Monday, March 27, 2006
Steyn gives us two thought provoking anecdotes that say a lot about how the West's values and approach to other cultures has evolved:
Consider, for example, the words of the Prince of Wales, speaking a few days ago at al-Azhar University in Cairo. This is "the world's oldest university," though what they learn there makes the average Ivy League nuthouse look like a beacon of sanity. Anyway, this is what His Royal Highness had to say to 800 Islamic "scholars":
"The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others. In my view, the true mark of a civilized society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers."
That's correct. But the reality is our society pays enormous respect to minorities — President Bush holds a month-long Ramadan-a-ding-dong at the White House every year; the immediate reaction to the slaughter of 9/11 by the president, the prince, the prime ministers of Britain, Canada and everywhere else was to visit a mosque to demonstrate their great respect for Islam. One party to this dispute is respectful to a fault: after all, to describe the violence perpetrated by Muslims over the Danish cartoons as the "recent ghastly strife" barely passes muster as effete Brit toff understatement.
In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of "suttee" — the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:
''You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."
India today is better off without suttee. If we shrink from the logic of that, then in Afghanistan and many places far closer to home the implications are, as the Prince of Wales would say, "ghastly."
I think the term "culturally confident" is extremely apt, at least as illustrated in the two quotes from Britain's leaders. Somewhere along the line, multiculturalism, which began I think as a good faith tolerance of cultures different from our own, has evolved not into open minded tolerance, but into a lack of confidence, if not downright intolerance, of our own culural values.
Clearly, there are many many people in the West who have lost their cultural confidence. We've been walking on eggshells for years now, and to what effect? The Islamists don't seem to have any problems imposing their values on us when given the opportunity. Is cultural confidence lost to the West, and if not, what will it take to bring it back? Four years ago I would have predicted that we had begun a reversal of sorts, but the West's collective lack of spine in defending our own cherished values of free expression during the cartoon kerfuffle make me wonder whether, as a society, we've passed the point of no return.
I normally don't have too much problem with Steyn's columns. I can live with the cultural confidence idea as it applies to insisting on some form of core culture in your home country, but insofar as trying to impose your ideology on foreign nations, aren't you then indulging in cultural imperialism?
That's a defensible position if you're going for all-out war, but he'd better be ready to be viewed as the Enemy.
"Cultural confidence" may be more than what is needed -- and if taken to extreme, may actually work against the effort -- to defeat those who do not wish to interact with others in peace and freedom.
IMO, a better condition to achieve our objectives, would be "confidence in core principles" ... specifically, the principles of human interaction that transcend culture.
Principles like ...
... people thrive when their ability to live free and pursue happiness as individuals is structually protected in their government.
... part of that structual protection is sufficient checks-and-balances within that government to preclude its hijacking by those who would deny others their rights, in order to dominate or exploit them for personal advancement.
... thriving people are far less likely to use force to deny others their rights.
... when the leaders of nations act brutally, it is in our best interest to act swiftly and decisively to end that brutality ... anywhere on the planet, not just in places where Americans are being targeted.
Unfortunately, and in part because of the excesses of past "cultural confidence", having confidence in these core principles has been denigrated to almost taboo status.
There are too many in this society who are so afraid we will do something wrong, they will not endorse correcting the obvious wrongs of others ... regardless of how much it costs in blood and treasure when we do nothing, regardless of how much MORE it costs to deal with the problem later.
This is arguably the greatest mistake America, and those like her, have made in the last 50 years ... not having confidence in the basic human principles that have made our existence (and that of many other nations) peaceful and prosperous, to the degree that we are willing to, in a decisive and timely manner, seek to apply them to nations that are obviously dysfunctional ...
... simply because we don't want to be seen as "arrogant" or "imperialist".
At the least, we are throwing out the bathwater.
At the most, we allow more Saddams and Taliban to hijack the wealth of nations, to turn against us ... lethally.