Sep 27 2012

Joseph Anton

Salman Rushdie, on the other hand, is not a cultural relativist. He too talked to the New York Times, in his case about his new memoir about the fatwa years.

I found myself caught up in what you could call a world historical event. You could say it’s a great political and intellectual event of our time, even a moral event. Not the fatwa, but the battle against radical Islam, of which this was one skirmish. There have been arguments made even by liberal-minded people, which seem to me very dangerous, which are basically cultural relativist arguments: We’ve got to let them do this because it’s their culture. My view is no. Female circumcision — that’s a bad thing. Killing people because you don’t like their ideas — it’s a bad thing. We have to be able to have a sense of right and wrong which is not diluted by this kind of relativistic argument. And if we don’t we really have stopped living in a moral universe.

So no. We don’t have to respect Arab traditions even when they conflict with our values. We can say that some traditions are bad. We probably don’t want to embark on careers as diplomats if we do that, but otherwise – we can say.


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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    We probably don’t want to embark on careers as dipolmats

    Or even diplomats.

  2. 2
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    I hear if you align the north-charged end of the mat northerly and the south-charged end southerly, you get fabulous feng shui.

  3. 3
    AJ Milne

    Yeah, Rushdie has really been impressing me, of late.

    I’ve always really liked his fiction. But y’know, I think I don’t necessarily expect that much more from someone who happens to write good fiction, even generally. I’m not saying it doesn’t take an awful lot of impressive qualities, writing really good fiction. It’s more like: listen, you get that right, what business has anyone asking you for more? Wouldn’t there be a certain justice to it, even, if stuff like making good (and accessible) sense about the significance of the civil liberties that do underpin our societies were simply someone else’s problem?

    And especially someone who can write in the wild and woolly way he did in some of his earliest stuff, I dunno… I loved that stuff, but, actually, I also think it prejudiced me to expect not too much more out of him. I think I’d have expected his mind almost to be more somehow beautifully and exotically damaged than anything else even prior to that ten years of living in hiding, and, then, after that… I dunno… I’m not sure if I’d have blamed him if he’d come out of that babbling incoherently about giant space snakes dressed like Bono or something. Take an already slightly wild-eyed literary rock star, put him in solitary confinement and under threat of death for ten years, let’s see what exotic madness arises therefrom. Should be interesting.

    So I didn’t expect this. Not at all. He’s making an awful lot of sense, these days.

    In retrospect, maybe it shouldn’t surprise me so much. In retrospect, come to think of it, there was always an air of Dickinson’s ‘divinest sense’ even about the wild and woolly early stuff, I guess…

    But I have to figure also it’s some product, now, too, as much as of what he was, as of what he went through. Something to do with that adage about being told you’re going to be hanged in the morning focusing your mind wonderfully. Just think how many such mornings he’s now had. A decade or so of them.

    Well, that and a decade or so of seeing people at their worst and best under the threat that had swirled around him, I’d expect. I figure that probably helped, too.

    Speaking of that: I’ve come to see it as a bit of an acid test, lately, the Rushdie thing. And something of a demonstration. And whenever people start saying, oh, this latest ‘outrage’, oh, the filmmakers almost deserve it anyway, or have some culpability, it was such a tasteless, amateurish monstrosity, man’s a criminal, they wanted this anyway, and so on, and I get to thinking:

    Yeah, maybe… But so many seemed to making similar noise about Rushdie, too, didn’t they? Sure, the film’s garbage and its creator rather dodgy outside that… But, then, it didn’t seem to matter a whole hell of a lot to some how good the book was, actually, either, did it? There was a lot of this ‘oh, he brought this upon himself’ for him, too, exactly the same damned way. Whether it’s a crappy little YouTube video from an alleged bank fraud artist or a wildly beautiful book from the man who won the Booker a few years ago, same old dance.

    So it begins to look to me that really, it’s more: show us the bus, we’ll throw you under it. Excuses can be arranged.

    … back to Rushdie himself, though, I can’t help thinking there’s a certain cosmic justice to the fact that he’s still standing here, making sense, cutting through the crap.

    I figure Khomeini–and certain others–did help make him into this, after all. So, well…

    … So, well: they brought this upon themselves.

  4. 4
    AJ Milne

    (/… oh, and as addendum, therefore: scratch ‘Yeah, maybe’, for ‘Yeah, right.’)

  5. 5
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    There have been arguments made even by liberal-minded people, which seem to me very dangerous, which are basically cultural relativist arguments: We’ve got to let them do this because it’s their culture. My view is no. Female circumcision — that’s a bad thing. Killing people because you don’t like their ideas — it’s a bad thing. We have to be able to have a sense of right and wrong which is not diluted by this kind of relativistic argument. And if we don’t we really have stopped living in a moral universe.

