Cultural Relativism and Burkas

My students descended into shocked silence when I suggested that burkas are immoral and oppressive. Some of their fear, it seemed, was related to their expectation that the thought police might burst in and drag them and me away.

Burkas violate “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The idea that one oscillates between house arrest and being accompanied by a male relative when traveling in public, is a form of imprisonment. To be told that even in those restricted circumstances, when in public it would be necessary to be covered from head to foot with perhaps even the eyes hidden from view, would be anathema. Freedom of movement and the ability to choose how one dresses in public are granted to men, but not to women.

Imagine an American husband insisting that his wife wear a burka. Her desires, but not his, are considered irrelevant. He complains that her shapely figure arouses his lusts and he would rather not be burdened with them. Even worse, it may arouse the desires of other men who will likewise be burdened by the sight of an attractive woman. Therefore, he reserves the right to beat her for any failure to conform. Such a husband would be a tyrant and a bully; subjecting his wife to edicts that he would never willingly obey himself. It would mean losing freedom of movement and make all public activities burdensome. The heat of summer would be particularly uncomfortable. Smiling and making eye contact with those encountered in the course of the day would be impossible. The extreme anonymity would heighten the pressure of family life to provide social needs, since being behind the closed walls of the familial prison would be the time when identity and feelings would be most apparent.

Suppose that the man then persuaded his friends to follow suit and that pretty soon the entire society had collaborated in restricting women in this way. There would even be men armed with sticks ensuring that any woman who deviated from this behavior was beaten up.

Politically correct cultural relativism means that if a sadistic husband, unable or unwilling to take responsibility for his own desires, managed to persuade enough people to join him in his oppressive behavior, it would then become utterly moral and acceptable. Somehow in our modern wisdom, we have finally rejected the golden rule.

76 thoughts on “Cultural Relativism and Burkas

  1. Pingback: Cultural Relativism and Burkas | Aus-Alt-Right

  2. By the exact same arguments, Westerners forcing our women to cover their breasts in public is a form of imprisonment.

    A few points on why both arguments are fallacious. Men and women are different, so it is to be expected that their standards of bodily modesty would differ. “Do unto others…” does not mean everyone must be treated identically. To say that it does is feminism, an anti-Christian and anti-human ideology. Society has a legitimate interest in the regulation of female sexuality, and this interest can properly be expressed in both custom and law. Human reproduction requires the provisioning of women and children by men, and the latter are motivated by guarantees of legitimate paternity and their station as head of the household, both of which require social structures that restrict females. Restriction of female exhibition is also in the interest of most women, who would prefer not to be in an arms race with other women to see who can capture coveted male attention by showing the most skin. There are also a nontrivial number of women who do wish to undermine communal moral norms by immodest dress and behavior (slutwalkers); society has the right and duty to defend itself against them.

  3. The article did not claim that burkas are a form of imprisonment. It was contended that burka wearing is coupled with what amounts to house arrest. Men do not wish to live under those conditions. You do not wish to, so I do not see why women should have to.

    Your comment seems to opt for an all or nothing approach. Female sexuality is indeed different from men’s because women get pregnant. My argument is consistent with dimorphism.

    Forcing women to wear burkas is too extreme. There are many middle grounds between bared breasts and burkas. One can oppose many forms of censorship without having to agree that yelling ‘fire’ in a theater should be permitted.

    While I am troubled by the increasing difficulty that exists in distinguishing some young women’s outfits from those of prostitutes, I have yet to come around to the idea that they should be illegal and beating them with sticks in the fashion of Saudi Arabia.

    Since burka-wearing is a Muslim practice, saying that it is anti-human and anti-Christian to oppose it seems wrong. Never have Christians advocated this practice. Are all those who are dismayed by the sight of burka-wearing women anti-human?

    • The idea that the choice is between burkas and female empowerment though is a false dichotomy. Women should be held to public standards of modesty set primarily by men. The results of a hundred years of female empowerment in the area of public adornment has made that as plain as day.

    • If you favor a middle ground between burkas and slutwalkers, you must give a reason to condemn the burka which is not also a reason to condemn laws against women flaunting their breasts or genitals in public.

      • I’ll give a reason to condemn the burka which does not simultaneously condemn laws enforcing Christian modesty on unwilling slutty women in Christian societies.

