Migrants, Misogyny and Cultural Development


I have stolen an excellent piece by David Aaronovitch in the Times today. It covers themes that I have been wanting to comment on for a while. It discusses the ongoing immigrant issue which has been brought into searing relief by the New Years Eve sex attacks in Cologne and revelations of the explosion in sexual attacks over the last few years across Sweden and Germany, mainly by North African and Arab men.

What I like about the article is its emphasis, not on the common factor of the perpetrators muslim identity, but on the significance of the general level of cultural evolution that dominates this part of the world.

…It is not so much a problem particular to world faiths as a characteristic of lagging misogynistic cultures.

This has been the theme of many of my posts so far on this Blog. The ‘lagging’ culture is the general level of the Traditional worldview (see diagram here).

It is generally been noted by cultural anthropologists that virtually all Traditional societies are patriarchal (in contrast to a high proportion of pre-traditional societies that are matriarchal). There are a number of complex structural reasons for this. A simple example from a techno-economic viewpoint: If we loosely associate Pre-Traditional societies with horticultural food production, then men and women can both be equal in the public sphere as both are equally strong enough to use a hoe. With the move to agrarian food production (loosely associated with traditional societies) the plough appears which takes a higher level of strength to manouver which is dangerous for pregnant women to attempt. Hence men take over the public sphere and this leads to a patriarchal system (that’s a pretty brutal simplification but you get the point!). This ‘natural’ or ‘functional’ patriarchy has historically inevitably slid into various forms of oppressive patriarchy with degrees of misogyny, and gender discrimination associated. It has only been the development of societies with the Modern Worldview that a re-balancing and dismantling of these traditional dynamics could be attempted (work that is still ongoing in the modern west after hundreds of years of heroic campaigning from the various women’s movements!).

(Again, there are structural psychodynamic reasons why this slide into misogyny is all but inevitable in the traditional society. Ken Wilber traces these issues in great detail in ‘Up from Eden’)

So the problem isn’t Islam = misogyny per se, but rather the level of cultural development (traditional) that the Islamic world is generally at. ie: Traditional Islam = misogyny (just as in the past Traditional Christianity = misogyny). Now, granted, traditional Islamic doctrine (especially the hard line Salafist and Deobandi interpretations sweeping the muslim world) is particularly virulent in its misogyny and, more to the point, have built into their worldview deep immunities to developing into a modern, gender equalised, form (Ayaan Hirsi Ali traces these dynamics masterfully). I would argue that these dynamics are not present in the other major faiths which therefore makes Islam uniquely recalcitrant in joining the modern world (I will expand on this at a later date).

Here is Aaronovitch’s excellent article:

Migrants must learn to live by our values

David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch


Liberal denial of the misogynistic cultures that many migrants come from will only make their assimilation harder

‘At least they’ll be allowed to keep their wedding rings!” This is how I imagine the Danish detective in the next series of The Bridge justifying to his Swedish counterpart his role in seizing valuables from newly arrived migrants. Possibly he will defend yesterday’s move by the Danish parliament to confiscate items of significant worth (wedding and engagement rings generously exempted) on the basis that such baubles can be sold to defray the costs of looking after refugees. Or possibly he’ll agree that any money raised in this way would be negligible, but that the deterrent effect on people thinking of coming to Denmark would massively outweigh it.

That appears to be the Danish calculation. But of course the Danish government does not anticipate that refugees will stop coming to Europe. How could they? This month alone 257 have arrived in Italy in boats (six have died trying) and 19,000 in Greece (50 of whom drowned). It just anticipates them not coming to Denmark in the same way we don’t anticipate them coming to Britain. They’ll go somewhere else.

For the most part that somewhere else has been Germany and Sweden. Even before the new date which will live in infamy, New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne, Mrs Merkel and the Swedes were accused of irresponsibility by allowing 1.2 million refugees and migrants into their countries. Something like this was bound to happen. They should have done as the Danes do.

We should thank heavens that they didn’t. The West failed to take prompt action over the civil war in Syria and so — inevitably — Syria came here instead. But only after first depositing two million people in Turkey, 1.6 million in Lebanon and 650,000 in Jordan. That situation was uncontainable and it wasn’t contained.

Most refugees were not pulled towards Europe by promises of jobs and luxuries; they were pushed here by war and hopelessness. They were either going to arrive in unplanned chaos and remain encamped on whatever was the last border to close in front of them — a field in Croatia, a wood in Hungary — or someone could plan to take them. All this the Swedish detective in The Bridge could tell her colleague.

But then, what about Cologne? What about the news coming out of Sweden this week that sexual assaults on teenage girls at not one but two pop festivals, apparently by Afghan asylum seekers, were in effect covered up by the police? Not so much covered up, maybe, said a retired senior Swedish police officer. But, he agreed, ethnic status was relevant here and a vital piece of information had been withheld. “We sometimes don’t like,” he admitted, “to go into the dark places.”

This is why liberalism can be dangerously double-edged, and I should know. Liberalism spends much of its life terrified of conceding any ground to what it sees as prejudice. I understand that, not least when I hear about the German vigilantes beating up hapless Guineans in the wake of the Cologne attacks. But had any group of young white males conducted a mass sexual assault on young women in a western city, the outrage would have been immediate and thunderous. What, we would have been asked, is it about our society that permits such a thing to happen? That allows young men to believe that they can and should act in this way?

It isn’t true that, say, Syrian asylum seekers in Germany are more likely to commit crime than anyone else. As far as I can judge from the available statistics, while young north Africans are 20 times as likely to steal a car or a mobile phone as the indigenous German population, Syrians are half as likely to.

But when it comes to sexual crimes it is apparent, as it is in this country, that some backgrounds lend themselves to certain types of sexual assault more than others. It is not absurd to worry about young men — often poor, often bored, often deprived of family life and family restraints — whose perception of women was formed in the relative backwardness of severely patriarchal societies.

If, for example, you have been taught since boyhood that a “modest” woman covers herself up and is in no way extrovert and is in most ways subordinate, then what do you make of women who do not conform to that image? If your faith or your culture are constructed partly around an idea of female inferiority, then how do you respond to discovering women who are certain that they are as good as you?

This is not about Islam per se. Certainly many versions of Islam entail a status for women that amounts to a doctrine of inferiority. But the same is true of, say, Orthodox Judaism. And readers will recall the appalling recent instances of gang rape in India. It is not so much a problem peculiar to world faiths as a characteristic of lagging, misogynistic cultures. Failing to make clear to men from such backgrounds that things are different here would be as bad as tarring them all with the same brush. That means mandatory courses in citizenship and western values.

Here many of my fellow liberals revert to a sniffy relativism. As in “what’s so wonderful about us that we think we have anything to teach them? It’s arrogance.” Well, in the case of Sweden, the Swedes have much to teach the world about gender equality. It’s one of the reasons why Julian Assange is hanging out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. We need to be clearer about this. Cultures that teach the inferiority of women, even under the hypocritical guise of “protecting” or “valuing” them, are lesser cultures. In those respects, if they’re in our countries, they need to assimilate.

But read this too. It was written by young Syrian refugees in Germany and handed out on the streets this week. “We thank all the people in Germany, both women and men, for all of the help they have so far offered us. We want to show ourselves worthy of your help. Your values are our values.”

Liberal denial and right-wing prejudice have this in common — it is, if you like, the bridge between them — they are worse than injustices, they are mistakes.


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