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Tradition is a description, not a reason.

In the Saturday December 15 2007 Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders wrote an article titled Confronting the threat from people blinded by the light. Using as a springboard the tragic strangling death of the 16 year old Aqsa Parvez by her father in Mississauga ostensibly because she did not cover her head, Saunders discusses the problem of a tolerant culture containing intolerant cultures within it. For most of the article he reports on a fascinating discussion online at signandsight.com. Among the many strong European thinkers weighing in is French philosopher Pascal Bruckner who says the following.

Anyone with a mind to contend timidly that liberty is indivisible, that the life of a human being has the same value everywhere, that amputating a thief’s hand or stoning an adulteress is intolerable everywhere, is duly arraigned in the name of the necessary equality of cultures. As a result, we can turn a blind eye to how others live and suffer once they’ve been parked in the ghetto of their particularity. Enthusing about their inviolable differentness alleviates us from having to worry about their condition. However it is one thing to recognise the convictions and rites of fellow citizens of different origins, and another to give one’s blessing to hostile insular communities that throw up ramparts between themselves and the rest of society. How can we bless this difference if it excludes humanity instead of welcoming it? This is the paradox of multiculturalism: it accords the same treatment to all communities, but not to the people who form them, denying them the freedom to liberate themselves from their own traditions. Instead: recognition of the group, oppression of the individual. The past is valued over the wills of those who wish to leave custom and the family behind and – for example – love in the manner they see fit.

and then

Thus they are refused what has always been our privilege: passing from one world to another, from tradition to modernity, from blind obedience to rational decision making. “I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values”, Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in her autobiography. The protection of minorities also implies the right of individual members to extract themselves with impunity, through indifference, atheism and mixed marriage, to forget clan and family solidarities and to forge their own destinies, without having to reproduce the pattern bequeathed to them by their parents.

Out of consideration for all the abuses they may have suffered, ethnic, sexual, religious and regional minorities are often set up as small nations, in which the most outrageous patriotism is passed off as nothing more than the expression of legitimate self-esteem. Instead of celebrating freedom as the power to escape determinism, the repetition of the past is being encouraged, reinforcing the power of collective coercion over private individuals. Marginal groups now form a sort of ethos-police, a flag-waving micro-nationalism which certain countries of Europe unfortunately see fit to publicly support. Under the guise of celebrating diversity, veritable ethnic or confessional prisons are established, where one group of citizens is denied the advantages accorded to others.

This made clear something that I had a difficult time expressing: that there must be some justification for a tolerant person not to tolerate the traditions of subjugation and harm entrenched in other cultures. He says it so well; the others are worth reading as well.

Speaking of a flip side to this, in our local newspaper, Lorne Gunter, a syndicated columnist known for his right wing leanings had a keen insight that it would be worth keeping in mind with reports of culture based internal violence. He said that just because a Muslim killed his daughter did not necessarily make it a Muslim crime. This may simply have been a bad father using the excuse at hand.

2 comments on “Tradition is a description, not a reason.

  1. Then what exactly is a Muslim crime? Or would he argue that the subjugation of women in Islamic cultures isn’t a Muslim thing, but just people using Islam as an excuse? That the rape of virgins who are to be executed in Islamic countries so that they don’t go to heaven is just something people do for kicks and use Islam as a convenient excuse?

    Lorne Gunter’s argument fails.

  2. That wasn’t exactly my point though I can’t speak for him. Though I believe that many if not most of ideology based violence is just that and should be laid at the doorstep of that culture, you will always have people within that culture taking advantage of that excuse. Kind of like informers in repressive societies or further back in the witch hunts, using a situation for financial gain or just to finally get back at someone you don’t like.
    You could think of it like a country that allows guns supposedly for self protection or law enforcement. Yet the fact that they are available, and can be justified on those bases, doesn’t stop people from using them for other purposes.

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