Tuesday, August 17, 2010

James Fergusson: "You must understand the lopping off of a young girl's nose in its proper historical context!"

In CiF, James Fergusson argues that human rights violations, and the brutal violation of women's rights in particular, are not a reason for the British military to remain in Afghanistan.

The first two-and-a-half paragraphs are perfectly reasonable. He initially seems to be arguing that, as important as the rights of Afghani women are, that is not and has not been the purpose of the military mission, and that the military mission is unlikely to succeed in bringing about reform in this regard. This is a fair argument. Frankly I personally have not made up my mind as to whether I think we should stay on the ground if Afghanistan trying to fight for human rights, or if, in a heartbreaking but perhaps necessary stroke of realpolitik we should just get the hell out while we can. These are difficult questions, and both sides can be honestly debated.

At the start of the third paragraph, for a flickering moment it even seems as if Fergusson will avoid the sickening cultural relativism that has poisoned some elements of the Western left with shockingly illiberal beliefs:

This does not mean the west should stand by in silence. On the contrary, it is our duty to go on arguing the case for gender equality and to keep Afghans engaged in that old debate.

Indeed. If we must, in the interest of expediency and self-preservation, withdraw militarily from Afghanistan, we must at least continue to speak out and advocate for reform.

But then we get the first indication that in the end this is not at all the message Fergusson wishes to get across:

But we have no right to be shrill...

Ex-fucking-scuse me?!?

A girl gets her fucking nose chopped off for trying to escape a forced marriage, a pregnant woman is brutally flogged and shot to death in front of a cheering audience for the crime of adultery while her partner in "crime" gets off scot-free, and you tell me not to be shrill?!?!?

Fuck you, James Fergusson.

From there, he just continues to spiral into the faux-multiculturalism trap that tricks otherwise liberal minds into defending the most brutal oppression:

It might help if we understood the Taliban better. The harshness of the punishments they sometimes mete out only seems incomprehensible to the west.

Indeed, it does seem incomprehensible to the West. And at the risk of coming off as a moral absolutist, we are fucking right. I believe it is wrong, objectively wrong, to cut off a young girl's nose just because she doesn't want to be forcibly fucked by an older man she doesn't even know night after night after night. Don't you?

So tell me, James Fergusson, how can "understanding the Taliban better" change my mind on this issue?

The strict sexual propriety the Taliban insist upon is rooted in ancient Pashtun tribal custom, the over-riding purpose of which is to protect the integrity of the tribe, and nothing threatens the gene pool like extramarital relations.

Oh, I see. The Taliban's brutal oppression of women is okay, you see, because it is necessary to uphold their ancient custom of racism. Now I see the light! In the New Multiculturalism, misogyny is wrong -- unless you the misogyny is result of trying to protect against miscegeny. Then it's just dandy!

See, we in the West see a young girl who wanted to make her own choices and, you know, not be raped and all that. But the Taliban see a vile strumpet who is trying to pollute their pure gene pool! The Aryan Pashtun race must not be tainted by lesser blood!

The maltreatment of women is by no means exclusive to the Taliban, nor even to Pashtuns. It is practised all over Afghanistan...

And if all your friends jumped off a bridge shot a woman to death, would you do it too?

In fairness to Fergusson, I took the above quote slightly out of context. After the ellipses:

...including by the state that Nato troops are currently dying to support.

This is indeed a problem, and if Fergusson had stuck to a narrow thesis of abandoning the military mission, this might have been a good bit of evidence to bolster his case that military action cannot be effective in saving the women of Afghanistan. Coming as it does, however, after a plea for us to "understand the Taliban better" so that we can see why it's A-ok after all to replace Monday Night Football with the much more entertaining Monday Night Pregnant Woman Flogging, I just can't take it that way. It comes off less as "the military operation is propping up a regime that is also unacceptably poor on women's rights" and more like "everybody in Afghanistan is doing it, so what's the big deal?"

It seems a paradox, but in the 1990s the Taliban leadership did not see themselves as oppressors of women but as their defenders. Westerners forget the historical context in which the Taliban emerged in 1994, although no Afghan ever will. The Taliban's first purpose was to bring law and order to a country that had been devastated by five years of vicious civil war... To many Afghans, including many Afghan women, oppression was a small price to pay in exchange for an end to the wholesale rape and slaughter of the preceding years.

See, the Taliban are the good guys, because they rape and slaughter fewer women than their predecessors. Hooray for the Taliban! They treat women less like dog shit and more like cattle. What nice fellows!

And just for good measure, let's throw in a nice helping of tu quoque:

The west views gender equality as an absolute human right and so we should. But no country, certainly not Britain, has yet managed unequivocally to establish that right at home; and we tend to forget both how recent our progress towards it is, as well as how hard the struggle has been.

Ah yes. We still have workplace discrimination, a gender imbalance in politics, etc., so who are we to criticize someone for shooting a woman in the head? We really ought to get our own house in order first, eh?

Fergusson might have had a convincing piece if he had just left out this "we need to understand the Taliban" nonsense. There is no historical context that justifies this kind of violence and oppression towards women (or anybody). Maybe he's right that the military mission ought to be abandoned. But when he tells we "have no right to be shrill" when we speak about these atrocities, he can take that sick moral relativism and shove it up his postmodern asshole.

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