catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 48, Num 2 :: 2008.12.15 — 2009.03.15


Not all cultures are created equal

In Western democratic societies we have developed the myth that all cultures are of equal value, and that it amounts to racism to criticize another person’s or another society’s culture. Nowhere has this fallacy been practiced more fervently than in the Netherlands. 

With the influx of new immigrants and refugees in the ’80s and ’90s, Dutch society felt it was wrong to insist that newcomers adapt to their new homeland, that they and their children should learn to speak Dutch, and that they should avoid living in ethnic ghettos. This attitude came out of a feeling of guilt about past historical wrongs (think of Dutch colonialism) and a rejection of anything that smells of conservatism ⎯ the bane of the highest Dutch virtue: tolerance. The emptiness of this false tolerance becomes evident in the fact that many Dutch people are averse to singing the Dutch national anthem or raising the Dutch flag because it smacks of national pride. How silly and unbalanced can you get!


Historical amnesia

Ever since the Second World War, Dutch society has reacted strongly against its religious past. Dutch society had splintered into many factions (the term used is pillarization). Every religious group was represented in separate social and political groups. Even today in Holland there is no such thing as a majority government. All Dutch governments are coalition governments. That’s quite a difference between the Netherlands and the United States, for example, where two parties dominate the political scene (you’re either
“red” or “blue”). In Canada political power is brokered between four parties and a majority government is a possibility, though not a reality of late. Although the Netherlands has benefitted immensely from its Christian heritage, many of its inhabitants take great pleasure in ridiculing faith in God. Their view of history seems characterized by humility, but in fact, it comes out of pride ⎯ the idea that they are the inventors of justice.


Lack of integration

One of the benefits of its Christian past is that Dutch people tend to be very generous. Tons of money gets collected on a regular basis for foreign aid. The social network in Holland provides generous support to newcomers, almost to the extent that it pays not to work. Not being involved in the formal economy hinders social integration for those who live off welfare. As a result, Dutch society consists of vast numbers of mini-societies that do not speak Dutch and that, in fact, look down on the Dutch. 

This is especially true of the majority of Muslim newcomers. Their children are told that their host society is evil, that Dutch people are immoral. If a Muslim girl falls in love with a Dutch non-Muslim boy, she runs the risk of being killed either in Holland or in the country of origin where honor killings are easily accepted. This honor killing can be done by her father, brother or uncle (any male relative will do) to preserve the reputation of the family. A government study of two of 25 regions in the Netherlands revealed to a shocked population that, in the span of eight months, eleven Muslim girls had fallen victim to honor killing. What would the number be if all 25 regions had been polled? Something is wrong with a culture or religious group that practices honor killing in the name of Allah. Indeed, not all cultures are created equal. Last year a Muslim girl in Toronto was killed by her father because she liked to dress in Western clothing.


The voice of an insider

I have just finished reading the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch politician who had come to Holland as a refugee from Somalia. Hirsi Ali has since moved to the United States where she does research. The purpose of the writing of the book was to awaken Dutch society and the world to the reality of the oppression of women in Muslim societies. Young girls are routinely incised on kitchen tables, children are beaten by their parents, women are beaten by their husbands, brothers have authority over older sisters, fathers can force on their daughters whatever marriage they deem suitable, women may not wear clothing that exposes their legs, arms and necks, they may not go out in public without a male escort, husbands have complete sexual control over their wife’s body (her body is referred to in the Quran as “tillage”), a woman is solely responsible for adultery.


Islam needs to change

Hirsi Ali writes: “The kind of thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia, and among the Muslim Brotherhood in Kenya and Somalia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves a feudal mind-set based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypocrisy, and double standards.”  These attitudes were imported into Holland by the Muslims who settled there. What upset Hirsi Ali was that so many Dutch people believe that Islam is a peaceful religion. Not so, says the author. The Quran is “a very tribal and Arab version of events. It spreads a culture that is brutal, bigoted, fixated on controlling women, and harsh in war.” She and others began criticizing the moral and cultural relativism of the leftist parties.

Hirsi Ali continues to explain that making the transition to a society that is honest and transparent is difficult. But, she adds, “we in the West would be wrong to prolong that pain of transition unnecessarily by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life…. Life is better in Europe than it is in the Muslim world because human relations are better, and one reason human relations are better is that, in the West, life on earth is valued in the here and now, and individuals enjoy rights and freedoms that are recognized and protected by the state.”


Anti-dialogue religion

A Canadian Muslim woman, Raheel Raza wrote another helpful critique of Islam in her book Their Jihad…Not My Jihad. She confirms what other Muslim scholars have been saying, namely, that her religion “is frozen in time. Dialogue and debate, also known as ijtehad, an important cornerstone of Islam, has been deemed an unnecessary evil and has been stopped since the 16th century.” She is less critical of the Quran and of the heart of Islam than is Hirsi Ali, who has rejected her religion. In fact, Hirsi Ali has stopped believing in any God. Ms. Raza believes that there are two Islams practiced today ⎯ one the Islam of the Prophet Mohammad ⎯ the Islam of peace and forgiveness and compassion, of tolerance and spirit, women’s rights and equality. The other Islam is the militant, extremist, fanatic cult of those who misappropriate religious teachings to justify murder, inflict destruction on human society in the name of Shari’a, subjugate and suppress minorities and women to promote injustice…. We probably need to balance her views with those of Hirsi Ali’s, who speaks more out of her experiences in Somalia and Saudi Arabia.


Multi-cultural benefits

I am not suggesting that we become insensitive to other cultures. Nor am I saying that our way of doing things is always superior. It is highly likely that most cultures excel in some areas and fail in others. No culture should present itself as the paragon of excellence in all areas. Together, as a rainbow of cultures, we have a better chance of interacting fruitfully and of taking up the cultural mandate given by God: to make the most of what this world has to offer and to develop it for the benefit of all and to the glory of God.

We can learn from other cultures. I personally am happy that I know at least two cultures intimately well. Having had my primary and secondary education in the Netherlands, and my tertiary education and career in North America, I understand that there is more than one way to express ourselves as a society. Schools do well to immerse their learners in other cultures. Multi-culturalism as a way of showing respect for diversity can be a healthy practice in education and in society as a whole, provided we evaluate each culture honestly, including our own, using such standards as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, respect for life, public modesty, human dignity, inter-personal respect, freedom from violence, and equality of opportunity. When a culture lacks any of these standards, it deserves to be critiqued.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus