The unanswered question about the controversy over Representative Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitic statements is why anyone was surprised by them.
Judging by the heavy duty hijabs she wears, Omar is a religious Muslim. And the Koran, which is sacred scripture to Muslims, is replete with anti-Jewish sentiments: Jews are the strongest of all people in enmity toward the Muslims (5:82); they wish evil for people and try to mislead them (2:109); and they are cursed by Allah (9:30) who transformed them into apes and pigs (5:59-60). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone who takes the Koran seriously might harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.
In the Muslim world, Jews are widely considered to be at the back of every bad thing that’s ever happened. Just a few days ago, for example, a Muslim student at NYU accused Chelsea Clinton of being a cause of the New Zealand mosque attack. Clinton’s crime? In the wake of Ilhan Omar’s tweet, Clinton tweeted: “We should expect all elected officials…to not traffic in anti-Semitism.” So a mild criticism of anti-Semitism somehow led a white supremacist in New Zealand who is, in all probability, also an anti-Semite, to kill Muslims at worship. That’s hard to figure. But, then, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are not known for their logical consistency.
At this point one is supposed to say that not all Muslims are anti-Semitic. That’s quite true. One is also supposed to add that the vast majority of Muslims are not in the least anti-Semitic. But that, sorry to say, is highly doubtful. An ADL global survey of anti-Semitic attitudes reveals that people who live in Muslim majority lands score higher on anti-Semitism than other people in other countries. In the West Bank and Gaza 93 % of those surveyed had anti-Semitic attitudes. In Iraq the figure was 92%. In both Libya and Algeria, 87% had a negative view of Jews, while 86% of Tunisians and 80% of Moroccans held anti-Semitic views.
It follows that—unless they become thoroughly assimilated—Muslims who migrate from these countries into the West will carry these anti-Semitic attitudes with them. Exhibit A is Europe. The continent which promised the world, “never again,” has seen a dramatic rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes coinciding with the recent migration of millions of Muslims into Europe.
But instead of resisting the new wave of anti-Semitism, a significant number of European politicians are adapting to it. A prime example is Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, who has basically done nothing to quell the growing anti-Jewish element in his party. The slide into anti-Semitism is in part a response to the rise of the Muslim voter. According to the Office of National Statistics, the Muslim population of England and Wales in 2011 was 5.4 percent of the total, while the Jewish population stood at only 0.5 percent.
The muted Democratic Party response to Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism suggests that the Democrats, like their counterparts in Britain, will also follow the path of least resistance. Instead of a strong resolution condemning anti-Semitism, all that the Democrats could muster was a watered-down statement condemning every kind of hate under the sun. Currently, Jews in America outnumber Muslims, but by 2040, Muslims will replace Jews as the second largest religious group after Christians.
If one takes a global view, the Muslim-Jewish ratio is even more lopsided. There are approximately 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, but only about 16 million Jews. To put that in perspective, consider that the total population of all the Jews in the world is less than half of the population of Tokyo. If you’re a politician with an eye on potential voters, you’re not going to expend a lot of energy defending a group of people that makes up only .02 percent of the world’s population.
In defense of Ilhan Omar, Representative Jan Schakowsky said, “she comes from a different culture.” But that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? Culture is very powerful. It does shape the way people think and act. We all know it, but our society requires us to deny it. The culture-shapers in the West demand that we acquiesce in the fiction that all cultures and religions are equally beneficent, tolerant, and freedom loving, and thus all people share the same basic values. They tell us that a multicultural world will be a less bigoted one.
But the truth is, most Muslims grow up in cultures that are steeped in anti-Semitism. It’s not a hypothesis. It’s a fact. Some Muslims rise above their cultural conditioning, but many do not. Thus, it is quite reasonable to expect that when Muslims migrate they will bring some of that anti-Semitic conditioning with them. Ilhan Omar is not an aberration. She is in the Islamic mainstream.
What else can we expect as Muslim migration into the West increases? One doesn’t have to be a Nostradamus to predict an increase in misogyny and a rise in the mistreatment of women. Islamic societies are not friendly to women’s rights. In Mauritania, the Parliament has twice rejected a bill that would require tougher penalties for violence against women. The rejected bill would also have allowed women to travel without their husband’s permission. But the Islamic arbiters of culture in Mauritania said no. Not surprisingly, similar bills to protect women and to raise the marriageable age for girls have been rejected in a number of different legislatures throughout the Muslim world.
The Koran says that “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other” (4: 34). The same passage authorizes husbands to “admonish them [their wives] and send them to beds apart and beat them” (4: 34). Moreover, an authoritative Hadith records that Muhammad gave his comrades permission to rape non-Muslim women captured in combat (Sahih Muslim, vol. 2, no. 3371). Since Islam considers itself to be in a permanent state of war with the non-Islamic world, this is often interpreted by some Muslim men to mean that non-Muslim women in non-Islamic countries can be raped with impunity.
