One of the great myths of liberalism is that all cultures are equal. It springs from political correctness and a desire to counter the overwhelming nationalism that is inherent in American Exceptionalism. A worthy goal, to be sure. It’s hard to think globally when you think of yourself as the apex of all things awesome. Why care about some backwater third world country when you live in America? America! Fuck yeah!
The problem comes with going too far in the other direction. Treating other cultures as precious gems that should not be disturbed by our evil Imperialistic ways is just as bad as ignoring them. It leaves the most vulnerable among them at the mercy of an all too often cruel and inhumane system. Unsurprisingly, that tends to mean women.
The Huffington Post has reported on Amina Filali, a 16 year old Moroccan girl that committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist to avoid bringing shame to her family. Yes, you read that correctly. In many Middle Eastern and several African countries, if a woman is raped, she has shamed her family because she had sex outside of marriage.
Morocco is not a dingy little third world country (as we self-centered Americans tend to judge these things) but, still, it is part of the law that a man can avoid jail for raping a minor by marrying her. Disgusting.
Some will immediately leap to the conclusion that this is a religious thing and blame Islam (AHHH Sharia law!). Morocco is Arabic but not a Muslim country by any means. And even if it were, I’ve said this repeatedly and will do so again in the future: culture and religion are not the same. An American born and bred Muslim would find the idea of forcing a rape victim to marry her rapist repugnant. Period. It’s not the religion, it’s the culture. This is a distinction it took me some time to make myself so I understand the impulse to conflate them. Don’t give in to it!
I’ve been told my views amount to a modern version of the “white man’s burden.” That’s bullshit. While America (and the rest of the “first world” countries) are far from perfect (holy crap are we far) we have achieved a basic level of understanding about universal human rights. Is everyone entitled to an SUV? Probably not. Are all women entitled to the right NOT to be stoned to death for premarital sex or being forced to marry their rapist? No rational person could say “no.” We have an obligation to pressure less developed countries to treat their citizens (especially their women) as human beings, not cattle to be bartered. We cannot do this by force of arms like the Neocons believe but rather by setting an example for the populace to emulate and providing incentive to the government to accede to their wishes.