Johann Hari: How multiculturalism is betraying women
It would be easy to congratulate ourselves on our tolerance of the fanatically intolerant
Published: 30 April 2007
Do you believe in the rights of women, or do you believe in multiculturalism? A series of verdicts in the German courts in the past month, have shown with hot, hard logic that you can't back both. You have to choose.
The crux case centres on a woman called Nishal, a 26-year-old Moroccan immigrant to Germany with two kids and a psychotic husband. Since their wedding night, this husband beat the hell out of her. She crawled to the police covered in wounds, and they ordered the husband to stay away from her. He refused. He terrorised her with 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.
This is not a freakish exception. Germany's only state-level Minister for Integration, Armin Laschet, says this is only “the last link, for the time being, in a chain of horrific rulings handed down by the German courts”.
The German magazine Der Spiegel has documented a long list of these multicultural verdicts. Here are just a few:
A Lebanese-German who strangled his daughter Ibthahale and then beat her unconscious with a bludgeon because she didn't want to marry the man he had picked out for her was sentenced to mere probation. His “cultural background” was cited by the judge as a mitigating factor.
A Turkish-German who stabbed his wife Zeynep to death in Frankfurt was given the lowest possible sentence, because, the judge said, the murdered woman had violated his “male honour, derived from his Anatolian moral concepts”. The bitch. A Lebanese-German who raped his wife Fatima while whipping her with a belt was sentenced to probation, with the judge citing his … you get the idea.
Their victims are forced to ask – like Soujourner Truth, the female slave who famously challenged early women's rights activists to consider black women as their sisters – “Ain't I a woman?”
In Germany today, Muslim women have been reduced to third-class citizens stripped of core legal protections – because of the doctrine of multiculturalism, which says a society should be divided into separate cultures with different norms according to ethnic origin.
Too often this issue is mixed up with other debates and gets waved through for the sake of politeness. The right loves mashing “mass immigration and multiculturalism” into one sound-bite. Well, I think Britain should take more immigrants and refugees, not fewer – but multiculturalism is a disastrous way to greet them.
These German cases highlight the flaw at the core of multiculturalism. It assumes that immigrants have one homogenous culture which they should all follow – and it allows the most reactionary and revolting men in their midst to define what that culture is. Across Europe, many imams are offering advice to Muslim men on how to beat Muslim women. For example, in Spain, the popular Imam Mohammed Kamal Mustafa warns that you shouldn't use “whips that are too thick” because they leave scars that can be detected by the “infidels”. That might be Mustafa's culture – but it isn't Nishal's. It isn't the culture of the women who scream and weep as they are beaten.
And yes, we should admit that this is disproportionately a problem among Muslim, Sikh and Hindu immigrants who arrive from countries which have not had women's rights movements. Listen to Jasvinder Sanghera, who founded the best British charity helping Asian women after her sister was beaten and beaten and then burned herself to death. She 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. In fact, the real racists are the people who vehemently condemn misogyny and homophobia when it comes from white people but mysteriously fall silent when it comes from black and Asian men.
Indeed, in the name of this warm, welcoming multiculturalism, the German courts have explicitly compared Muslim women to the brain-damaged. The highest administrative court in North Rhine-Westphalia has agreed that Muslim parents have the “right” to forbid their daughter from going on a school trip unless she was accompanied by a male family member at all times. The judges said the girl was like “a partially mentally impaired person who, because of her disability, can only travel with a companion”.
As the Iranian author Azar Nafisi puts it: “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.” She is horrified by the moves in Canada to introduce shariah courts to enforce family law for Muslims.
Multiculturalists believe that they are defending immigrants. But in reality, they are betraying at least 55 per cent of them – the women and the gays. It is multiculturalists, for example, who are the biggest champions of the Government's massive expansion of “faith” schools, where children will be segregated according to parental superstition and often taught the most literalist and cruel strain of a “faith”.
What will girls and gay pupils be taught there? Will they have Sura 4, verse 34 drilled into them, along with the passages from the hadith where Mohammed calls for gay people to be executed? We know Catholic schools often push the most vile aspects of their faith at children; why should Muslim schools be different?
We desperately need to empower Muslim women to reinterpret the Koran in less literalist and vicious ways, or to leave their religion all together, as they wish. But multiculturalism hobbles them before they even begin, by saying they should stick to the “authentic” culture represented by the imams.
Yes, it would be easy to keep our heads down, go with this multicultural drift, and congratulate ourselves on our tolerance of the fanatically intolerant. But I can give you a few good reasons not to. Their names are Nishal and Ibthahale and Zeynep and Fatima, and, yes, they were women.