Sunday, August 05, 2007

A bit too uppity?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim turned liberal atheist. She not only now criticises Islam, but is hostile to Christianity and wants to ban conservative political parties.

So it's not surprising that Lawrence Auster has written a series of posts critical of her views. His latest post on her, though, was more supportive, as he thought she was beginning to focus more seriously on the specific nature of Islam itself:

As a long-time severe critic of Hirsi Ali's, I want to point out that this is the first article by her I've seen in which, instead of focusing on the oppression of women (though she does speak of it eloquently here) and thus sounding more like a feminist than a critic of Islam, or talking about the badness of some generic "theocracy" (by which she means Christianity), or talking about her own life and experiences, she focuses on the doctrines and characteristics of Islam itself, from the perspective of its jihadist agenda toward non-Muslims.

This prompted a response by a senior editor of the New English Review, Mary Jackson. It seems that Mary Jackson, despite editing an ostensibly conservative publication, can't understand why Auster would object to Hirsi Ali's feminism. She can only explain it as follows:

Perhaps Hirsi Ali is a bit too uppity for Auster.

The implication is that there are no political grounds on which to object to Hirsi Ali's feminism.

Auster himself described the "too uppity" response as "sub-intellectual" and as surprising for a publication which has an otherwise serious tone.

How does Mary Jackson defend the emphasis on feminism in Hirsi Ali's writings? She asks:

Why do people think the oppression of women is a side issue? Women are half the population and just as human as men.

I replied in a comment at the NER site as follows:

Women are half the population and just as human as men.

I get worried when people throw in the "just as human" bit. It makes me think that they might be following a set of modernist assumptions which lead on to the orthodoxy in place today.

The progression of orthodox thought runs something like this: Our humanity is contingent on our being autonomous; therefore, if some are less autonomous than others there literally exists a human inequality, with some being treated as less human than others; therefore, the primary goal of politics is to radically refashion society to achieve equality.

And who is less autonomous? According to feminists, women are because the traditional motherhood role is less financially independent and less self-defining than a careerist role. Therefore, the motherhood role is unjust and oppressive to women and we need a new family in which husband and wife work equal hours and spend equal hours looking after children at home.

And this is the more "conservative" take on the logic of autonomy theory. The more radical one is that marriage itself is a limitation on autonomy (the defining quality of our humanity) and that we should therefore endlessly defer a commitment to long-term relationships, or else live de facto, or else have an easy exit route from marriage as part of our autonomous choice.

Or, more radical yet, there's the idea of patriarchy theorists, who suppose that women are less autonomous not because motherhood is a natural role, but because men have organised an entire social system to establish themselves as a class of privileged oppressors and women as the oppressed. In which case relationships are inevitably run through with bad faith.

If the West is in trouble, it is partly because of the application of such theories and the resulting disruption to family life and reproduction. We need to be stepping back from such ideas, and reconsidering the way we think about politics.

Already here in Australia there are those on both the right and left who think a pro-natalist policy is oppressive and discriminatory to women because the bearing of children is a subordinate role. They think it's more politically progressive to maintain a population by opening the borders, rather than through women bearing children.

We can't survive such ideas, so I don't think we should be lightly endorsing the feminism of Hirsi Ali, even if there are aspects of the treatment of women under Islam we think are unjust.

I was trying, in this, to point to the serious political grounds for objecting to feminism. If we are attempting to defend the West it's little use resorting to women like Hirsi Ali who, though criticising Islam, do so on grounds which can only deepen our existing problems.

(BTW, for an example of left and right agreeing that motherhood is a regressive step for women and that reproduction via immigration is a better option see here.)

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