Perhaps the most famous adherent of this view was the French philosopher Michel Foucault, who brought cultural relativism to a new level:
The philosopher went to Iran in fall 1978 to bear witness to a society in upheaval. There, like a hypercerebral John Reed, he took up the revolutionary cause. Foucault had found a rupture in the fabric of the Enlightenment project of rational domination, and he celebrated it. In their laser-like Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson tell all. They even include, in the back of their hardheaded account, translations–good ones–of Foucault’s many commentaries on Iran, as well as contemporary rebuttals by those who knew better.
Bringing Foucault’s ill-informed enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution to light is not just a matter of exorcising or excising a malign spirit from Foucault’s corpus. In their brilliant unraveling of Foucault’s Iranian moment, Afary and Anderson seek to guard us more generally from accepting what we do not know simply out of repugnance for what we do. Foucault, they show, fell for the oldest trick in the book: If we’re bad, they must be good. The epigraph that opens Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, taken from the 1978 writings of an Iranian feminist critic of the French thinker, sets the stage for this charge: “The Western liberal Left needs to know that Islamic law can become a dead weight on societies hungering for change. The Left should not let itself be seduced by a cure that is perhaps worse than the disease.”
Perhaps worse? How about many times worse than the disease? I know — it’s hard for so-called “progressives” to admit the obvious, but at least the likes of Geert Wilders and, now, Angela Merkel can. Nevertheless, we live in a culture where reporters at the New York Times spend more time searching for non-existent racists at Tea Parties than they do the tentacles of Shariah finance in the U.S. and executives of NOW spend more time worrying about Christine O’Donnell than they do clitoredectomies, stonings, or honor killings.
Where does this kind of reactionary thinking come from? There are several sources, but cultural relativism is surely one of the most important of them. CR came in through the back door under the benign rubric of ”multiculturalism,” which to most people meant eating tacos on Cinco de Mayo or taking a few extra shots on St. Patty’s Day — perfectly harmless, indeed neighborly, activities that anyone could and should applaud.
But MC and CR had much more in mind. They fused with the world of identity politics in a cocktail that is reactionary while pretending to be “progressive.” Ironically, this fusion abetted the oppression of the very people it purported to aid, helping only their leadership, who, in turn, fanned the flames of “multiculturalism.” MC became a kind of false religion in modern society that has been impermeable to criticism — hiding behind accusations of racism and the like, when, if anything, multiculturalism is itself racist in the sense that it seeks to divide us.
It is almost miraculous that someone of Merkel’s stature has finally spoken out against it. I rather doubt she wants to be associated with Geert Wilders, but I will do that here. I will salute both of them, at whatever level, and hope their cause will be successful. (I was going to write “crusade” rather than “cause” in the last sentence, but censored myself because of the ramifications of the word “crusade.” See, I too have been infected. Let’s stop this.)