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The Burqa vs. the Wonderbra?
April 11, 2003 12:06 AM   Subscribe

A Sexual Clash of Civilizations? Using data from the World Values Survey, two researchers argue that Samuel Huntington's theory of a clash of Islamic and Western civilizations completely ignores the role of sexual tolerance as an indicator of a democratic society. An interesting point to ponder when Islamic countries and Christian Right activists have teamed up to lobby the United Nations against the expansion of gay rights and family planning.
posted by jonp72 (20 comments total)

 
See also: Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence.
posted by Eloquence at 12:51 AM on April 11, 2003


I disagree with the thesis advanced only because history seems to speak against it. Women didn't get the vote until after the first world war in most of the West, having been ruled legally to be persons only a few decades beforehand. Homosexuality was illegal until the middle of the 20th century in England and America, and is only now achieving lukewarm social acceptance. Birth control's legal status was questionable until the first birth control pills in the 1960's, and abortion is still under attack. And yet, despite all of that, the English-speaking world has a strong democratic tradition dating back centuries.

Frankly, sexual tolerance seems more to be an epiphenomenon of liberal democracies than vice-versa. To demand the Muslims to be any more sexually liberal than 18th century Americans would be in order to have a democracy seems to be putting the cart before the horse.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:21 AM on April 11, 2003


According to Bernard Lewis:

Another approach has been to view the main culprit as the relegation of women to an inferior position in Muslim society, which deprives the Islamic world of the talents and energies of half its people and entrusts the other half's crucial early years of upbringing to illiterate and downtrodden mothers."

Really a matter resource, not sexuality.

Of course mistreating any minority (including gays) is usually a sign of un-enlightened self-interest too -- but I'm not sure what the connection is beyond that.
posted by victors at 1:27 AM on April 11, 2003


People are still putting up Burma-Shave signs in the high grass along the edges of the Fukuyama Highway.
posted by Opus Dark at 2:35 AM on April 11, 2003


Frankly, sexual tolerance seems more to be an epiphenomenon of liberal democracies than vice-versa. To demand the Muslims to be any more sexually liberal than 18th century Americans would be in order to have a democracy seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

But it seems to me that one of the contentions of the article is that these nations want to have a democracy, but they can't, because of the inherent cultural biases against women, biases against "deviant" sexual behavior, and a lack of acceptance of "self-expression values".

From the article: These issues are part of a broader syndrome of tolerance, trust, political activism, and emphasis on individual autonomy that constitutes “self-expression values.” The extent to which a society emphasizes these self-expression values has a surprisingly strong bearing on the emergence and survival of democratic institutions.

I think your argument works well for the biases against women and "deviant" sexual behavior, but not the final one. It seems to me that at the founding of America's government, there was a commitment to allowing unpopular voices to be heard. It is precisely these unpopular voices that changed our culture into what it is now. With that in place, I agree that "sexual tolerance seems more to be an epiphenomenon of liberal democracies than vice-versa".

Sexual tolerance has arisen out of the voices of the unpopular.
posted by cohappy at 3:01 AM on April 11, 2003


However, the position I'm taking seems to me to lead to the conclusion that you don't need sexual tolerance beforehand when creating a new democracy, all you need is a commitment to dissent: all the rest (gender equity, sexual tolerance) will kind of take care of itself. If that's true why is the article even worrying about sexual tolerance at all? Does my argument reveal a problem with the article or my reasoning?
posted by cohappy at 3:09 AM on April 11, 2003


Suddenly I realize that I'm arguing with myself about my own comment. How meta.

I'm going to sleep now.
posted by cohappy at 3:10 AM on April 11, 2003


MetaFilter: I'm wrong! No, I'm wrong!

cohappy: Seems to me that a healthy respect for, and tradition of, dissent is a lot more of a prerequisite for a democratic society than sexual liberation. Bear in mind, the US revolutionaries were heavily influenced by 18th century dissidents like Voltaire and Paine, and the post-Cold War Eastern European leaders were influenced by the samizdat tradition--it probably isn't that huge of a coincidence that Vaclav Havel visited the US in the 1960s, and brought back a taste of the counterculture of that time.

Too bad, though, because I'd definitely rather be making love for peace, than fighting for virginity.
posted by arto at 3:35 AM on April 11, 2003


Well, really. Let's focus on theoretical fantasies vs. hard-core reality.

I have a simpler theory: sexual freedom is an invididual rigth looked at in a very suspicious manner by many governments around the land. The reason is obvious: the state depends on it for the production of future citizens. This is not meant to sound sinister, it is simply a basic premise of "statehood".

And this includes the mighty government of the maximum exponent of "liberal democracy" (or constitutional republic or whatever you want to call it). Sodomoy laws, legal discrimination based on sexual orientation and official abstinence crap talks louder than intentions, and impacts people directly.

As for separation of Church and State, I'll be wary until the money stops carrying the "In God We Trust". Think I'm exaggerating? The fact that the US government has the gall to go into the UN and lobby for the opposite of what American laws says (in abortion matters for instance) only pales when compared to the fact the US government is in fact forging alliances with its worst ideological enemies to pursue those goals. Nice subordination of basic democratic decency (respect for American disparity of opinions) to extreme religious principles there.

As for gender discrimination, I believe (but could be wrong) that there are higher numbers of females getting better educated than males anywhere you care to look at (including at least some places in the Arab/Muslim world). Once again, my hopes on the matter are rooted on that type of tangible evidence rather than in neverland.

