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I long ago lost count, just as I lost the clippings, of those occasions in which a local British police force could do no more than "warn" a woman whose life was in danger from the men around her. In late July 2009, the newspapers were featuring — but for not more than the usual few days — a case in which a woman had been "warned" after the men around her poured acid down the throat of the man she had been seeing. The man ended up in hospital with his tongue destroyed, but it appears that the tongues of the police had been destroyed too, because a "warning" was the only help they could give, apparently for fear that the local immigrant community might take offence. There is seldom, apparently, much chance of "warning" the men in such cases that if they publicly avow violent intentions towards a woman they will be hauled up, and there is never any chance at all that such men will be expelled from the country. No Minister of Community Cohesion has yet said that all communities would have a better chance of cohering with each other if those communities whose beliefs about honour were contrary to the law of the land could change them. 

By this time the words "community" and "culture" are starting to sound like what they are: weasel words for institutionalised sadism, which the naïve onlooker is likely to suspect might have something to do with the religion, whether it be Hindu, Sikh or Islamic. But at the mere mention of Islam, cue the experts: apparently these cases of honour have no justification in Sharia, and therefore honour crimes have nothing to do with the religion. In Sharia, four witnesses have to catch a pair of illicit lovers in flagrante before they can both be killed. We are supposed to be reassured by these rigorous requirements of sufficient evidence, and are thought to be niggling if we question the assumption that the death penalty is mandatory if the case is proved. The requirement that the culprits should be killed goes unexamined. No doubt, if it were examined, the community would be placed in danger and the culture begin to fray. But surely, if moderate Islam is to hold its own against its extremist wings, then fraying, in that one respect at least, is exactly what the culture needs to do. There are more than a billion Muslims who are not engaged in jihad against the West, and not likely to be. We should try to remember just how few people are trying to kill us, even when they feel sorely provoked. But if the non-fanatical majority can't find a voice to condemn the few among their fellows who see nothing wrong with killing their own women for imaginary crimes, then they either condone that attitude or are afraid of those who hold it: either way, not a very encouraging start towards the more liberal Muslim future that we have been promised. 

If Jordan is progressive, you can imagine what things must be like elsewhere: except that you can't imagine. Interviewed in our press, a Tunisian woman who dares to write about what is going on in her homeland clearly credits herself with the life expectancy of a snowflake on a hot stove. No wonder she is a lone voice. From Afghanistan, when the Taliban ruled, the reports were awful beyond belief. But we did better if we believed them, because it turned out that some of the Northern Alliance forces that replaced the Taliban were united only in their conviction that the Taliban were soft on women. Later on, the Taliban came back to prominence and in the areas under their control things were re-established on the same plane of dementia as was the rule until just yesterday in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where it was considered a mercy if, when a girl's school was burned to the ground, the girls were not still inside it. At the time of writing, the Pakistani army has cleared the Taliban out of the Swat Valley, to the point where the streets where they used to dump the bodies of the punished are now full again of living people. But when the BBC interviews boy "fighters" who have been rescued from the Taliban's suicide schools, the boys have to be fully masked for their "protection." It doesn't sound as if the madmen have gone very far away, and judging by the fact that the BBC correspondent has only her face showing, the local men who theoretically aren't insane might not be as sane as all that.

We had also better believe that where men alone decide what women's rights are, the results are rarely good. Western liberal democracy, or a reasonable imitation of Western liberal democracy when it comes to the rule of law, is still the only kind of society we know about where women are not at the mercy of systematic injustice — that is, of justice conceived of and maintained as a weapon of terror. Where women are concerned, countries like Japan have climbed out of their dark histories to the exact extent that they have become Western-style liberal democracies, and no further. The same is true for the "Tiger" economies: the condition of women might have been ameliorated only because it has been thought expedient to subject theocratic pressures to the rule of law, but it doesn't matter why the law is there, as long as it is there. The rule of law does not guarantee justice, but there is no justice without it. It has been one of the sour amusements provided by our feminist movement in its modern phase to watch its proponents trying to blink this fact. 