Should it come as a surprise, then, that as Muslim immigration into Europe has increased, so has the incidence of rape and other sexual assaults against girls and women? When arrested and brought before courts, the perpetrators are often puzzled. They don’t see anything wrong with their behavior, and they argue that in their own countries, uncovered women are fair game. In similar fashion, their lawyers frequently trot out the “they-come-from-a-different-culture” defense. And it frequently works. Judges in Europe tend to give astonishingly light sentences to Muslims who are found guilty of rape.
The question is not, “Does culture affect attitudes and behaviors?” Everyone from lenient German judges to culturally sensitive Democratic congresswomen tacitly admits that it does. The question is, are there objective standards of right and wrong by which all cultures can be judged? That is the question that the Nuremberg Trial judges had to answer after the Holocaust. And that is the question before us today.
The same question comes up in the matter of female genital mutilation (FGM). Although FGM has been a criminal offense in the UK since 1985, it has nevertheless become a major problem which may affect as many as 60,000 girls. How did the once unheard of practice of FGM grow to such proportions? The most likely reason is that it was never prosecuted. In fact, the first conviction for FGM in Britain didn’t occur until February of this year.
Why is that? FGM expert and attorney Dr. Charlotte Proudman maintains that the lack of prosecutions is due to fears about being accused of racism: “[Doctors and police] are concerned about cultural sensitivities, worried about being branded racists.’’ In short, British authorities consider FGM to be a cultural thing, and thus something that they, as good multiculturalists, shouldn’t pass judgement on. Meanwhile, in Britain and also in continental Europe, tens of thousands of Muslim girls and young women continue to pay the price for this non-judgmental attitude. It is estimated that at least 500,000 European Muslims have been victims of the brutal practice.
Will FGM come to America? As you probably know, it already has. The only question is, will it spread? According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of woman and girls at risk for FGM has doubled in the past ten years, with more than half a million at risk of undergoing the procedure.
One of the three metropolitan areas where the practice is most prevalent is Minneapolis which has the largest Somali Muslim community in the U.S., and is also the home district of Ilhan Omar. Omar has said that the practice is “heinous,” but nevertheless argued against a Minnesota bill that would increase penalties for FGM (although she ultimately voted for it.)
Another place with a disproportionate number of FGM cases is the Detroit area, which also happens to be the home district of Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim congresswoman and a defender of Ilhan Omar. In November, 2018 a Federal Judge in Detroit dismissed multiple charges of FGM against a Michigan doctor and her co-defendants, ruling that the federal law banning FGM is unconstitutional. Tellingly, the doctor’s lawyers used the “multicultural” defense saying that their clients were being “persecuted for practicing their religion by a culture and society that doesn’t understand their beliefs and is misinterpreting what they did.”
The judge’s ruling was based on a legal technicality, not on the cultural defense, but as the Muslim population in the U.S. grows, we are likely to hear more of the “we-have-a-different- culture” argument in defense of anti-Jewish sentiments, misogynist practices, and FGM.
Ironically, one of the strongest voices protesting against the relativistic multicultural position is that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali who, like Ilhan Omar, is also a refugee from Somalia. A former member of the Dutch Parliament and also a former Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, perhaps, the leading defender of a woman’s inherent rights against Islam’s cultural and religious claims. Here is the mission statement of her AHA Foundation:
The organization believes in liberty for all. That means liberty from female genital mutilation, honor violence and forced marriages. And it means liberty to challenge the ideology of Islamism—extremism that threatens Western Civilization—with rational Enlightenment thought.
We are rapidly coming to the point where we will have to choose between Hirsi Ali’s defense of universal rights, and the multicultural view that what’s right and wrong is relative—simply a function of one’s surrounding culture.
Although Hirsi Ali is an atheist, she respects Christianity, and her natural rights philosophy with its emphasis on rationality is close to the Catholic position. The Catholic Church holds that there is a natural order of things which is accessible to our reason. Out of this natural law flow certain natural rights as well as moral duties proper to our human nature. The Church is, in fact, one of the few institutions still capable of making the case that moral rules are not arbitrary inventions of cultures but rather that they follow from a proper understanding of our human nature.
We tend to take it for granted that the rejection of anti-Semitism and misogyny will continue to be bedrock principles of our society. But it’s best not to make that assumption. Because recent generations of Americans have been thoroughly schooled in the doctrine of cultural relativism, the battle for these bedrock principles may have to be fought all over again.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!