Sunday, August 22, 2010

Stoning & The Times

Tibor R. Machan

Do I search for hypocrisies among my adversaries? Not especially, only when it is too obvious to miss. And what if anything is wrong with hypocrisy? So what if you are a liar but make a big deal about condemning lying in your neighbor? Why is that a problem?

In this era when major political figures denounce ideological--by which they of course have in mind principled--thinking, why should one be consistent, show integrity? Those are not the virtues of sophisticates. Those are pedestrian ideals. As our president pointed out--in the pedagogical, finger-wagging fashion he tends to employ--"the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works...." So whether the government is a totalitarian tyranny or a dictatorship isn’t of concern--the only issue is, does it work, which leaves entirely unaddressed what it is supposed to work for!

Anyway my issue here is hypocrisy and my candidate for the hypocrite of the week is The New York Times, which in last Sunday’s Week in Review section ran an essay titled “Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning).” Maybe I am overly suspicious but this piece struck me as bending over backwards not to be too harsh on those societies in which stoning people--especially women--for sex crimes is acceptable. But what makes me suspicious?

Well, consider just a few remarks from the piece. “Much of the outrage these [stoning] cases generated--apart from the sheer anachronism of stoning in the 21st century--seems to stem from the gulf between sexual attitudes in the West and parts of the Islamic world, where radical movements have turned to draconian punishments, and a vision of restoring a long-lost past, in their search for religious authenticity.” “Stoning is not practiced only among Muslims, nor did it begin with Islam.” “Stoning is a legal punishment in only a handful of Muslim countries--in addition to Iran, they include Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Nigeria, but it is very rarely put to use.” “But Islamic law requires very strict conditions for a stoning sentence....” “Some scholars even argue that the stoning penalty is meant more as a symbolic warning against misbehavior....” and “In any case, societies evolve....”

As I see it these bits tell a story of temptation, the temptation of reckless multiculturalism, of cultural and legal relativism. OK, but so what? Well, I was thinking as I was reading these sentences in the Old Gray Lady how would it go over if this is how some writer discussed, say, slavery, ethnic prejudice or the subjugation of women in the West? I doubt it would fly so well.

This bending over backwards so as to be understanding toward cultures in which stoning human beings is regarded as a proper form of punishment--right now in the 21st century--seems to me to show an ideological bias on the part of the editors of The Times. And that bias is that whenever flaws in American history, law, social practices, and such are being discussed, there is no mercy; Americans are held to far higher standards than are those in Muslim cultures, for example.

Not only is this objectionable because it is unjust toward America but also because it is insulting toward Muslims. Somehow the latter do not qualify to be judged by the standards of humanity applicable to Americans and Westerners, it appears. Are they not human enough for that? Is there something inferior about Muslims so when they act in brutal, barbaric ways what is important to mention is that societies evolve? Should this kind of tolerance be accepted vis-a-vis Muslims but not antebellum Southerners who felt, often most sincerely, that slavery was OK? What about all the male chauvinists who thought of women as too emotional for scientific and other kind of work? Are we to think of them all as simply part of “societies [that] evolve”?

I am not about to venture to try to solve the problem of cultural diversity concerning some important human practices and institutions but I thought it worth calling attention to the anti-Western, anti-American bias at The Times.

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