        My reason is that Islam is a despicable false violent disgusting false religion, so a good Christian society will (within the domain of prudence) suppress and proscribe many of its symbols, one of which is the Burka.

      • Yeah. Plus, Islam is false. 😉

        Actually, it isn’t too tough I think to come up with a reason based in Natural Law. In a society properly ordered with respect to sex, burkas and nakedness (and its simulacrum in slutty dress) would be abhorred equally and viscerally by women (and men), as rank violations of good custom. No formal enforcement of dress codes would be needed. Women would feel odd and wrong, icky, ashamed and embarrassed, if they were dressed in anything other than the folk costumes traditional among their kind; and these would tend to modesty, for in a properly ordered civilization, women (and men) would understand that alluring all the men on the street with immodest displays would work against their own interests and those of their children, as well as against the Good.

        While such folk costumes would tend to modesty, they would stop short of the burka. The burka’s contradiction of the Natural Law is manifest in its absurd impracticality. Viz., women trying to drink tea or eat while wearing a burka.

        That the burka is felt necessary in Muslim lands shows that male sexuality in those lands is deeply perverted. The burka is not the only manifestation of that perversion.

        NB: there’s plenty of perversion of sexuality in the West, too, it just manifests differently. That we don’t have folk costumes to speak of anymore (those of us who are not New England or Southern Brahmins, anyway), but are instead all fashion victims more or less, shows that we don’t have folks to begin with anymore, that can have customs. So when it comes to dressing, there are no safe harbors. Everyone then whose social success depends upon appearance ends up joining in an arms race to the bottom.

        The same thing is at work in music. The dearth of musical folk customs results in … rap.

      • “you must give a reason to condemn the burka which is not also a reason to condemn laws against women flaunting their breasts or genitals in public.”

        I can give it a shot. Sexual organs are essentially sexual in purpose, so should be covered. The face is essentially not a sexual organ. Easy enough.

        The primary purpose of the face in society is communication. It makes a fundamental difference if a person communicates in the open, revealing his or her face, or if they speak from behind a veil. (This is true online as well as in-person.) Having one’s face hidden, if involuntary, is being symbolically robbed of one’s status as a responsible agent in society, and if voluntary, amounts to a refusal to communicate and a signal of contempt. Thus, in a society where putting one’s face to one’s deeds is the norm, people in masks and burqas receive an automatic, near-involuntary distrust that precedes even any association between burqa and Islam.

      • I like Arakawa’s reason. You can’t run a high trust culture wherein masks are pervasive. Who wears masks? Noh actors, ninjas, criminals, assassins, spies – i.e., professional liars and (in the case of the actors) fabulists – and Muslim women. In the West, we wear masks only for costume parties and Halloween, wherein an important point of the event is to turn things upside down. When lots of people are out on the street in masks every day, it’s the equivalent of having lots of bars on the windows: it betrays deep social distrust, danger, instability.

        Islam engenders famously low trust societies. The Turkish Admiral at Lepanto went down with his entire personal treasure on board, because *there were no bankers he could trust in Istanbul.*

      • Arakawa, Kristor, and Zippy get gold stickers for giving reasons for condemning the burka that don’t condemn all socially enforced standards of modesty. None of them try to prove too much by claiming that natural law demands one standard in particular. In fact, we know that they do vary from culture to culture. For example, in some aboriginal cultures women go bare-breasted; in others, women must cover their hair. The very diversity of standards is itself good, because it gives an added meaning to a woman’s compliance of identification with a particular culture. So long as the standard is reasonable in the senses suggested (does cover genitals, doesn’t cover face, doesn’t impede function) a society may legitimately enforce it. No culture faces the burden of providing a reason why, for example, the dress must go down to x inches below the knee rather than x-1. Precise cutoffs are often arbitrary but necessary.

      • @Kristor. That’s a good point. Islam is perverted male sexuality, just as modern cultural Marxism (or whatever you want to call it) is perverted female sexuality, though they’re both more than that.

        That may be a clue as to why they are allies despite the obvious differences: they both hate the healthy restraint upon both sexes that the Church teaches.

  4. The real issue IS WHY Western “feminists” ARE SO SILENT on the issue of female oppression under Islam? And the most simple answer is that Western “feminism” is devout dyke protocol MISNAMED as a matter of methodical deception. DYKES care NOTHING for “woman.” And where “white” dykes ARE RARELY FORCED to confront the savage misogyny of Islam, they are NEVER WILLING to place its roots in the desire of its jihadists for radical sexual autonomy. And this is the motivation behind burkas and home arrest and no such thing as rape in jihad world… Desire for radical sexual autonomy (as means to a perpetual self-annihilation).

