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Women's Rights as a Measure of Civilization

Women's Rights as a Measure of Civilization

By Robert Tracinski - April 9, 2009

The story of the Pakistani girl publicly flogged by a Taliban thug has emerged as a new symbol of the alternatives facing the world-and particularly the alternatives facing Pakistan, as it contemplates the prospect of Taliban rule.

Forbes's Tunku Varadarajan provides an eloquent description of the video and its significance as a sign "that civilization is entirely absent in certain societies." Specifically, however, this case draws our attention to the way in which the rights of women are a key indication of the state of a civilization, or of a society's collapse into barbarism.

One would think that this point would be a central tenet of the feminists, but if you look around you will find that this point is being made mostly loudly and forcefully today by the non-feminist right, while the feminist left has mostly shut up about it, because defending the rights of women in Muslim societies clashes with the left's deeper commitment to "multicultural" subjectivism.

As for the right, I detect in their recent interest in women's rights a quest for a kind of payback against the left. Having been vilified for decades as a bunch of a male chauvinist pigs who are opposed to the rights of women (which they have been, when it comes to abortion and some forms of contraception), the right has been eager to proclaim, in the context of the battle against Islam, that they are more in favor of women's rights than the feminists.

Yet the political right does deserve credit for taking up this cause, because they are onto something important when they regard the treatment of women as especially emblematic of the evil of radical Islam. It is an issue that is worth defining more clearly.

Women's rights and the treatment of women are a profound measure of the progress of a civilization, for a reason that modern feminists will not necessarily acknowledge: because women are the weaker sex. I mean that women are physically weak relative to men, who are on average much larger and stronger, with a far more developed musculature. Thus, the treatment of women in a society is a revealing measure of that society's attitude toward physical force.

In a society where might makes right, where the rule of brute force has been thoroughly unleashed, women are always the first victims. Even the poorest and meanest man, the guy on the lowest rung who is oppressed by others above him who are bigger and stronger-even he can find one person he is still able to dominate and oppress: a woman, whether it is his mother, his wife, or his daughter. And he will oppress her-if the oppression of others by force is the accepted norm of the society he lives in. For examples, look to the Muslim world with its "honor" killings, arranged marriages, sexual segregation, and special restrictions on the travel and attire of women.

This is a complete contrast to the kind of society in which force is subordinated to morality. A society in which a woman can do whatever she wants without fear is a society in which the physically weak can rely on being protected from the physically strong. In fact, in a civilized society the physically weak feel safe because of the physically strong. The mark of such a society is a sense of chivalry-the idea that a man's superior physical strength is properly used to protect rather than to dominate, to serve the cause of justice and freedom rather than to assert arbitrary power over others.

In the Forbes piece I linked to above, Varadarajan aptly describes how the Taliban torturer beating the young girl is deriving "a twisted, vile satisfaction derived from a twisted, vile social code." He does not say whether the code he is referring to is the specific theology of the Taliban or that of Islam as such. My own view is the latter. Islam is the worst religion, because it has the distinction of being founded and wholly shaped by a prophet who obtained significant political power in his own lifetime, establishing himself as a plunderer of Arabian trade routes and as the tyrant of the city of Medinah. In other words, Islam is a religion founded by a criminal, who codified in its tenets the criminal's justifications for the arbitrary exercise of brute force.

This is the broader significance of the new Taliban video: it demonstrates the central failure of Islamism, revealed clearly even to those in the Muslim world. The Islamic theocrats offer their supporters one central promise: to establish the rule of virtue on earth. But they always provide the exact opposite: the rule of brute force and the doctrine of "might makes right." Their code actually banishes morality from public life, subordinating it to force. The routine brutalization of women and girls under the rule of Islam is a constant and vivid reminder of this fact.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda-organizations distinguished by their routine use of atrocities-are the fullest examples of this. That is part of the reason why they were ultimately rejected by the Sunni tribes in Iraq, and it a crucial point we can use in the ideological battle against Islamism.

This is why women's rights matter: they help to clarify and reaffirm what is good about our civilization, and to clarify the evil of the enemy, both for ourselves and for the populations the Islamists seek to control.

Robert Tracinski is editor of The Tracinski Letter and a contributor to RealClearMarkets.

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