An Ethical Conflict Islam is Forcing Us to Resolve

I saw a video (which you can see here) where a man and a woman were walking together in a public park, and he slaps her face. Bystanders immediately stopped him.

Then she dresses in a hijab and they do the same thing: They walk along talking, this time in Arabic, and then he stops and slaps her. You could see that other people in the park were disturbed by it, but only one man eventually intervened. Everyone else looked on, didn't like it, but didn't do anything or even say anything.

The creators of the video implied that this meant the non-Muslims didn't care as much about Muslim women as they do about non-Muslim women. But I think that conclusion is off-base.

The video illustrates a deep conflict in our culture. And our increasing contact with Muslims is bringing this conflict more and more to the forefront. We will have to resolve it. We have rarely had to confront this conflict in the past, but Islam is exceedingly good at putting non-Muslims in double binds.

This ability to put us in double binds is, I believe, one of their most effective strategic ploys, and they are exploiting it wherever they can.

In case you didn't know exactly what a double bind was, I looked up a good definition to add the link above, but I also found this telling statement in the explanation: "Double binds are often utilized as a form of control without open coercion — the use of confusion makes them both difficult to respond to as well as to resist."

Islam is not strong enough and Muslims in most non-Muslim countries are not numerous enough to control non-Muslims through open coercion as they would in a Muslim country. So they use double binds to exert control.

What is the conflict illustrated in the video? One the one hand we want to be open, tolerant people. We don't want to be bigoted or narrow-minded. We don't want to be arrogant and insulting toward another's culture just because it's different. This is basic etiquette and manners, and for most of us, it is an important part of who we are.

On the other hand, what if the other culture is actually morally wrong? What if the other culture harms people? What if it interferes with others' freedoms?

Most cultural differences are very easy for us to accept. If someone wants to put a mark on their forehead or wear a cross or dress in a traditional dress from the old country or eat salted mackerel or pray in some way you are unfamiliar with, most of us don't think, "Look at those freaky foreigners. They are strange and therefore wrong and bad." We think, "That's their culture, and they have every right to live the way they want to."

The co-creator of the movie, Borat, (Dan Mazer) said he found most Americans "incredibly polite," even when the Borat character pushed them far beyond the limits of tolerance. We are the great melting pot. And one of the main reasons that people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds interact and work together with very little friction is that for the most part, we accept each other's differences. Some even embrace and celebrate those differences.

But the cultural-difference-acceptance ethic described above is being challenged more than Borat ever dreamed of. Islam puts our desire to accept cultural differences in direct conflict with our own humanity. In the video I mentioned above, the woman was slapped by a man. But when she dressed and talked like a Muslim, this created a conflict for onlookers. She was clearly a Muslim and a husband hitting a wife is a fairly common practice in Muslim culture (because the practice is encouraged in these Islamic doctrines).

For the onlookers, which ethical principle overrides which? It's wrong for a man to hit a woman. And it's wrong to condemn the practices of a different culture. We don't normally have to choose between them. But Islam is forcing us to choose, and doing their best to convince us to choose cultural acceptance.

What about FGM? Some girls have had this done to them in America. Should we accept this cultural difference, or impose our own morals on people with different cultural beliefs? What about segregation of men and women? What about nurses washing their hands? What about wearing a burka for a drivers licence photo? What about polygamy?

Orthodox Muslims keep putting us to the test. And they aren't doing it passively or accidentally. One of the core principles of Islamic doctrine is that Islam is a better political system and a better religion than any other, and that Muslims are better people than any other, and that ultimately the Islamic system of rules and law should override and supersede all others on earth. It is a pushy, domineering, assertive religion. It keeps pushing us into our double binds and most people don't know what to do about it. And to make matters worse, orthodox Muslims keep trying to prevent non-Muslims from even talking about Islam, so we're having a difficult time working it out and resolving it among ourselves. The issue is getting more and more tense and uncomfortable.

We will have to decide. When the principle of cultural inclusion and acceptance comes into conflict with the principles of women's rights, human rights, safety, freedom of speech, etc., which do we choose?


  1. That's very interesting and I am grateful that you brought this to my attention.

  2. Someone emailed this comment: Looking at a hypothetical analogy..."What would we do if confronted by a culture dedicated to sacrificing children?" Should we save these children ? I should think that we would. In that sense we must step in and prevent "Wife Beating in Islamic culture"... which by the way is very very unevolved & cannot be a part of the Post Modern World. Islam simply must evolve and grow out of its inherent bigotry.