    The desire for seventy-two “lily-white” virgins AS REWARD for the self-annihilating mass murder of a gaggle of Western dykes IS DESIRE for an ETERNAL radical sexual autonomy, ie., absolute sexual degeneracy.

    And then Bonald thinks this means that “we” must counter with own type of sexual degeneracy. Yet, “we” ALREADY have “feminism” for just this scenario… Is yours the counter to jihad? Our females need to strip naked?

    • And at the very same time there are the WOMEN of jihad WILLING TO DON the burka due the “truth” of Islam silently recognizing both the sexual degeneracy of the male jihadist and her personal role in perpetuating this sexual degeneracy with an “above-average fertility” replacement rate. The burka then does in some small way represent this Islamic female’s regenerate sacrifice. But do not expect any Western dyke to come to her regenerate defense.

    • Dyke… A female who is sexually averse to the male and thus spiritually, intellectually and physically deleterious to man himself.

  5. I think it is important to distinguish between “relative” relativism and “absolute” relativism. The former says that since we are limited finite beings we can only “know” the Truth in a relative or non-exhaustive sense, whereas the latter, “absolute” relativism, rejects the Truth as such.

    The question is, do theses distinctions amount to the same thing in practice?

  6. Pingback: Cultural Relativism and Burkas | Reaction Times

  7. Well yeah, Bonald, TD, and others covered pretty much the same sentiment, but it doesn’t particularly bother me that women in the middle east cover themselves (or even that they’re forced to). Islam should be opposed on the sole grounds that it is untrue, not because we find their practices inconvenient to women.

    The women who wear this crap in European societies are a different story. It is almost as though they are announcing their presence as invaders and we just have to accept it.

    Though, on a side note, I tutor girls in English in the Middle Eastern world over skype and nearly everyone of them hates being covered and having their movement restricted. One girl in Saudi Arabia even asked me to teach her about Christianity. I did so, hesitant at first, since I don’t want her to get her head cut off, but I felt obligated. So I do feel that an appeal of Christianity is that it is far more respectful of women, but we’ve become so inundated with whores that the need to restrain women’s baser desires (which apparently includes dressing like sluts sometimes) isn’t even considered anymore.

  8. Yeah Burqas are weird and it does not say good things about a culture that requires women to wear them. It should be noted however that burqas are not necessarily required by Islamic tradition. One can be an orthodox Muslim without going full Taliban.

  9. By the exact same arguments, Westerners forcing our women to cover their breasts in public is a form of imprisonment.

    A few points on why both arguments are fallacious. Men and women are different, so it is to be expected that their standards of bodily modesty would differ. “Do unto others…” does not mean everyone must be treated identically.

    A pervasive modern error is to approach the problem of an unjust inequality and seek to resolve it by enforcing equality. However, very often the right solution is a just inequality.

    • @ GJ I’m not sure why my argument is counted among the fallacious on your grounds. I can countenance a just inequality, but do not think this just inequality extends to forcing women to wear burkas. It is just to say “cover yourself reasonably modestly” and what that means exactly will differ between men and women. “Do unto others” does not necessarily mean equality, as in the same actions being dictated to both sexes. The principle is based on fairness and justice. If you say men’s and women’s freedom must be curtailed for the good of society, which it is perfectly reasonable to say, the moral principles and rationale include both. If there is a problem with the golden rule then we are stuck with moral nihilism and no further discussion about these kinds of topics is warranted.

      • It’s difficult to tell whether, underlying your citation of ‘do unto others’, there is that modern erroneous assumption of Equality which invokes an entirely different philosophical framework.

        Likewise, in such an age not all uses of ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ can be taken at face value.

      • @ GJ – the lie of equality is one of the greatest problems hindering our ability to think clearly about just about anything at this point in time.

        The claims of SJWs concerning justice are entirely erroneous. My opposition to them could not be stronger. One of them concerns equality of result and that if the result is unequal this is evidence of injustice.

