My former post on this blog, named “Not all cultures are equally valuable” glinted a few reactions, namely from two good friends, on facebook. I am now publishing their arguments and my answers to them. The facebook post is embed bellow.
Comment 1: Ouch… There are good Muslims and bad Muslims, good Christians and bad Christians, good Jews and bad Jews, good Buddhists and bad Buddhists, good men and bad men, good women and bad women, good Portuguese and bad Portuguese, good Belgians and bad Belgians, good Saudis and bad Saudis… I still prefer a good Saudi to a bad Belgian.
Answer to comment 1:
Not talking about individuals, but about cultures. I prefer a good Saudi to a bad Belgian, too. But I feel more comfortable living in Belgium, which has democratic laws and where you can be Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist without the fear of facing prison. I think that the Belgian cultural background is more valuable to the construction of a better world than the Saudi culture. In fact, a good Saudi, or at least one that cares with a fair society, should be very critical of the Saudi society.
Let’s say that I am a good Portuguese and I care with fairness and equality. I must, indeed, criticise my own society. The difference between me and the Saudi is that I can do it without the fear of facing prison, suffering expulsion from my country or even losing my job. This is why I prefer Portugal (or Belgium) to Saudi Arabia. But it doesn’t mean that Portuguese (or Belgian, or European, or western) society does not need critical thinking. In fact it needs, only a different kind of criticism than Saudi Arabia needs.
Comment 2: Things keep changing. 40 years ago you couldn’t criticize the government in Portugal, right? Or in Spain during Franco’s government… Or Italy, with Mussolini, and so on. Maybe it’s not a question of culture but of regime. Culture and regime are two very different things. As for culture, I’m not sure the European, or western culture, is particularly “healthy”. In fact, I think it’s rather toxic, both for individuals and the planet itself.
Comment 3: It is in Portuguese and regards the fact that western democracies often boycott the democratisation of other countries, as Amin Maalouf says in his book: «Le Dérèglement du monde».
Answer to comment 2 and 3:
1. NO! Culture and regimes are not (never were and never will be) two very different things. In fact, they are the two faces of the same coin. If you live in a culture which believes his leader is chosen by divine intervention, then you have a theocracy, like the Vatican. If you live immersed in a laic culture which regards religion as a private matter, like the French society, then probably you have a republic.
2. I never said that cultures were not time framed; indeed, they are. But you certainly agree with me when I said that Portuguese culture in the fifties and Portuguese culture from in the 21st century second decade are not the same – and, in my opinion, in spite of all the problems Portugal is facing, this a better society, fairer and more equal, especially in what concerns women’s rights, ethnic and sexual minorities rights, universal education, health system and wealth distribution. This does not mean that nowadays Portuguese society is perfect (far from it); but not recognising the differences between the fifties in the 20th century and nowadays, it just does not seem wise or fair. The same would apply, perhaps even more to the Spanish society. In fact, was trough critical thinking that we were able to change them. Denying the critic to Islamic societies is to betray all victims, especially the ones that live in Islamic countries and don’t have the possibility to run away from their daily hell.
3. Concerning the European/western culture(s), I never said they were perfect and I do agree with you that it is rather toxic to all. I have just said that I prefer Belgiam (or Portuguese) society to Saudi Arabia. In fact, I do not think that Saudi is less toxic than west. And it is rather comfortable to live in a society where your opinion is not censured, claiming the values of a society where slavery is a reality and women are considered property.
4. Yes, José M. Sousa, indeed western societies are not perfect and all wrongs must be denounced. Yes, I know the book from Amin Maalouf and I strongly agree it is our duty, like Maalouf did, to fight, by all possible and democratic means, the subversive intrusion of west in other countries. The difference is that he lives in France, so he can write and publish his critical ideas about the society he is part of, without fearing for his life. However, if instead of writing «Le Dérèglement du monde» he had written «The Satanic Verses» he would have to live under the permanent threat of the Islamic sword.
5. Finishing: I am not saying all Muslims are terrorist. Both of you know me better than that. I am just comparing the well-being provided by two different societies considering their cultural background. And no, European cultural background is not Christianity. We have achieved the levels of freedom we enjoy today not because of Christianism but in spite of it. Enlightenment (the 18th-century movement) and secularity are the ideas who provided the separation between state and church, and allowed people to release themselves from the fetter of delusional faith. And this is the critics that we need to do to Islamic countries or evangelical movements or any other source of absolutism like, for instance, “Nationalsozialismus“, Soviet communism or Catholic theocracy (after all, «Les croisades vues par les arabes» have quite a different aspect).
And yes! In spite of all the problems of western society, I still prefer Belgium to Saudi Arabia, and it is not just because women can freely drive in the former. It is also because I can write whatever I want in my blog without fearing of being sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison.