Multiculturalism and Women

// 6 May 2007

The Independent on Colcatta raises this debate again, but with new cases. The article relates the problem of when multiculturalism is seen as an excuse for gendered racism. For example take the case of Nishal, a 26 year old Moroccan immigrant to Germany with two children. Since their marraige her husband has physically abused her, she managed to get to the Police, they ordered him to stay away, he refused and issued death threats.

So Nishal went to the courts to request an early divorce, hoping that once they were no longer married he would leave her alone. A judge who believed in the rights of women would find it very easy to make a judgement: you’re free from this man, case dismissed.

But Judge Christa Datz -Winter followed the logic of multiculturalism instead. She said she would not grant an early divorce because – despite the police documentation of extreme violence and continued threats – there was no “unreasonable hardship” here.

Why? Because the woman, as a Muslim, should have “expected” it, the judge explained. She read out passages from the Koran to show that Muslim husbands have the “right to use corporal punishment”. Look at Sura 4, verse 34, she said to Nishal, where the Koran says he can hammer you. That’s your culture. Goodbye, and enjoy your beatings.” From The Independent

As the article points out, the problem here in an inauthentic, or rather unthought through notion of flawed multiculturalism which assumes a homogenous, immigrant culture. By assuming there is some notion of static, “authentic” culture for immigrant groups by which all in that group should live (whilst, of course, criticising the lack of diversity in organisations) multiculturalists deny the breadth of views within a community. By doing this it allows the dominant to speak for the oppressed, it silences critics who are not valued within the culture itself, further oppressing them. Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana and Asian Affairs Spokesperson for Refuge, says

“It’s a betrayal of these women to be PC about this. Look at the figures. Asian women in Britain are three times more likely to commit suicide than their white friends. That’s because of all this.” Yet the brave campaigners who have tried to help these women – like the Labour MP Ann Cryer – have been smeared as racist”From The Independent .

Or Iranian author Azar Nafisi who says:

“I very much resent it when people – maybe with good intentions or from a progressive point of view – keep telling me, ‘It’s their culture’ …It’s like saying the culture of Massachusetts is burning witches.” From The Independent

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