      • Richard Cocks…

        There is not really a “lie of equality.” There is a redundant phenomenon… And it is equal to itself… But “it” is not our highest reality… There is not “universal equality…” Ours is not a reality reduced to The Redundant Phenomenon… YET… ALL the above occurs within Perfection. The lie of the egalitarian is his claim of being above and outside Perfection… To possess a soul having originated outside Perfection… To claim all souls having originated outside Perfection as though a “metaphysical equality” reigned universally.

      • Richard Cocks:

        If there is a problem with the golden rule then we are stuck with moral nihilism and no further discussion about these kinds of topics is warranted.

        “Do unto others…” is the perfect vehicle to smuggle in emotivism.

        And emotivism is pervasive because under liberalism the usage of ‘justice’ is bound up with commitments to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

      • @ GJ – Emotivism is morally nihilistic. It reduces notions of “right” and “wrong” to “yum” and “yuck.” Those have nothing to do with moral realism and everything to do with trivializing and eradicating moral differences. Do unto others does not imply emotivism. The misuse or misinterpretation of a heuristic does not invalidate the heuristic. Likewise, the fact that many liberals misuse “justice” to promote immoral ends, cannot be used as a reason for jettisoning justice which is synonymous with morality; hence, the expression, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” SJWs are immoral because they contravene what is in fact just. They are social injustice warriors.

      • Richard Cocks:

        As you say, ‘do unto others’ is a practical heuristic. An action is not wrong because “I wouldn’t want it”, but because it violates natural law. Therefore if an action is wrong, a good explanation as to why it is wrong can (in principle) be formulated without recourse to “I wouldn’t want it”.

        And since ‘do unto others’ is such a great Trojan horse for emotivism, it would only be prudent to avoid recourse to ‘do unto others’ in academic analysis of an action.

      • @ GJ – It’s interesting that something thousands of years old could be rendered useless by some whining SJWs. The Force must be powerful in them. Confuscius’s version – Do not do to other what you would not have them to do you – was replaced and updated by Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What heuristic do you suggest replacing it with? Love your enemies? Love your neighbor as yourself? Or are we to jettison these traditional Christian modes of thought too? Slavery is immoral because it treats the masters’ desires and wishes as relevant and the slaves’ irrelevant. No such difference can be justified. It’s just not fair! Hence, do unto others.

      • Richard Cocks:

        What I am proposing is to let a heuristic remain a heuristic, and not actually be used in serious academic analysis of the morality of an action.

        Slavery is immoral because it treats the masters’ desires and wishes as relevant and the slaves’ irrelevant.

        Again, if an action is immoral it can be construed as such without resort to invoking of ‘do unto others’ – which as a practical heuristic is not meant to bear the weight for academic moral analysis.

        However, if you do insist on using it the way you have, I must ask you to justify how ‘do unto others…’ becomes ‘[Only] do unto others….

      • Natural law, at least pertaining to Plato, is related to the structure of reality. This structure is known through moral and spiritual development culminating in the Form of the Good. When it is seen, it causes a person to act wisely. Morality cannot be fully known or explicated rationally. There is a post-rational element in morality that must be taken into account. From a merely rational perspective, this means that there will be first principles, or axiomatic assumptions that can’t be proven – see Goedel’s Theorem. Philosophical moral analysis therefore retains a heuristic quality. If you throw out one heuristic, you will end up assuming the truth of another one, getting you nowhere.

  10. Pingback: On female genital mutilation: natural law arguments | Throne and Altar

  11. Happy I found your site. I WP Googled “cultural relativism” and arrived here. I have a post draft on this topic that has been sitting around for weeks that I want to finish! I write of culture vs. God often as my 21-year obsession with Japan taught me many lessons. Without a higher truth we cannot get beyond these topics. It seems everyone stands for everything but that.

    • To Bonsai – sounds good. In a couple of weeks I’ll have something coming out at The Sydney Traditionalist Forum on the topic of God and culture. T. S. Eliot argued that “no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion: according to the point of view of the observer, the culture [appears] to be the product of the religion, or the religion the product of the culture.” They might be thought of as different aspects of the same thing; culture was “the incarnation of the religion of a people.” Civilizations which appeared to be secular or humanistic, such as ancient Greece and Rome, were actually religious cultures in decline. Culture could not be preserved, extended, or developed in the absence of religion, nor could religion be preserved and maintained if culture was not. http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1992-3/weidner.htm

      A discussion of culture and God in a Japanese context could be interesting to read.

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