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Friday, May 16, 2014

An Invitation to Liberal Friends re: Mariam Yahya Ibrahim


Cultural Relativism is dogma today. It's like a religious tenet – you really can't question it, and if you do, you are subject to sanction.

Cultural relativism was put forth by Franz Boas, "the father of American anthropology," a hundred years ago. Boas was lashing out against the racism pervasive in anthropology in his day. The British Victorian scholar, EB Tylor, "the father of anthropology," was a racist. Tylor really did insist that educated English men were at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, and African savages and European peasants were way down at the bottom.

Boas came along and pointed out that "primitive" cultures were just as good as any others.

Boas made good and important points, but we've taken cultural relativism too far. How far?

When I was in grad school at Indiana University Bloomington, I mentioned clitoredectomy as a violation of women's rights. My fellow grad student lashed out at me. No, no, she insisted. I was a "bigot" and a "racist" and a "cultural imperialist" to judge clitoredectomy negatively. "You're Catholic," this grad student snapped. "Clitoredectomy is just like your ritual of confirmation."

That grad student has gone on to a stellar academic career. Me? Not so much.  

When I protest against clitoredectomy, child marriage, acid attacks on women and girls, and acts of jihad on Facebook, my liberal friends often excoriate me. Not a few have unfriended me, always denouncing me first as a bigot, hater, cultural imperialist, racist, and hooded KKK grand dragon

These attacks are often accompanied by cultural relativist arguments. Jihad is just like the Crusades. Child marriage is just Miley Cyrus twerking. Clitoredectomy is just like wearing high heels.


Mariam Yahya Ibrahim is a 27 year old Sudanese woman who has been condemned to death for allegedly converting from Islam to Christianity. She is eight months pregnant. The Sudanese court's death sentence is in accord with Islam. "He who changes his Islamic religion, kill him" – hadith Sahih Al-Bukhari 9:57. This precept is and has always been widely supported in Islam (see here).

I'd like to invite my cultural relativist friends to defend Mariam's murder, or to culturally relativize it for me. If all cultures in all respects really are equal, if there really is nothing superior – or even merely preferable – about the Judeo-Christian tradition and Western Civilization, please explain how murdering a young woman, wife, and mother for the crime of being a Christian in a Muslim-majority state is really okay.

Above please find a blank piece of paper on which you can detail your reasoning. 

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim 


  1. If she had been condemned to a painful death in Poland for marrying outside Christendom, then that would be very bad indeed. It would of course be very bad, but what I mean is it would be Officially Bad in PC terms. As its happened in the Sudan, I don't know, it may well be OK PC-wise. I just hope that she can be saved and this horrible sentence will not be carried out.

    You say: "Tylor really did insist that educated English men were at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, and African savages and European peasants were way down at the bottom. Boas came along and pointed out that "primitive" cultures were just as good as any others."

    Suppose people accepted Genesis as true history, which is what it claims to be. And the Christian Greek Scriptures tells us that Jesus came to earth because of what Adam did - to pay back to God the perfect human life that Adam so wilfully threw away.

    If so, couldn't it be acknowledged that all cultures are fatally flawed - and that there is no "uber" and no "unter". It would surely keep a much better balance, and we wouldn't need to go the extremes of either despising everyone or excusing everything.

    1. Sue thank you for reading and commenting. I admire what you wrote.

  2. Speaking as a liberal, I look at the Muslim women and men within those societies who fight for them freedoms of other women while preserving the parts of the Muslim faith that have brought them peace, comfort, purpose, etc., and see that as the true face of Islam. These are men who wore hijabs and other headdresses in the summer out of solidarity for women and protest for the laws mandating them. I see women taking up arms against ISIS and defending their homes, because they too hate the terrorists who claim to define Islam.

    I look at the leaders who make these laws and see religious extremists perverting their faith in ways that suit their interests, as the ruling class of any theocratic (or otherwise) nation is often to do. Muslim men and women routinely speak out against these atrocities, but it is difficult to fight the ruling class. Look how long it took Americans to get the Dakota Access Pipeline out of Native American territory. I do not have to defend the actions of honor-killers because Muslims do condemn them in droves. A disparity between people and politicians is common, and Muslim nations are no exception.

    I think the grad student's reaction, while poorly though out, made sense. There is very little reasonable discussion of making changes to a culture, particularly those that chose to respect the culture in question rather than just eradicate it. Guys like Milo Yiannopolous come to a college campus and say all Muslims are evil, so those intense reactions are going to come from liberals. We're used to dealing with trolls who know no compromise.

    Now I would not hold all moderates/conservatives/skeptics/etc. responsible for what he says. Ben Shapiro, former Breibart journalist, has been openly outspoken against "trolling" and I respect him for that even though I am on the opposite side of the political spectrum from him.

    My advice, watch the documentary "Half the Sky." Start looking for local groups fighting ISIS, genintal cutting, and other ostensibly "faith-based" atrocities. See how they plan to change their nations while maintaining the parts of the faith that are important to them. Separate yourself from the other people taking issue with Islam by finding and listening to the Muslims who already agree with you.