Thursday, July 12, 2007

Integration of Muslim communities in the West

Women drive cultural conflict, as we particularly see with Muslim radicalization in Western countries. Indeed women are amazingly keen to risk male lives. I guess their genes know that there will never be a shortage of sperm, and the less aggressive males there are around the safer their children are. Anyway here's something I wrote about that last year, and about how to achieve cultural harmony in the West:

Muslim culture is part of the normal spectrum of human cultures. It is not long ago that Western culture severely limited the rights and opportunities of women. That world is perfectly described by Jane Austen, one of our greatest writers. Towards the end of "Pride and Prejudice", Mrs Bennett says of her naughty but lucky daughter and her new no-good son-in-law: "We must have them to dinner". Mr Bennett is heard to say "They will never enter this house". Somehow we are not surprised to see the disreputable pair arriving for dinner. Indeed in nearly all the relationships portrayed in the book, the women strive and succeed in getting their way with their men. The exception is Jane and Mr Bingham, and that relationship seems completely implausible: who can believe a man really falling for someone who makes no attempt to stand up for herself in the relationship. We believe attraction, and lust, but we don't believe he can fall in love.

How much influence do women have on male behaviour? We know from the statistics that delinquent boys turn moderately responsible when they get a steady girlfriend. When it was suggested to Winston Churchill that women would rule the world in 2050, he replied "Still?". However a nearly universal aspect of human behaviour is that women defer to men in public. If a woman shows dominance over her husband in public, it reduces his status, and that is unlikely to be in the interests of her family. So Western culture is familiar with the idea of the woman going along with her husband in public, then telling him off in private. It is one of those incongruities that comedians love to exploit.

If women are so powerful within relationships, then why do they let themselves get into positions of limited rights, as in Jane Austen's day, and with Muslim women today. We really need to understand this in the modern Western world where young Muslim women, raised in the West, are taking to scarves and veils that their mothers had escaped. The answer is that it is a mistake to see men and women as separate groups that are in conflict for power and status. Rather it is groups of men partnered with women who are competing with other such groups of men and women together. We can hardly imagine the importance of this competition in our wealthy society, but historically most societies have lived close to the edge and power and status greatly increased the chances of survival and reproduction.

When we look at it that way, we can see that women will not necessarily wish to have the cultural dial set to a point where women have independence and public power and status based on merit. Different settings favour different groups. How much influence do women have in setting this dial? My opinion, and the argument of this document, is that women are actually by far the main influence in setting the cultural dial. When there was resistance to votes for women, this resistance included women. When resistance from women stopped then resistance from men faded away. Similarly we see, and are shocked to see, in the modern world that women are often involved in supporting activities that attack the rights of women: genital mutilation, honour killings, wife killings. Terrorism would not be possible without at least passive female support. Men would not do this if it meant coming home to the disapproval of mothers, sisters and wives.

If we can find a way to get into a dialog with Muslim women in Australia, then there are two things I would say to them in the form of a deal, discussed below. Others may have other ideas. Certainly we need to keep the conversation reasonably simple. One way to organize it would be to invite women to meetings which would elect representatives to meet with the governments representatives (female) and then report back. A way of compensating the women for their time would be to give them a voucher at the first meeting that would be redeemable for $100 at the 2nd.

The first thing the government needs to say to Muslim women is this: In the important business and government organizations in Australia, women have equal rights. If Muslim sons and husbands go to work in these important organizations, and we want them to, then they'll always be working with women and sometimes they will have women bosses, and women subordinates. This equality of women at work is an absolutely non-negotiable part of Australian life. We would eventually like Muslim women to actually take part when they are comfortable doing so. More immediately, and the first part of this proposed deal, we want Muslim women at home to encourage their men to get a good education and join these important organizations and accept the environment of equality there.

The other half of the proposed deal concerns politeness from the rest of Australian society to the Muslim people. I try to explain to my 3 year old grandson the difference between "bad" and "rude". You can be bad even when you are all by yourself. Rudeness is something you do, like saying a rude word, that is upsetting to other people. We vary what we say and do depending on who is around. To allow and encourage Muslim Australians to participate more in wider society we all need to avoid behaviour which Muslim people will perceive as rude. There are limited situations where the government can directly change this, such as broadcast TV and what is displayed on the public street. The main part of this offer from the government to Muslim people is to advertise to make people aware of the need for more modest behaviour in public and modest attire, particularly at work. The place for normal Australian vulgarity is at home, and in places where Muslim people will know not to go, such as pubs.

So that is the proposed offer. We want Muslim Australians to join in the major activities of Australian life, accepting the non-negotiable fact of female equality in those environments. In exchange the government will do all it can, without infringing civil liberties, to avoid activities which are rudely insensitive to Muslim people.

This is a small step. Others are needed. I support the call to have only government primary schools -- compulsory, very well resourced, and with thorough mixing, using bussing if necessary. Also, the more ways the government can find to give resources directly to women, such as the baby bonus, the better. Maybe somebody will do a movie of "Pride and Prejudice" set in the Muslim community in Australia, to remind us how close we are.