Ron Rosenbaum

U.S. Wonks, British Artists and the Saudi Rape Victim: Fear, Silence and Denial

I’ve been thinking about the horror faced by the 18 year old Saudi rape victim who has been sentenced to to 200 lashes of a punitive whip for her “crime” (of being a victim}. Originally a benevolent Saudi jurist had only sentenced her to a mere 90 lashes for being a rape victim, the penalty was increased because she had the effrontery to appeal.

Perhaps this hideously cruel horror doesn’t have the impact of the stream of Saudi educated suicide bombers murdering people of all ages and genders all over the world. But while the Saudi government officially doesn’t sanction suicide bombers, this sick, perverted verdict is “official” Saudi justice. This insane barbarism is normative in Saudi society’s theocratic, sharia law, state. It is the kind of justice radical Islamists seek to impose through suicide bombers and more targeted murders (Theo van Gogh for instance) on the rest of the world when they succeed in exterminating enlightenment values and the world goes dark.

Why not a peep out of all the the self-styled sophisticates on the wonk blogs about this matter? I’m talking about the think-tank type twerps who take such pride in their profound intellectual discernment which finds it’s most supremely self-satisfied fulfillment in quibbling over the use of the word “Islamo-fascism”.

How would they characterize a movement which wants to impose this kind of hateful, woman-hating theocratic police state law–200 lashes for a rape victim!–on all humankind, by force if necessary? Would they consider it worth fighting whatever name it goes under? Would they consider even a priority in their policy obsessed discourse? No, not a word about the victim, but no loss of words about words like “Islamo-facism”. They’re all exercised about that. It’s a chance to show off their shallow and largely ignorant multiculturalism (at the expense of feminism. or at least any pretense at real concern for the plight of women in these societies, of course.)

Would they consider that system that whips rape victims has as much validity as ours? If not what do they propose to do about it. They don’t have the easy, albeit shameful muti-culti live and let live, out, because this ideology seeks to impose itself on the rest of the world. Precisely because it refuses to live and let live. Maybe they can come up with some ideas, they’re wonks after all.

But no, the real enemy is those who allegedly mischaracterize this noble native cultural tradition as “Islamo-fascism”. No words for the plight of this woman, but finger wagging self-congratulatory wonkish lectures for those who (allegedly) call it the wrong thing. Some of these people seem to have nothing to offer their readers but endless denunciations of Paul Berman and his vision of Islamo-fascism in Terror and Liberalism they’re so superior in their sophistiation!

i commmend to them a recent lecture by Mathias Kuntzel at the University of Leeds to be found on this blog before they embarrass themselves further with their historical ignorance of the connection between fascism and radical Islam.

But is it the wrong thing, Islamo-fascism or is it even too kind? Might theocratic police state enforcement of sharia law, in fact be worse in some respects, at least, than some forms of fascism. I have always argued that there are far more profound similarities to Western fascism in theocratic police state opression of the Islamist variety than there are differences. Equally capable of police state terror and mass murder as fascism of course. But in some respects, especially with regard to women, even more repellantly cruel.

But no, the callow wonks are quick to pipe up, to instruct us that the real danger is not in the phenomenon itself but in what they believe is the use of an inappropriate word to characterize it. Nothing gets the callow wonks in more of a lather than the use of the word “Islamo-fascism”. Oh the outrage! Speaking up about the differences between fascism and Islamo-fascism is far more important, they seem to believe, than the similarities.

They seem to have an endless supply of quibbling, mocking verbiage to make this point. But when it comes to speaking out against the Saudi rape victim verdict or the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist, or “honor killings” of women in Iran, or the persecution of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, they have nothing to say. Silence.

Or worse, in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali they hide behind truly vile sophistry by calliing this courageous Somali woman threatened with murder for opposing genital mutilation, “an enlightment fundamentalist’. As opposed apparently to “enlightment sophisticates”, these male feminists who find ways to rationalize their failure to speak out in behalf of a brave feminist woman–to opt out of the struggle for the survival of enlightenment values.

The intellectual cowardice behind the position of such quibblers and the callow wonks who keep silent consists in their fearful focussing on the name “Islamo-fascism” as a way of avoiding confronting the deeds themselves and the Sharia law that threatens the enlightenment. After all Amsterdam (where Theo van Gogh’s throat was slit) is so far off and demonstrating their verbal sophicstication (however misguided) is more important than demosntrating a clear sense of moral outrage.

Why the silence? Isn’t it curious that so many of the wonkish quibblers about Islamo-fascism (you know who you are) are self-styled male feminists and yet so far as I can see have failed to utter a word of condemnation of the treatment of this woman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali? So easy getting feminist cred on the cheap, for being pro-choice if it allows you to avoid expressing a choice about the whipping of rape victims and the “honor killing’ of so called tainted women in other Islamist societies. Has relativism–cultural relativism engendering moral relativism–robbed them of the ability to condemn this horrid soul crushing practice? Is it because if they had to admit that the enlightment civilization that gives them their petty podiums, has real enemies, (among them Islamists who act like fascists) then they would have to admit the bankruptcy of their small, no midget-minded, political positions that don’t take this huge struggle into account.It’s just not on their radar for all their talk of human rights here. They’re blind as bats when it comes to this central question of our time. Couldn’t have this inconvenient woman, this rape victim, lead to recognition of that, right?

In this regard, the silent, shameful impotence of so many American intellectuals, in the face of this hideous gender hate crime, check out this item on Amy Alkon’s blog about the courageous and bold British artists.

It includes a remarkable quote from a story in the Times of London by Ben Hoyle:

“Britain’s contemporary artists are fêted around the world for their willingness to shock but fear is preventing them from tackling Islamic fundamentalism. Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing potter, Turner Prize winner and former Times columnist, said that he had consciously avoided commenting on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.
Perry also believes that many of his fellow visual artists have also ducked the issue, and one leading British gallery director told The Times that few major venues would be prepared to show potentially inflammatory works.

“’I’ve censored myself,” Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. ‘The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.’

“Perry’s highly decorated pots can sell for more than £50,000 and often feature sex, violence and childhood motifs. One work depicted a teddy bear being born from a penis as the Virgin Mary. “I’m interested in religion and I’ve made a lot of pieces about it,” he said. ‘With other targets you’ve got a better idea of who they are but Islamism is very amorphous. You don’t know what the threshold is. Even what seems an innocuous image might trigger off a really violent reaction so I just play safe all the time.’”

Amy’s conclusion:

“Got it. So, the rest of us will speak out against terrorism, and you can speak out against…cheap gallery opening wine?”

It’s the same thing with the U.S. wonks whose outrage is directed against alleged imprecision of verbiage and yet have nothing to say about rape victim whippings and “honor killings”. They don’t have to fear their throat being slit like Theo van Gogh. I was going to say “yet”. But when you think about it their silence now, portends even more cowardly British artist type silence later.

I think it’s because even more fearful to them is admitting they are wrong. Wrong in getting more worked up about a word like Islamo-fascism while staying silent about the human victims of the phenomenon whatever you want to call it. They lack what Keats and Fitzgerald called the distinguishing characteristic of a first rate intellect: the ability to hold two apparently conflicting ideas in their head at the same time. Bush may have been wrong about the threat posed by Iraq, but Paul Berman may have been right about the threat posed by “Islamo-fascism”.