Well, that about clears it up for me. Does this not disqualify Steinem from writing the first words of an otherwise serious book about the Muslim world? And if not, why so? When given the chance to denounce the obvious causes of misery in the region, Ms. Steinem instead chose to prevaricate with the fourth-rate sociology for which she has long been known. After whetting our palettes with that amuse-bouche, she serves her delicacy:
“Why is it that the oldest cultures so rarely create a hierarchy by separating ‘masculine’ from ‘feminine,’ mind from body, intellect from emotion, humans from nature?”
To the Gloria Steinems of the world, all non-Western people are the same and must be standardized to fit a pre-fabricated meta-narrative. Details be damned: the problem with the world is that there are just too many Westerners spoiling the soup. Ironically, the contributors to this volume would disagree, as do some of its admirers. On the rear of the book, for instance, is a laudatory blurb from Azar Nafisi, author of the brilliant Reading Lolita in Tehran and a writer who transcends the terms “left” and “right” while honorably repudiating the whackos of both sides. One wonders why a writer of obvious skill and depth was passed over for a droning has-been of dubious expertise.
Once you take it as a given that non-Western problems invariably have Western origins, you forfeit any claim to know what makes a truly stable political culture. Building an open society is hard work. Oddly, both radical leftists and nation-building Wilsonians seem to agree that democracy is in some way contingent on Western civilization: the former believe it cannot occur in the presence of it, the latter that it cannot occur in the absence of it. Both are, in the final analysis, woefully unprepared to deal with real problems and real people. Both see humans as mere pieces on Adam Ferguson’s chessboard: automata reacting to materialist forces, or automata in need of being moved by enlightened idealists. The purveyors of bloodless sociology thus can never be counted on to produce anything other than bloody misery. That someone like Gloria Steinem is still considered an appropriate choice to pronounce on human rights is one of the reasons why the dreams referred to in this book’s title may well remain unrealized.
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