Whenever anyone asks whether certain cultures are compatible with Western culture — particularly American culture — the resort to charges of racism is almost immediate.
But is this just reflexive bigotry? Deutsche Welle — the public broadcaster of Angela Merkel’s Germany — recently sent a reporter to downtown Amman, Jordan. Amman is the largest city in what’s generally thought to be one of the most liberal countries in the entire Middle East.
The reporter — Jaafar Abdul Karim — asked respondents how they would feel if their sister decided to work or move to a different city to live independently.
I want you to keep in mind, this is the German state broadcaster, which wouldn’t generally have the incentive to pick subjects that made Islamic culture look bad.
Here are the responses they got. They’re not the kind of thing American liberals would normally accept.
“It wouldn’t work, of course, because a woman shouldn’t leave the house without a male chaperone,” one man said.
Subsequently asked why this was, he provided a foolproof response.
“I’m a man,” the respondent said. “God and his prophet did not say man needs a chaperone.”
“It’s forbidden, it’s about honor,” another respondent said.
“But how does your sister working affect your honor?” the reporter asked.
“There is a man in the house, he gets to work,” the man said.
Another respondent, apparently a big fan of the 1990s “Sonic the Hedgehog” gelled-up style, felt that women couldn’t handle the responsibility.
“A man can live alone and work, he can do it,” Sonic says. “A woman, to a certain extent …” He trailed off, but the implication was pretty clear. “A woman can’t.”
When asked why he felt this way, he says — and I quote — “These are our customs and traditions.”
Yes. Exactly. Please, if you listen to no one else today, do listen to Sonic the Hedgehog, even if his hairstyle is from an era when people thought third-wave ska was a legitimate music style. “These are our customs and traditions.”
Our take on immigration is that immigrants will always give up the customs and traditions that are antithetical to our society while keeping the ones we like. Falafel, we always say! Dumplings! San Gennaro Festival! How can we lose?
We assume — not always rightly — that the men and women who enter our society share our beliefs about freedom and openness, about equality and dignity, about modernity and tolerance.
For those liberals furiously readying their Facebook responses, no — this isn’t to say we should exclude every Muslim, or even focus on Islam. Rather, it is to say that there are a panoply of other cultures whose values are antithetical to ours.
To refuse to acknowledge that isn’t tolerance. It’s blindness.
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