Multiculturalism: It's Different for Girls

When is it politically correct to beat gays and kill women?


On April 30, American journalist Chris Crain became the victim of a hate crime in Amsterdam. While walking in the street holding hands with his partner, he was savagely beaten by seven men shouting antigay slurs. A few days later, Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Program at the Human Rights Watch, expressed some sympathy for the gay-bashers. Crain's attackers were reportedly Moroccan immigrants.

"There's still an extraordinary degree of racism in Dutch society," Long opined to the gay news service PlanetOut. "Gays often become the victims of this when immigrants retaliate for the inequities that they have to suffer."

Welcome to Politically Correct World, where acts that would merit unequivocal condemnation if committed by white males are viewed in a very different light when the offenders belong to an "oppressed group."

The irony, of course, is that one of the principal reasons for the recent anti-immigrant backlash in the traditionally tolerant Netherlands is the fear that the influx of immigrants from deeply conservative Muslim cultures will threaten the country's liberal attitudes on social issues, particularly the rights of women and gays. (Pim Fortuyn, the maverick anti-immigrant Dutch politician assassinated in 2002, was openly gay.) This fear is shared by some immigrants—notably, the Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The tension between two pillars of the modern left—multiculturalism and progressive views on gender—is not new. It has been particularly thorny in many European countries where, in lieu of an American-style "melting pot" approach, immigrants have been traditionally encouraged to maintain their distinct values and ways. Recently, however, these tensions have started to come out into the open. According to a March article in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist last November after he had made a documentary about the oppression of Muslim women "galvanized the Netherlands and sent shock waves across Europe."

In Germany, these shock waves have generated a long-overdue interest in the sometimes deadly violence toward Muslim women, mostly in the country's 2.5-million-strong Turkish immigrant community. A German-Turkish women's group has documented 40 "honor killings" since 1996—murders of women and girls by family members as punishment for besmirching the "family honor." In February, 23-year-old Hatin Surucu was shot to death in Berlin, allegedly by her three brothers. The young woman had divorced the cousin she had been forced to marry at 16; she had also started dating German men, given up her head scarf, and enrolled in a training course to become an electrician. What made headlines, Der Spiegel reports, was not the murder itself but a letter from a school principal reporting that some Turkish boys at his school had mocked Surucu as a "whore" who "got what she deserved."

"Honor killings" may be relatively rare; but a recent study by the German government found that half of the country's Turkish women are pressured into arranged marriages—often to men they have never seen before the wedding—and more than one in six say they were forced to marry.

Serap Cileli, a Turkish-German author and filmmaker who escaped an arranged marriage, told Der Spiegel that until recently, the German media refused to publish her accounts of her and other Turkish women's experiences for fear of appearing "racist."

Even feminists often balk at breaking the multicultural faith. A 2001 article in Labyrinth, a feminist philosophy journal, lamented that concerns about the oppression of women in the Third World could perpetuate "the stereotype that 'brown' men abuse 'brown' women more than white men" and cause "Third World" people to be perceived as "more barbaric" than Westerners.

My intent is not to single out Muslim immigrants in Western countries nor to argue that Islam is inherently and uniquely oppressive to women; many Muslim feminists argue otherwise. Oppressive practices can be found in many other traditional societies.

Misogyny and gay-bashing—religiously motivated or not—still exist in Western societies as well, though at least they are widely condemned by the mainstream culture. We should be able to say, loud and clear, that the modern values of individual rights, equality, and tolerance are better—and just say no to multiculturalist excuses for bigotry.