International TV Interview that Maryam did with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush.

Bahram Soroush: You are absolutely right. When you talk about the West, it is accepted that there are political differentiations, that people have different value systems, that there are political parties. You don’t talk about one uniform, homogeneous culture. But why is it that when it comes to the rest of the world, suddenly the standards change? The way you look at society changes. It doesn’t make sense. But it makes political sense. We are living in the real world; there are political affiliations; there are economic ties; there are very powerful interests which require justifications. For example, how can you roll out the red carpet for the Islamic executioners from Iran, treat them as ‘respectable diplomats’ and at the same time dodge the issue that this government executes people, stones people to death, carries out public hangings, and that this is happening in the 21st century. It’s a question of how to justify that. So, if you say that cultures are relative; if you say that in Iran they stone people to death and they veil women because it is their culture, your conscience then is clean. This is the reason that we are seeing that something that doesn’t really make sense to anyone, and which they would not use to characterise anyone else in the Western world, they use it to characterise people from the third world. In fact it is very patronising, eurocentric and even racist to try to divide people in this way; to say, it’s OK for you. For example, to say to the Iranian woman that you should accept your fate because that’s your culture. This is part of the larger discussion of what lies behind this sort of thinking, but the motive is very political.

Maryam Namazie: You hear this also from the progressive angle as well. People who like what we say – for example, that we are standing up against political Islam – immediately assume that we are ‘moderate Muslims’. In the interview that you Bahram Soroush gave on the incompatibility of Islam and human rights for example, you clearly said that you were an atheist. But it just doesn’t seem to register, even among progressives. Why is that? I understand the political interests of Western governments, but why do even progressives have that opinion of us?

August 2004, that is.

In 2005 the NSS named Maryam Secularist of the Year.

Maryam Namazie received a standing ovation when the time came to reveal her as the winner. Introducing Maryam, Keith Porteous Wood, NSS executive director said: “Maryam is an inveterate commentator and broadcaster on rights, cultural relativism, secularism, religion, political Islam and many other related topics. The present revival of Islam has heightened interest in Maryam’s work, and at last her writings are gaining a mainstream audience. She has spoken at numerous conferences and written extensively on women’s rights issues, particularly violence against women.”

She’s a star.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    Brian MI

    Totally agree but…and this is a big BUT…the old “He who is without sin” canard comes to mind…given the horrors the United States Government has committed upon the world RECENTLY(and is committing today…the Ugandan army has killed hundreds of Sudanese? civillians in the U.S.-instigated and drone-supported invasion of Sudan)…who should be refusing to sit down with whom?

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    Excuse me? What the hell does that have to do with anything in the post?

  3. 3
    mirax

    Good news about Maryam. Have you heard about the statement put out by WLUML about the islamist noises being made by the NTC of Libya? Of course Tunisia has fallen to the “moderate” islamism of Ghannoushi, the Al-Guardian’s favourite son.

  4. 4
    Ewan Macdonald

    Brilliantly put by Maryam. The other formulation I like, in response to those guilty of this error, is to say, “Whose culture is it? The stoner or the stonee?” They are left in no doubt, then, that they have taken a side.

    But I like that “accept their fate” line, too. Powerful.

  5. 5
    mirax

    There are a lot of delusional people around, Ophelia. The Guardian fosters the kind of thinking that the above poster displays. Have you seen some of their coverage on Sudan? Exclusively devoted to the point of view of the Khartoumite elite. Jonathan Steele holds forth on why it is islamophobic to jeer at Ghannoushi and his ilk. The Guardian editorial on the eve of the Tunisian elections fellated En -Nahda, despite there being any number of secular and leftist parties to root for in the election. The islamist fetish of socialist fools is hard to stomach.

  6. 6
    Brian MI

    Ophelia:

    “For example, how can you roll out the red carpet for the Islamic executioners from Iran, treat them as ‘respectable diplomats’ and at the same time dodge the issue that this government executes people, stones people to death, carries out public hangings, and that this is happening in the 21st century…”

    I was bothered by the “how can you” phrase, which implies to me that there is something wrong with western governments treating with the clerical regime. Given that western governments treat with respect far worse governments, and given that western governments themselves engage in horrific actions (c.f., United States policy in Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan) I found that statement suspect.

    If by “you” she means aware citizens not respecting the Iranian state, then that is fine as long as said citizens turn the same steely eyes to their own governments.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    Oy.

  8. 8
    Brian MI

    mirax: I am not a socialist fool. I have no love for the clerical regime. But I have little love for the U.S. Government and its ever expanding, ever justified circle of wars and interventions. Funny how the Iraqi war basically strengthened the clerical regime by helping establish a client state in Iraq, no.

    I just don’t like hypocrisy. I don’t think the foreign policy of the U.S. Government is in any way a force for good in the world today, overall.

  9. 9
    Brian MI

    Ophelia? You still believe in a faith-based patriotism? Do you still use the term “we” when talking about the policies of the United States goverment?

    Where is your skepticism?

    Anyway…I am hijacking the basic point of the thread (which I agree with), so I will be quiet now. :)

  10. 10
    jolo5309

    I volunteer not to sit down with Brian MI, he seems lunaticky…

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Brian, this is so fucking schewpid. No of course I don’t, and since you’ve been reading B&W for years, that’s a ridiculous question. There is nothing in this post that implies or even faintly indicates “faith-based patriotism.” Not one thing. As for where my skepticism is – it’s in several places. Look around.

    And yes you certainly are hijacking the thread, and for a completely ludicrous reason. (You can’t seriously think Namazie and Soroush are big admirers of US foreign policy can you? Can you??)

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    Well jolo put it rather more succinctly…

  13. 13
    RJW

    Cultural relativism is inimical to the notion of universal human rights, it’s a particularly pernicious doctrine, even in the West.

    Islam certainly appears incompatible with human rights,otherwise democratic Muslim majority regimes would have already appeared.

    #4 Ewan Macdonald,

    Yes,I wonder what the victims of those oppressive regimes think of their rich cultural traditions.

    #5 Mirax,

    Tunisia has long been presented as the most progressive Arab nation, particularly in regard to women’s rights, but after a few years of Islamist rule the country will be back in the Middle Ages.

  14. 14
    Musical Atheist

    When you talk about the West, it is accepted that there are political differentiations, that people have different value systems, that there are political parties. You don’t talk about one uniform, homogeneous culture.

    This is why it is so strange to hear people who identify as left-wing essentially supporting or excusing the violent aspects of Islam when practised by Islamic governments. They seem to see it as a minority voice of cultural authenticity, rather than realising they have just aligned themselves with the oppressive top layer of an arbitrary hierarchy – something they are against in every other aspect of their politics.

    It’s not quite a true comparison, because these systems are still alive and well in the Middle East, but what would such lefties think if people from other countries were encouraging England’s ancestral landowners to bring back the feudal system? Or claiming that the historic right of lords to to chop off their villeins’ and tenants’ hands for theft was part of Britain’s authentic traditional culture?

  15. 15
    Ophelia Benson

    Or if editors and columnists at the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman, were always telling us how wonderful the Catholic church is?

    Oh wait…

  16. 16
    Brian M

    Sorry, Ophelia. Mea Culpa.

  17. 17
    Ophelia Benson

    Thanks Brian.

    (You do realize that Maryam is an executive of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran, don’t you?)

    :- )

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