    ^ This. Yes. So much this. Well said, Salman Rushdie. Seconded and quoted for truth.

  6. 6
    Svlad Cjelli

    I’m a relativist, more or less. But you know, there’s a funny thing about my values. They’re MY values. In contrast, other people’s values aren’t my values. By definition, I value the one and not the other.

    This confusion is why I sometimes call it favoritism instead of relativism.

  7. 7

    Relativism is just, you know, your opinion.

  8. 8

    IO don’t think people realise just how little support those opposing radical Islam enjoy in official circles.

    For years now, every time there is a conflict between islamic traditions and secularism, be it in America or Europe, it’s always secularism that cedes territory.

    Secularists seem unaware of just how entrenched this state of affairs has become.

    IN France Manuel Valls, a minister in the new gov’t, attended the opening of a mega mosque in Strausbourg just a few days ago. The structure is just huge and contrary to France’s 1905 law on seculaism, a portion of the funds used for its construction came from public coffers.

    Where’s the outrage amongst France’s “staunch” secularists?

    And the Saudi-based “Arab News” is refering to the mosque as a new bridgehead for Islam in Europe.

    And France’s elites are still at the stage where criticism of Islam is a form of racism.

    It’s just hopeless.

    The birthrate for native frenchmen is 2.1 per women.

    The birthrate in the muslam comunity is 5.2 per women.

    That birthrate coupled with the fact millions of french boomers will soon be popping their clogs will lead to disaster.

  9. 9

    For the sake of accuracy it should be pointed out that the fatwa against Rushdie wasn’t issued by an arab state.

  10. 10
  11. 11

    As to “had it coming”: always a wrong argument, period.

    As to culpability: maybe it’s just because it’s ors, but I like the rules in our Volksverhetzung law. Quoting Wikipedia:

    The German penal code (Strafgesetzbuch) establishes that someone is guilty of Volksverhetzung if the person:[1]

    in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace:

    1. incites hatred against segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or
    2. assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population

    Not a word about race, religion or culture. What matters is that you select a segment of the population, not how you select it, and that it disturbs the peace, and that you actually did something bad to them.

    I should also point out that the reference to human dignity references the first article of our constitution – something like the US pursuit of happiness thing, or whatever the wording was. In any case, I believe our courts are pretty firm that not every insult touches human dignity, even while some do.

    So, in the cases of Rushdie, Khomeini, or the recent film, the above rules (or so it seems to me) actually see some differences. I’m pretty sure the movie at least gets very very close to the line, whereas Rushdie does not seem to be even in the same room. (whoever started the Rushdie Fatwa presumably fails because it’s a crime against an individual, not a segment of the population. Preachers agitating their folks to storm an embassy pretty clearly cross the line, of course.)

  12. 12
    Ian MacDougall

    All people should be treated equally. But not all cultures.

    Those who confuse the two words are apt to fling the word ‘racism’ around pretty freely too.

    It is not ‘racist’ to criticise a culture for being what it is.

  13. 13

    Why is it that the Afrikaners in South Africa were not allowed to practice their culture of segregation on the basis of colour? I don’t recall anyone talking about Afrikaner culture.

    In any case, for your amusement:
    ‘Allah Is the Best’ The Lives Of Salafists’ Wives


    I couldn’t bring myself to read it. The photo gallery was enough for me.

  14. 14
    AJ Milne

    I couldn’t bring myself to read it…

    Maybe this goes without saying: but if you can bring yourself to, do.

  15. 15
    AJ Milne

    With due respect, re Trends’ birthrate statistics, I’d want to see some citations.

    There’s been a bit of scaremongering on this subject, is all. So inputs do matter. See also here for a bit of general context.

  16. 16
    AJ Milne

    … oh, also, see the Europe breakdowns from Pew’s forecast. It shows the Muslim population of France rising from 7.5% to 10.3% between 2010 and 2030…

    … and that the fertility rates in France for Muslim vs. non-Muslim were 2.8 to 1.9 in 2005-2010, with a forecast shift to 2.4 to 1.9 for 2025-2030.

  17. 17

    Sunny’s link to spiegel.de is worth reading if only for this gem:

    “She, too, doesn’t smoke anymore. She believes that by not smoking now, she’ll be able to smoke as much as she wants in paradise.”

    Must be that Sophisticated Theology we hear so much about.

  18. 18
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