Posts tagged multiculturalism

Column on Stoning & The Times

Stoning & The Times

Tibor R. Machan

Do I search for hypocrisies among my adversaries? Not especially, only when it is too obvious to miss. And what if anything is wrong with hypocrisy? So what if you are a liar but make a big deal about condemning lying in your neighbor? Why is that a problem?

In this era when major political figures denounce ideological–by which they of course have in mind principled–thinking, why should one be consistent, show integrity? Those are not the virtues of sophisticates. Those are pedestrian ideals. As our president pointed out–in the pedagogical, finger-wagging fashion he tends to employ–”the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works….” So whether the government is a totalitarian tyranny or a dictatorship isn’t of concern–the only issue is, does it work, which leaves entirely unaddressed what it is supposed to work for!

Anyway my issue here is hypocrisy and my candidate for the hypocrite of the week is The New York Times, which in last Sunday’s Week in Review section ran an essay titled “Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning).” Maybe I am overly suspicious but this piece struck me as bending over backwards not to be too harsh on those societies in which stoning people–especially women–for sex crimes is acceptable. But what makes me suspicious?

Well, consider just a few remarks from the piece. “Much of the outrage these [stoning] cases generated–apart from the sheer anachronism of stoning in the 21st century–seems to stem from the gulf between sexual attitudes in the West and parts of the Islamic world, where radical movements have turned to draconian punishments, and a vision of restoring a long-lost past, in their search for religious authenticity.” “Stoning is not practiced only among Muslims, nor did it begin with Islam.” “Stoning is a legal punishment in only a handful of Muslim countries–in addition to Iran, they include Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Nigeria, but it is very rarely put to use.” “But Islamic law requires very strict conditions for a stoning sentence….” “Some scholars even argue that the stoning penalty is meant more as a symbolic warning against misbehavior….” and “In any case, societies evolve….”

As I see it these bits tell a story of temptation, the temptation of reckless multiculturalism, of cultural and legal relativism. OK, but so what? Well, I was thinking as I was reading these sentences in the Old Gray Lady how would it go over if this is how some writer discussed, say, slavery, ethnic prejudice or the subjugation of women in the West? I doubt it would fly so well.

This bending over backwards so as to be understanding toward cultures in which stoning human beings is regarded as a proper form of punishment–right now in the 21st century–seems to me to show an ideological bias on the part of the editors of The Times. And that bias is that whenever flaws in American history, law, social practices, and such are being discussed, there is no mercy; Americans are held to far higher standards than are those in Muslim cultures, for example.

Not only is this objectionable because it is unjust toward America but also because it is insulting toward Muslims. Somehow the latter do not qualify to be judged by the standards of humanity applicable to Americans and Westerners, it appears. Are they not human enough for that? Is there something inferior about Muslims so when they act in brutal, barbaric ways what is important to mention is that societies evolve? Should this kind of tolerance be accepted vis-a-vis Muslims but not antebellum Southerners who felt, often most sincerely, that slavery was OK? What about all the male chauvinists who thought of women as too emotional for scientific and other kind of work? Are we to think of them all as simply part of “societies [that] evolve”?

I am not about to venture to try to solve the problem of cultural diversity concerning some important human practices and institutions but I thought it worth calling attention to the anti-Western, anti-American bias at The Times.

Column on Alarm versus Panic

Alarm versus Panic

Tibor R. Machan

Raising star of mainstream media, Fareed Zakaria, on his Sunday CNN program GPS (Global Public Square), chided American officials and commentators for responding to the failed, near-miss terrorist attack in Detroit with panic. He based his assessment on the fact that there have been numerous calls for greater vigilance in defense of the realm and that the errors that helped the perpetrator to almost succeed were roundly lamented and finger pointing was in evidence everywhere. Falling in line with the atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, as opposed to one of condemnation and punishment, Zakaria is concerned that by showing panic, the very objective of terrorists will be enhanced. What they want, he argued, is to scare us all out of our whits. By panicking we will have actually encouraged them to do more similar deeds, even if they do not succeed in out and out murder.

There is, of course, something to Zakaria’s concern but he is also overstating his point. It sounds more like he is trying to show off his low key, civilized, worldly attitude than to aim for in depth understanding. I believe it would be far more accurate to characterize much of the reaction to the near-miss terrorist attack as alarm instead of panic. The mistakes that helped the terrorist get as far as he did were terrible and while no one ought to respond to them with panic–whoever benefits from that–it is quite appropriate to be alarmed.

The various agents who should have exercised greater professional vigilance did rightly create alarm in us all and we are right, indeed, to be alarmed and to make a special effort to thwart such attacks. This imperative is especially vital given that in a relatively free country the means available for thwarting terrorists need to be confined to what will not overstep the limits of people’s human and civil rights. Panic is that would ignore the limits those rights pose to public and private efforts to cope with terrorism and the failed attempts to deal with it properly. But alarm can increase appropriate vigilance and thus guide the responsible parties toward greater success in the future.

Despite his civilized, urbane demeanor, Mr. Zakaria, who not only hosts this program but is also the editor of Newsweek International, appears himself to react to this terrorist act with more sophistry than wisdom. He seems to be eager to put down all those around the world who are really concerned about terrorism and who, moreover, believe that the attitude of tolerance and understanding toward the perpetrators may very well encourage them to try more of the same. By calling those who are concerned peddlers of panic instead of people who are alarmed and wish to learn from this experience and improve the prospect for discouraging terrorist, maybe even scaring them to desist rather than try more, Mr. Zakaria appears to be more concerned with promoting a kind of multicultural, relativist view of terrorists than is justified. When one keeps stressing that such maniacs need to be better understood instead of dealt with effectively and even harshly, one lessens the loyalty to the values of peaceful coexistence among people. Instead one is saying, in effect, “Well we realize you folks have problems and laments and while we dislike what you are doing about them, don’t worry, we will not assert ourselves in ways that will stand in the way of your thinking and acting.”

Of course, the approach that Mr. Zakaria seems to favor is well in line with the widespread amoralism of our age–no one is responsible for malpractice, it is all the fault of circumstances and only those are guilty of anything at all who fail to fall in line with this kind of thinking.

When we keep looking for explanations of terrorism rather than for effective ways to combat it, we suggest that terrorism is a kind of inevitable disease instead of a controllable human failing. Nothing good can come from this.