In 1979 there was an Islamic Revolution in Iran. I read about the imposition of a theocratic regime in horror, and expressed my horror to some people at a Christmas party. I was shocked to hear some of these people telling me off: “You should be more tolerant of other cultures. It’s not our place to criticize. They have their culture just as we have ours!” “If this is what the people want, then that’s fine. Don’t try to judge another culture by our standards!”
You may think that multicultural relativism is something recent, but I ran into it a fair bit, back in 1979.
My conviction was and is that every human being has a right, by his nature as a human being, to think, judge, and choose his lifestyle for himself, so long as he doesn’t use physical force or fraud to enslave someone else to his will.
Yet here was a medieval version of Islam rearing up in the modern world and imposing itself on everyone in Iran, even to the forbidding of listening to music. It was a horror that I would not wish on a serial killer let alone some innocent foreigner. But some of my acqaintances were urging me to see the revolution in Iran as just a cultural difference. Something we should not judge from our Western perspective.
These were the very same people who despised the religious right in the USA and would have fought tooth and nail to keep them from taking over the government, removing the right to abortion, and punishing homosexuals and fornicators. But, you see, that’s because… uh… because Western people have individual rights and Iranians don’t?
At the same time, I read a few articles that suggested that the revolution in Iran was only the beginning – that the goal of the Islamists who had taken over Iran was to eventually spread their Islamic theocracy around the world. These were fanatics who believed they had a mission from Allah, and some observers believed they would keep on spreading, as far as we would let them.
So I suspected that the events in Iran were not just a tragedy for free-thinking Iranians, but could be the first move in a threat against every free-thinker in the world. And I especially worried about this trend among some educated people that I knew – well, they’d graduated from university at least – that didn’t see any problem with the imposition of a fundamentalist version of religion on a whole nation of human beings, because “it’s their culture”.
The attitude of these Americans scared me more than anything, and I had an uneasy sense that while these people still believed that Americans had certain inalienable rights, that their cultural “tolerance” for the denying of the rights of others in foreign cultures could eventually threaten our own.
When minds are that mooshy about a subject like inalienable rights, will they be able to draw a firm line anywhere? If some other culture declares that we are an affront to them, and that their religious beliefs require that we capitulate to their ways, will the mooshy-minds compromise? Will they be committed to fuzziness even then, and compromise our own liberties piece by piece?
If, to them, the rights lost by the Iranians are not universal, if they do not belong, rock solid, to everyone, then maybe they don’t exist rock solid for anyone, eh?
Well… I can’t say what those same individuals are thinking now. I haven’t seen them for many years, and a person’s views can change dramatically. But I do know that there are a lot of their intellectual relatives who have persisted in that morally murky way of thinking, and they’re everywhere in the Western world. They’re in the USA, in Europe, in Australia. They’re telling our satirists to tread softly in regard to Muslims, although some are still perfectly fine with cartoons that shock Christians or Jews, and artworks that dip the cross in urine, splat feces on the Virgin Mary, etc.
(Although, here in Victoria, Australia, it’s conceivable that you could be in deep trouble with the law if you showed such art publicly. More on that in future.)
To my mind the War on the West is a war on the idea that the individual has certain inalienable rights, and that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights include the right to express one’s opinion without being physically attacked in person or property. This freedom to speak includes freedom from imprisonment or other legal punishment by the government. It also includes freedom from vandalism, beatings, beheadings, etc., from those regular citizens and foreigners who take offense at your opinion.
This is a war that plenty of Westerners are abetting intellectually. But I think that in most cases, they abet because somewhere along the line they accepted ideas that have mooshed their brains in the part where ethics lives.
Ew-ew, it’s messy in there!
And I believe that they don’t see where their mooshiness can lead. At least I hope they don’t, because if they do and they keep it up, that means they want to be slaves to irrational masters. That is not a good thing. I would really hate to think that I know a number of people who want that.
However, there are those of the East who are not abetting this War on the West, and…
But wait… I really shouldn’t call it the “War on the West”. I’ve been doing that because the concept of inalienable rights got its start in the West and has flourished the most and for the longest period of time there. But what we’re actually facing is a “War on Liberty” : a war on the free mind, a war on inalienable, universal rights.
Those worries I had when people wagged their fingers at me over my outrage at Iran were right. The worries about the spread of Islamism from Iran outward, and the worries that the spread of wanky cultural tolerance could endanger our respect for our own freedoms, turn out to have been founded in truth.
I wonder what happens next?