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John Moseley
July 26th, 2014
10:07 AM
I loved this article for the characteristic excellence of James's prose and the passionate concern it expresses. But might the key to western feminist writers' silence on this subject be the same as the hey to James's own up to now? He says himself that he felt for a long time it was not his job, as a man, to take up cudgels on a feminist cause. Might western feminists not equally have felt that it was largely the job of Eastern feminists to argue for their own rights?

Prof. Dr. Wisam Mansour
November 25th, 2009
12:11 PM
Wonderful! I liked Clive's article. It is uncompromising and to the point. I enjoyed the occasional sardonic humor with which Clive describes oppressive cultures here and there and I couldn’t agree more with him. Screw multiculturalism when it interferes with a universal notion of justice! Now who is going to hang the bell for the mediation / eradication of systems and cultures that do not effectively practice the universal declaration of human rights?? The answer is simple and predictable: the west and those who adopt a western perspective. The Billion dollar question is how to do so?? I despair!!

September 22nd, 2009
11:09 AM
The short answer is that any Western feminist/socialist etc is quite happy to criticise their own society but are quite frankly cowards when it comes to assessing and observing other societies. Those other societies could kill you, you know! They know that and will only scream/rant about those who will not harm them.

The Sad Truth
September 17th, 2009
12:09 PM
There is something westerners have failed to understand about ourselves vis a vis the Islamic world: THEY BELIEVE IN THEIR VALUES FAR MORE THAN WE DO AND ARE PREPARED TO DIE FOR THEM. Clive James, like most westerners today, hasn't risk a toenail for any principle, while Muslims blow themselves up daily in pursuit of beliefs. Asking western feminists to fight the cause of Muslim women is as useless as asking pigeons to fight global warming. They have far more resolve than we do and will never bend an inch in our direction We have to learn to live with that.

September 12th, 2009
1:09 AM
Bravo! One day in the not so distant future you western people will realise that you have been colonised and that the very tenants and fabric of your society have been erased. This implosion or indeed suicide is entirely lamentable but your own doing none the less.

Shakira Hussein
September 10th, 2009
3:09 AM
Apologies, I did not intend to post my previous comment (with the query about Helen Garner) anonymously - clumsy mouse-click. I would still be interested in a clarification from James on this one - it seems to me as though Garner, having been criticised for things she did say, is now being defended (by James) for things she did not say. Which, frankly, is at least as problematic.

September 7th, 2009
7:09 AM
I wondered whether Mr James could provide some more detail about his discussion of Helen Garner getting into trouble for saying that women make false claims of rape? Garner caused a major stir with her book "The First Stone", but that was about sexual harrassment, not rape - and she did not say that the womens' claims were false, just that they made much too much of a fuss about it. I don't remember her talking about false rape allegations, and if she ever did, they did not attract nearly so much attention as her discussion of sexual harrassment (and in that case, as I said, she concluded that the womens' version of events was basically true, she just disagreed as to its significance). Could James provide more detail about where Garner has talked about false rape allegations? I have not read every word she has ever written, so I don't deny that she may have done so - however I would repeat that if she did, they did not attract the level of attention that James describes - that was in relation to her discussion of sexual harrassment - and again, she did not claim that these allegations were false.

September 3rd, 2009
11:09 PM
Where are the Western Feminists? Would that not be you, Mr. James?

September 3rd, 2009
3:09 PM
The point of this artical may be to wake up the silent west but it is the content that I find amazing. Amazing that people can still come on here and find cause to argue against the writer. People should be aware of the crazy actions that are happening on a daily basis and if in the correct position do something about it! I know I would if i knew how. And to all that are going to make comment on spelling and grammer, get a life and think about the consequences if you were born in the "wrong" country. Great Artical.

September 1st, 2009
2:09 AM
Kimserca resorts to "blah blah" as a supposed counter-argument. James's principal point is the *silence* of supposed intellectuals, whether inside Oz or out, and it's pretty hard to provide a quote of a silence. Plus, James refers to the extremity of the Northern Alliance that were used to displace the Taliban and by implication, the continuing Islamic misgyny of the present Afghan regime. He refers to the brutality of one of our principal allies, Saudi Arabia. He was clearly condemning all such oppresive regimes - does he have to list all of them? Harrah for Clive James. As he himself suggests, the only thing unfortunate about his piece is that it is not a woman who has written it.

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