Where do we draw the line as to culturally acceptable and unacceptable behavior?

My-Big-Fat-American-Gypsy-WeddingMy sister has been watching My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding on Netflix.  She was describing to me an American subculture that few of us even know about, let alone think about.  As she described it, I felt as if she was describing an acid-colored version of a Regency romance set in early 19th century England.

According to my sister, the gypsies marry when they the girls are quite young (with the girls’ age at the time of the wedding hovering around 15).  Although social occasions such as dances are commonplace, girls and boys are never allowed to be together unchaperoned and it’s entirely possible for a girl to reach the altar without even having kissed her future husband.

The girls must be virgins when they marry, even though my sister says that they dress exactly like hookers during the courting phase.  The boys are expected to get sexual experience with non-gypsy girls.

This social structure considers housewifely virtues the highest calling for a girl, so they are taken out of school when they’re still very young.  They then settle down to a life of housekeeping and baby-making.  Meanwhile, the men, who are also usually high school drop-outs make their living in itinerant trades.  A profitable one is, apparently, selling paving services door to door.  Working hard, they can make as much as $10,000 a week — which is a good thing because the gypsy culture is very image oriented.  A wedding dress 6 feet across covered with crystals is commonplace.

As my sister was regaling me with this information, she said that she felt terribly sorry for the girls, because they had to cut short their education and are consigned to a life of domestic drudgery.  I understood what she meant, but I said “That’s their culture.  They don’t consider it a waste to be a somewhat educated homemaker.”

And with those words, I crashed right into cultural relativism.  If I think my culture is the best — with girls having the same academic and professional opportunities as men — why am I willing to let these American gypsy girls get herded into marital servitude?  And if that’s something I’m good with, why does it bug me when Muslim families swath their daughters in burqas?  The first I greet with a resigned shrug; the second with a frisson of fear and distaste.

I was struggling to figure out where the lines exist for me, and came up with two principles.  First, it depends if a moral absolute is concerned.  When 19th century Indian wives were forced by culture to climb upon their husbands’ funeral pyres, that was culturally sanctioned murder.  Lord William Bentinck was correct to end it on his watch.  A moral country cannot allow its female citizens to be murdered — something that makes honor killings beyond the pale too.  Taking a girl out of school to get married may be a waste of a good mind or promising talent, but education is not a moral imperative; it’s a cultural luxury.

Second, I’m more upset about differing cultures if I feel they pose a risk to me.  Unlike the gypsies, who keep themselves to themselves, my feeling when I see a Muslim man with his burqa-clad wife or daughter is that he’s eying me and my daughter as future burqa wearers.  While mine may be a tolerant culture, his is a conquering one, and there’s no doubt that he and his co-religionists think the world would be a better place if women and girls came neatly packaged in burlap.

Are there bright lines here that I’m missing or more nuanced arguments I could/should be making?  Please let me know.

The dishonor of an “honor culture”

The British press was rocked for a few minutes a couple of weeks ago by the story of an Iraqi girl whose father murdered her quite brutally because she’d fallen in love with a British soldier. (There was no hint, by the way, that she’d done anything about the love; it was an infatuation from afar.) An interview with that father gives one a good insight into the culture arrayed against us in the epic clash of civilizations in which we’re now embroiled:

Two weeks ago, The Observer revealed how 17-year-old student Rand Abdel-Qader was beaten to death by her father after becoming infatuated with a British soldier in Basra. In this remarkable interview, Abdel-Qader Ali explains why he is unrepentant – and how police backed his actions.

For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. ‘If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her,’ he said with no trace of remorse.

Two weeks after The Observer revealed the shocking story of Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, murdered because of her infatuation with a British solider in Basra, southern Iraq, her father is defiant. Sitting in the front garden of his well-kept home in the city’s Al-Fursi district, he remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.

Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. Astonishingly, he said, police congratulated him on what he had done. ‘They are men and know what honour is,’ he said.

[snip]

It was her first youthful infatuation and it would be her last. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand’s two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust.

‘Death was the least she deserved,’ said Abdel-Qader. ‘I don’t regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion,’ he said.

You can read the rest — which is as sickening as the bit above — here. First and foremost, the article is a reminder that Islam, as practiced by Arabs at least, is possibly the most self-centered religion in the world. It’s not really about serving God, nor is it about living a moral life where your own behavior must measure up to God’s standards. Instead, it’s all about “me, me, me!” “You embarrassed me, therefore you offended God.” “You aren’t living life the way I think you should, therefore I get to kill you to satisfy my God.” Although Islam apologists try to treat it as part of the modern trinity of non-pagan religions, it is, in fact, a religion deeply rooted in human sacrifice — and the sacrifice isn’t for the greater glory of God (which was, at least, the excuse for the ritual sacrifices in days of old), but simply to satisfy the killers’ egos and insecurities.

Second, although it shouldn’t be any less foremost, is the miserable, craven, ill-informed, stupid, dangerous behavior of those on the Left, who claim so loudly to be the staunchest defenders in the West of women’s rights (and gay rights, and workers’ rights, and immigrant rights). These nincompoops certainly pay lip service to these “rights”, and they’re always willing to assert them against those cultures that accord the greatest respect to women and gays and workers and immigrants. At the same time, though, they’re so blinded by their obsequious desire to placate any group that isn’t America, that they are yielding ground at warp speed to people who firmly believe in an unimpeded right to slaughter women and gays, and to enslave workers (especially those immigrants unlucky enough to end up in such bastions of Muslim paganism as Saudi Arabia or Yemen).

Incidentally, Barack Obama is the ne plus ultra of this foul Leftist trend. Although he is frantically denying it now (once more making a bald-faced liar of himself), and although the NYT’s is desperately trying to work as the enabler for this man’s Leftist pathology, he really thinks he can and should just sit down and have a chat with these fanatics, at which point they’ll smile and retreat permanently.

What an idiot — which would be fine if he confined his stupidities to a small circle of friends and business associates. It’s frightening, though, to think that Obama wants to visit this level of cultural unawareness and blatant stupidity on the American people and the world.

The correct response, of course, to this kind of barbarity is Lord William Bentinck’s response to sati (or suttee), the old Indian practice that required a widow to immolate herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.  When told that the British could do nothing to prevent sati because it was an ancient Indian practice and that outlawing it might destroy Britain’s interests in India, he nevertheless went ahead, in 1829, and made the practice illegal.  It still took decades for the practice to die out, but his legislation struck it the first death blow.