Finally, there are obvious differences between Western discrimination and Muslim discrimination - but how much of it is simple cosmetics?
posted by magullo at 3:54 AM on April 11, 2003


Democracy, at least in England, happened in incremental steps and often as a by-product of something else (Magna Carter, civil war). At any stage it could have gone the other way. Sometimes it had to be physically fought for. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that there's nothing inevitable about history. The author seems to be suggesting that the superiority of Western values made democracy inevitable. But if a couple of things had happened differently I could be living in either an absolute monarchy or a protestant theocracy.
posted by Summer at 4:25 AM on April 11, 2003


Imagine that! Oppressive fundamentalists joining together to oppress minority populations! Does this make Falwell the leader of the American Taliban?

On a more serious note, Qutb's writings "In the Shade of the Koran" he espouses exactly the dogma that "self expression values" is antithetical to the practice of Islam. Paul Berman has a new book out entitled "Terror and Liberalism" that goes into detail for those interested in the subject area.

I would posit that the oppression of women is more a marker, or a result of, oppressive belief systems than a precursor to said systems.

The nofundy knows fundies.
posted by nofundy at 4:46 AM on April 11, 2003


Most 'Islamic' countries these days don't work because quite simply the people don't follow Islam fully. Due to lack of proper resources/a centralised and recognised religious structure, the vast majority are unable to properly analyse and understand their religion (as is stated as a requirement in the Qu'ran) and instead learn the motions of the religion rather than the meanings. This leads to a mishmash of culture and religion in virtually every muslim country in the world.

Its not the religion that persecutes (well, from my knowledge of it) - its the culture that does. This is also the reason you can't have a mixture of church and state at the moment - Islamic law can only be applied when people fully understand their religion, rather than following things by rote. This requires better education, which is hard in deprived countries.. Most muslim countries have literacy rates of below 50%.

Looking at the more developed countries, such as Indonesia (I think), you can see that women there are better educated/even have a prominent role in society/politics.

I don't think democracy would work that well in most muslim countries due to the simple lack of education. Democracy is the rule of the people and if the people lack the necessary skills to look past rhetoric when voting, what does that leave you with?

I think Iran would have been a good model before the Shah took over, but hey, thats history..

Wonder if any of that made sense? Hmm, off to get a breakfast..
posted by Mossy at 5:47 AM on April 11, 2003


One of the chief purposes of ALL religions is to regulate and control sexuality and reproduction among its believers.
Andof course there is always some hypocrisy going on between what is preached and what is actually done.
posted by Postroad at 5:52 AM on April 11, 2003


"I would posit that the oppression of women is more a marker, or a result of, oppressive belief systems than a precursor to said systems."

I tend to agree, but where does that leave Switzerland? (I'm not being sarcastic)

"the dogma that "self expression values" is antithetical to the practice of Islam."

In the meantime, "evolution" - not simple self-expression values, but rather hard science - is considered a religious issue elsewhere (note above does no longer apply)
posted by magullo at 5:55 AM on April 11, 2003


Tariq Ali, The Clash of the Fundamentalisms? It's a little-reported fact that American Muslims voted in a bloc for Bush in the last election, and, in some accounts, "delivered Florida for President Bush" — 90% of Florida Muslims voted GOP. Social conservatism was the underlying political motivation. Talk about your irony.
posted by hairyeyeball at 6:05 AM on April 11, 2003


Pseudoephedrine: Women didn't get the vote until after the first world war in most of the West, having been ruled legally to be persons only a few decades beforehand....

And yet, despite all of that, the English-speaking world has a strong democratic tradition dating back centuries.


Um, the first sentence kind of invalidates the second one, no?
posted by signal at 6:29 AM on April 11, 2003


Looks like joint lobbying has already started.
posted by evening at 6:50 AM on April 11, 2003


oh, this is rediculous.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 PM on April 11, 2003


Signal> Not really. Democracy only means that all citizens vote. Since women weren't persons and therefore weren't citizens in a legal sense under English common law, they therefore didn't have the franchise. The unrestricted adult franchise is rather a new idea in democracy.

Cohappy> I would defend myself only by saying that "self-expression values" as used by the authors of that article is a vague and meaningless phrase, and unimportant to their argument, which primarily focuses on the role of sexual tolerance.

I'd also be careful about calling the founding fathers of America "individualists" if we're using that term in a modern sense. They dressed alike, had similar political, religious and moral opinions, had similar social mores, and a strong sense of social conformity. How they differed from their fellow Englishmen was that they merely thought the state should have no say in the administration of these things, but that it should be left to non-state bodies to sort out amongst themselves. That's not to impugn them, as I respect them a great deal, but one can be a tolerant democrat in a liberal society without being an "individualist".
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:47 AM on April 12, 2003


Pseudoephedrine: I'm sure the english governents of their time met their own definition of "democratic", but who doesn't? If democracy means narrowly defining a subset of "citizens" who make or influence decisions, then there has never been a non-democratic government.
I do not consider democratic any system in which a sector of the population is denied the right to vote because of their race, sex, tribe, etc. etc. I do not consider classical Athens democratic, nor pre-black or women vote US, nor early latin-american states that had an education requirement before allowing people to vote.
posted by signal at 10:18 AM on April 14, 2003


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