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Islam and the multiculturalism debate

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Islam and the multiculturalism debate
11/05/02 at 06:01:21

November 01, 2002

The West's sexual freedom is a curse in itself
by bruce anderson

We were considering multiculturalism. The TV producer had hoped that I would be against
it and she was not disappointed. But the discussion took an unexpected turn. I said that I
thought that one of the most interesting critiques of multiculturalism would come, not
from white reactionaries, but from an articulate traditional Muslim who might argue as
“British liberals complain that we Muslims tend to lock up our daughters and deny them
what you regard as basic human rights. You are correct, because in our view, your concept
of human rights often leads to human wrongs.

“Come with me to the average supermarket in a poor white area in a depressed northern
town, and what will you find? A trail of haggard, sluttish creatures aged 20 going on 40,
screaming at their three or four children — mostly by different fathers — whom they are
bringing up to be just like themselves. You have given these girls freedom and it has turned
into misery, for them and their offspring.

“Some Muslim fathers go too far. Every now and again, a girl is killed because she has
transgressed her family’s moral code. That is wrong, unforgivably wrong. But before you
Christians rush to condemn us, consider how you behave towards your daughters. How many tens
of thousands of female foetuses are aborted every year?

“We believe that men should respect women. We believe that women should respect their own
bodies and live according to strict rules. But we also believe that foetuses have rights.
By concentrating exclusively on the right to have sex, you ignore all other rights. Your
permissive sexual code leads inevitably to holocaust by abortion.

“Leaving aside trivial matters such as the way women dress, our treatment of our
womenfolk would have been regarded as normal throughout the civilised world until a couple of
generations ago. We believe, as you used to believe, that freedom cannot be enjoyed as an
absolute but must be tempered by restraints. We insist on our right to expound the
Victorian values which you have discarded, to your womenfolk’s great disadvantage. Indeed, we are
practising Islamic Benthamism. We believe that our way guarantees the greatest happiness
of the greatest number, while your way condemns great numbers of people to miserable
lives, wholly unworthy of a divine creation.”

I hope that we find our Muslim Benthamite, because it would guarantee a fascinating
debate. I also believe that it would be mightily hard to refute his arguments.

The best one could do would be to insist on the primacy of the right to freedom under the
rule of law. Given the flaws in the human condition, freedom involves risks. It is not
enough to allow people the freedom to do what they ought to do. Freedom must involve the
freedom to make the wrong choices.

Moreover, human beings will always strive to enlarge their freedom, and this is
especially true of the more educated, ambitious and dynamic members of a society. So any unfree
state will inevitably find itself in conflict with its own ablest citizens, thus condemning
itself to sterility, conflict and decline.

It is unfortunate that the onset of sexual freedom in Britain coincided with the collapse
of large parts of the state education system; hence the sad sluts bedraggling their way
around the supermarket. Yet this is not an inevitable consequence of sexual freedom. As
for abortion, the American political scientist Ben Wattenberg, once wrote: “Abortion is
murder. And I am in favour of it.”

Freedom means a woman’s right to choose. Abortion is an unpleasant business, but the
human condition is imperfect.

I would not expect my Muslim to be persuaded by those arguments, which are less of a
refutation than an insistence on an alternative moral choice. In Isaiah Berlin’s words, “The
great goods cannot always live together”. But they can always debate against one another;
a debate to which the Muslims have much to contribute.

The author is a columnist for The Independent

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