Saturday, August 14, 2010

Feminist Moral Bankruptcy

"Many human rights groups have criticised the Iranian authorities for their brutal treatment of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, including Amnesty International and the International Committee Against Stoning. The mother of two has already received 99 lashes for committing adultery and according to her lawyer, who has fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest, she has been beaten and tortured in jail. Yet the response of feminists in the West has been strangely muted.

Hillary Clinton lost no opportunity to brandish her feminist credentials during her campaign to become the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee in 2008 and even went so far as to blame her failure to beat Barack Obama on the “glass ceiling”.

Unfortunately, the concrete ceiling of Ashtiani’s jail cell hasn’t inspired any comparable rhetoric. All she has said is that she’s “troubled” by Ashtiani’s case.

At least Hillary Clinton was able to bring herself to mutter this mild rebuke. No other prominent feminist has spoken out about Ashtiani’s case, unless you include Yoko Ono who has signed the petition calling for her to be freed. We’ve heard nothing from Germaine Greer, nothing from Gloria Steinem, nothing from Jane Fonda, nothing from Naomi Wolf, nothing from Clare Short, nothing from Harriet Harmen.

We know why, of course. Almost no one on the left, with the honourable exception of Christopher Hitchens, dares to breath a word against any Islamic country for fear of being branded “Islamophobic”. Thus, a brutal dictatorship is able to torture and murder thousands of innocent women, safe in the knowledge that the self-styled keepers of the West’s conscience will remain silent.

The left has always had a blind spot when it comes to the abuse of human rights in the developing world and no one is more guilty of this myopia than the women’s movement.

...The reaction of some in the West is to accuse them of a colonialist mentality. A British critic...demanded: “Why are we so wonderful? Our society is still just as sexist, albeit in more subtle ways, than the burka-enforcing Taleban. Working on a farm and producing your own food is a far more viable and healthy option that slaving in a sweat or sex shop.”

Could the West’s self-appointed defenders of women’s rights have done anything to prevent the wholesale slaughter of their sisters in the developing world if they’d taken up their cause? Could a feminist outcry today about the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani do anything to prevent her death? We will never know, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that their continuing silence reveals the moral bankruptcy of their movement.

Toby Young, Why have Western feminists been so muted in their criticisms of Iran?

Toby Young is quite right to identify the moral bankruptcy of the feminist movement, but if he is surprised then he is clearly expecting too much of it. I learned a long time ago that you cannot expect feminists to stand up consistently on large matters of principle, despite how much they might like to fool themselves to the contrary. Consistently holding a moral principle means that, sometimes, you might have to forego an opportunity to indulge or enrich yourself, and that won’t do at all. Feminism has never been anything other than a call to narcissistic self-aggrandisement, encouraging women to ‘have it all’, and to cover any resultant negative consequences by bleating that ‘men have always had it all, so it’s only fair’. As such, feminism is a doctrine which is fundamentally designed to promote opportunism, selfishness and narcissism, and rather than encouraging high principle, it naturally leads instead to the sacrifice of high principles on the altars of avarice, spite and apathy.

Why does Young even think that feminists in particular should comment on the Ashtiani case anyway? It is of course, because Ashtiani is a woman, and because feminists are ‘the West’s self-appointed defenders of women’s rights’. Feminists are only interested in their own chosen client constituency: women. They are only interested in women because they themselves are women. They believe that the State should do as much as possible to ensure women’s comfort and security. As such, the feminist movement is essentially a National Socialist movement. Cradle-to-grave, State-funded social care, but only if you are an Aryan, sorry, Womyn. If you’re not one of the chosen ones, then you can go hang. That was Hitler’s social program in a nut-shell. The implication here is the same. Human rights abuses are only a bad thing if they are happening to women; as long as they are happening to men, the feminist movement couldn’t give a toss, and is not even expected to. What paragons of moral virtue.

As Young's quote above demonstrates, feminists apparently feel unable to distinguish why life in the West is any better than life in Iran anyway, without fear of seeming racist. This lack of moral confidence is a problem not just of the feminist movement, but of the Left in general. Since the late 1960s, radical scepticism has been the fashion in Western Left-wing academic circles. The dogma insists that there is no such thing as the truth, there is only opinion; nothing is 'natural' or determined, everything is socially constructed through discourse. If knowledge is impossible, then moral knowledge is also impossible. There is no such thing as right and wrong, good or bad. These terms are too judgemental. It is impossible to say anything about anything. Except that women are good and men are bad. Go figure.

Feminists have generally chosen not to speak out on the Ashtiani case, and it is easy to see why. For one thing, Iran is a very long way away (I would love to read about it, dahhhling (yawn), but I have a lunch appointment).

More importantly, feminists only have two moral positions to choose from:

  • Self-serving, Statist, Manichean partisanship (the morals of National Socialism).
  • Post-modernism (no morals at all).

Which one goes with this burka? Does my ego look big in this?