15 November 2009

Cultural Sensitivity Gone Mad

All of us have been taught to be culturally sensitive to others. The question is how far this sensitivity extends. To the clothing someone wears? To the food that someone eats? Or does it include other things?

Fellow students knew Major Malik Nidal Hasan as a strong and vocal defender of suicide bombings and being against U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He even provoked arguments with other soldiers who supported the wars. Why wasn’t anything said?
"The system is not doing what it's supposed to do," said Dr. Val Finnell, who studied with Hasan from 2007-2008…"He at least should have been confronted about these beliefs, told to cease and desist, and to shape up or ship out...."

But Finnell said no one filed a formal, written complaint about Hasan's comments out of fear of appearing discriminatory.

"Out of fear of appearing discriminatory". Thirteen soldiers are now dead, 30 more are wounded because Hasan's classmates were scared of looking culturally insensitive to his Muslim beliefs. It wasn't worth it to make a fuss.

Some may point to this as an extreme example. It isn't. Cultural sensitivity has gone mad. We look to our educational system to learn how we should be viewing other cultures.
The goal of multicultural education is not only to teach children about other groups or countries. It is also to help children become accustomed to the idea that there are many lifestyles, languages, cultures, and points of view…[and] to attach positive feelings to multicultural experiences (Dimidjian, 1989).

Indeed. There are "many lifestyles, languages, cultures, and points of view" around the world. Shouldn’t these cultures be considered valid, even if different from our own?

Slavery in the United States had to be abolished. Why? The South had a "cultural tradition" of slavery going back two hundred years. Why couldn't the Southern states be left to have their way of doing things – live and let live - and chalk it up to cultural differences? The reason is because the United States stands for freedom and liberty for everyone - a person can not be property. To have slavery in a free country was antithetical to the founding.

What about countries without the traditions of freedom? Can we absolve them of their obligations because they have their own "cultural traditions"? What if their "traditions" include slavery? The subjugation of women? Honor killings? Polygamy? Should we respect their "traditions" as equal to our own? And in the words of multicultural education, should we "attach positive feelings" to these "traditions"?

Canada has recently been struggling with the polygamy issue. British Columbia has been attempting unsuccessfully to prosecute a break-off Mormon sect for polygamy. The issue has recently been sent to the Province's Supreme Court for their judicial opinion.

Isn't it the right of a man to have more than one wife? Why should it matter to us... it's their "tradition".

Another "tradition" Canadians are being forced to confront is child rape. Some in the Canadian military in Afghanistan haven't successfully reconciled their Western values with those of the native population. A former Canadian soldier, Travis Schouten, was so disturbed by what he witnessed, he began drinking and almost destroyed his own life.

Should we be "attaching positive feelings" to this "tradition" as well? Was Schouten not being sensitive enough to Afghani “culture”?

What about the "tradition" of female genital mutilation dating back 1,400 to 2,000 years. Does it matter how old a "tradition" is? Shouldn't we show more sensitivity toward that "tradition"? Why not?

A letter responding to a BBC News story about female genital mutilation says,
It is wrong for us to take the moral high ground and condemn the cultural practise of others as barbaric...We must first understand the role of circumcision in those African societies that practise it before we result in outright conclutions [sic] and condemnation.

Really? The writer is declaring it "wrong" to take the "moral high ground" as he puts it. If so - our values must be equal to those who value female genital mutilations. If we are not willing to condemn such acts, we must be giving our tacit approval of them.

This writer must also want us to give our approval to slavery as well. There are at least 27 million people enslaved around the world. Is slavery now acceptable?

We can bring example after example of monstrous "traditions" from around the world. Who are we to take the "moral high ground"? Perhaps these slave owners would like to immigrate to the United States or Canada with their "property" - are we going to stop them? Will we turn a blind eye to all these abhorrent "traditions" when they occur in Africa or the Middle East, but put up a roadblock to them when they approach our shores?

Where are the limits to cultural sensitivity? At what point can we say “enough”?

The Declaration of Independence makes it very clear what Western Civilization stands for: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. We must make it clear to all people around the world that we are not ashamed of our Western values. We believe that all people, wherever they may live, are given these rights by their Creator - that we have no interest in importing their "traditional" values - and are willing to take the "moral high ground" and condemn their "traditional" values as barbaric, and not welcome here or anywhere else in the world.

Cultural sensitivity is fine and wonderful when restricted to food and other inconsequential things, but not when it comes into conflict with basic Western values of human life and dignity. Calling these terrible acts what they are - barbaric - rather than pretending they are equal to our own Western values costs people their lives around the world. We saw at Fort Hood the results of cultural sensitivity. This ‘sensitivity’ has gone too far.

1 comment:

Shira said...

Canada in their new citizenship booklet has found their limits to multiculturalism - Go Canada!