This image has been making the rounds today, illustrating a remarkable meeting of cultures at the Olympics as Egypt took on Germany at beach volleyball. Commentators remarked that athletes can come from any culture and wear anything they want. Both are beautiful in their own way, the usual voices say. What a depiction of the Olympic spirit, as competitors from wildly different cultures meet on the even playing field of athletics.
Which it certainly is. I am glad that Western culture, which gave rise to the Olympics, welcomes and celebrates such diversity. There are plenty of people who would hate on either type of dress or consider it oppression, yet such people have no power to exclude anyone on the basis of their bigotry alone. And not just the Olympics: every major Western institution you can think of makes a massive show of valuing inclusiveness and diversity; every year has us debating new ways to be an open society, with transgender rights being the current front line.
Think about a culture that is able to produce events where all cultures and beliefs get equal footing. Yes, yes, the main Olympic Committee is corrupt as all get-out, as are the various national equivalents, and any city leader would be insane to want this massive and expensive disruption in their town. The graft involved in the Olympics would make Boss Tweed blush. Yet, still — what an accomplishment.
We’ve certainly been imperfect about this, to put in mildly, but continue to make strides with inclusion every year and every decade. The fact that past eras are more racist than our own speaks volumes of the power of Enlightened thought. I want every decade to be more racist than the next.
The Olympics represent an ideal of such civilization, one that draws even the most despotic and regressive cultures to compete. Hell, not even Hitler was willing keep black athletes from performing in 1936, that’s how bright the torch of Western values shone in the darkest pit of Nazi Germany. And most of us delight in pictures such as the above, or those of the American athlete also in the hijab. Because she chooses to wear it.
Which is actually the more important lesson. Secular Western culture gives as much room for our athletes to celebrate their Muslim heritage, as it does for our Christian athletes to do the same. If the German athlete above wished to compete in Muslim dress similar to her opponent, surely she would have been allowed to. Same as with America, the UK, Australia, or most other Western Culture.
Now think, what would happen if a female athlete from an Islamic country wished to dress the other way.
One can probably guess how her home country would take it. I don’t know what the odds would be of her survival upon returning home, but given recent evidence, they would be sufficiently low that such a situation would warrant offering her amnesty here in the States.
I’m not talking about her odds of being publicly shamed, ostracized, arrested. I am talking about her odds of being murdered for not wearing the correct attire. Whether by the state, or by a howling mob, or literally by her own father or brother.
I am all for celebrating the inclusiveness of Western culture. I am all for celebrating Muslims who welcome living in a Western culture
I am not for celebrating the intolerance of Islamic culture.
For as long as there has been a feminist movement, from the 19th century on, the most powerful, most intractable, the most unforgiving enemy of women’s rights has been conservative religion. Just about every ruling, edict, or law for the subjugation and chattel slavery of women has been rooted in Christian scripture — easy to do when so many of the earliest Christians were rabid woman-haters motivated by hate and jealousy of Mary Magdalene and by Aristotelian thought, among other things.
Every feminist advance — from the right to vote, to receiving anesthesia during labor, to enjoying equal rights to pursue a career, to the existence of reliable contraception — was always faced with the forces of the Christian right, a sect that still believes, and will always believe, women should be baby-breeding servants to their husbands. This is why the great boogeyman in feminist literature remains the male Christian preacher, or their counterparts in politics such as Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. (The Orange Orangutan himself has little use for religion, but his attitudes towards a woman’s place in society are in alignment with those of his evangelical voters.)
We revel in the pushing aside of religious intolerance at every turn, if that religion happens to be Christianity (or Judaism in Israel).
But then we go wrong in celebrating an Egyptian society that forces its female athletes to dress like above. A society that is driven by a fear of the female form and of female sexuality. One that practices female genital mutilation on the vast majority of girls unfortunate to be born within its borders.
The greatest enemy to women’s rights, at least in Europe, is now Islamism. With Christian culture now dead or dying in that continent, it is Islamic culture waging a growing war against women — a real war with real violence. Whether from marauding hordes of Muslim youths, or governments approving of gender segregation in order to assuage Islamic sensibilities, or honor killings in one of France’s self-governed Sharia ghettos, one thing is clear:
Religious conservatives are once again fighting furiously against women’s rights.
Only this time, they are winning because mainstream Westerners and feminists refuse to say one bad word about Islamic conservatives. Even the same ones who never stop harping about Christian conservatives.
The people who are rabidly opposed to Islamic culture tend to be just as bad in their treatment of women. Yes, this would be the alt-right, whose MRA and PUA members rival even Islamists in their virulent hatred of anyone with two X chromosomes.
Defending our values means always speaking out against the alt-right; it means speaking out against Christian extremists; and yes, it means speaking out against the Islamism that has relegated hundreds of millions of the globe’s women and girls to second-class status, or worse.
Want to really celebrate the Egyptian athlete from above? Tell her that her choice of garb should be just that, a choice, and not a state or society mandate.