In February 2005 the Australian journalist Pamela Bone, already close to her death from cancer, published an article in the Melbourne Age entitled "Where are the Western Feminists?" Some of us would still like to know.The immediate spur to Pamela Bone's article had been the piercing silence from Western feminists on the subject of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's condemnation of how women were being treated in Islamic culture. In asking her question, Pamela Bone already knew why the Western feminists were saying so little. They were saying little not just about Islam, but about Hinduism or any other culture which, when the behaviour of its more extreme groups towards women attracts criticism, bridles as if it is being attacked as a whole. Of all the liberal democracies, Australia is the one where the idea is most firmly entrenched among the local intelligentsia that the culture of the West is the only criminal, all other cultures being victims no matter what atrocities they might condone even within their own families.
Perhaps the most successful example of how a Western liberal democracy can absorb migrant diasporas into its social texture, Australia would have reason to vaunt itself as a multicultural society if the supposedly universal unhappiness of the Aboriginals did not, in the eyes of its guilty intelligentsia, make the claim seem empty. But in Australia multiculturalism is not only a social aim, largely attained, it is also an ideology, in which form, to borrow Pascal Bruckner's useful phrase, it becomes the racism of the anti-racists. Australian multiculturalist ideologues will call anyone a racist who dares to suggest that another culture than the one in which they flourish might have aspects more repellent than their own. And it was just such accusations that Pamela Bone heard ringing in her ears when she made her exit.
The essay you are reading now has its own history, which will probably be part of its subject, because I have nothing original to say on the matter. Indeed, that was why I could never seem to get the thing written. That there were countries in the world where the culture visited hellish violence on women even when their governments professed a measure of equality, and that these governments were unlikely to temper the psychopathic inclinations of the culture unless there was a measure of democracy sufficient to separate the state from theocratic pressure: these conclusions seemed obvious. The only mystery was why so few female intellectuals seemed willing to reach them.
Pamela Bone was still very much alive when I began making sketches for this essay back in the first year of the decade, before the successful attack on the World Trade Center. Her cancer had already been diagnosed but she was fighting it hard and had definitely not stopped writing. Indeed, she was producing some of her most adventurous things. She had made the inherent conflict between feminism and multiculturalism one of her subjects.
To do so took bravery, especially in Australia, where the multiculturalist ideology — as opposed, often directly opposed, to the reasonable approval of multiculturalism as a desirable form of social organization — is not just a consensus, as I have said, but often thought to be fundamental to a liberal position, and therefore not to be questioned. The distinguished writer Helen Garner had been similarly daring when she raised the possibility that the occasional woman might be evil enough to accuse a man falsely of rape — a conjecture on Garner's part which drew the wrath of all those legions of Australian female pundits who seemed honestly to believe either (a) that if the occasional innocent man should get locked up it would be a small price to pay for the sure punishment of those men who were guilty, or (b) all men were guilty. Like Helen Garner, if on a less celebrated scale, Pamela Bone was a fine enough writer to make the onlooker toy with the possibility that these matters vital to women were being debated among them.
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