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At one point our feminists, getting frustrated as the pace slowed down in the home stretch to utopia, started telling us that other cultures (cultures practising clitoridectomy, for example) were more "authentic" in the respect of female sexual identity. A woman in Somalia, we were told, at least knows she is a woman. At one point, my friend Germaine Greer could be heard propounding this view, but she has a good heart, and perhaps found reason to dial back on her fervour after Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has actually suffered a clitoridectomy in Somalia, pointed out that the practice, far from being a sign of authenticity, was a mechanism of repression. How Germaine Greer could ever, even momentarily, have thought anything different is a matter for study in a field that needs to be explored: the way Western intellectuals lose sight of elementary liberalism in the heat-haze of their own rhetoric. 

In a free society, radical dissatisfaction is usually a condition of mind before it is a response to circumstances, so it has to go somewhere. As atomisation continues in the liberal democracies, the number of candidates for an irresponsible semi-intelligentsia continues to increase. They come from either wing, but are always more vociferous on the Left, because capitalism provides the more blatant source of provocation. One can hardly blame them for that. What is striking is their capacity, once they run out of injustices in liberal democracy that they can blame on capitalism, to look for injustices in the rest of the world that they can blame on liberal democracy. In sub-Saharan Africa, especially, criminal states are regarded as victim states even when their sole concern is the victimisation of their own people. By now Bob Geldof seems ready to admit the possibility that he and President Mengistu of Ethiopia were in a symmetrical relationship. But Geldof is a long way ahead of most of his admirers. Food aid enthusiasts are still reluctant to believe that most of the money raised for Ethiopia was wasted. 

But it was worse than wasted. It fuelled the engine of injustice, and the result of injustice, in Ethiopia and in any other African country that melts down, is invariably a situation in which the lot of women, already bad, gets worse. In those failed states where Islam is a factor, the sufferings of women seem to be even worse than in the others, but in the others it is bad enough to suggest that what we are talking about goes far beyond religion. An African state where men rule the roost is usually on its way to chaos, and the inevitable inference is that a fair shake for women is the only hope for a decent future. It is some encouragement to find that Barack Obama, whose influence is bound to count in Africa for the foreseeable future, seems to think the same. His excellent first book Dreams from My Father is ruled by the spirit of his mother, not his father. She is the responsible one. And as the Australian Aboriginal political thinker Noel Pearson has insisted, the right to responsibility is crucial. (Pearson, who argues that welfare for Aboriginals should be accompanied by a strict application of the law against abusive Aboriginal men, will no doubt become an object for execration among Australian intellectuals once they have finished collating the evidence that he is a CIA sleeper who was planted in Cooktown by a low-flying C-130 after he completed his training in Langley, Virginia.)

The other crucial requirement, surely, is for the pampered intelligentsia of the West to give up finally and forever on any notion that the Third World — for all its deprivations and perhaps because of them — is some kind of Eden in which countervailing values against the excesses of the West may be found. What may be found is more often a heap of dead bodies. Most of those get blamed on the West, too, but when half of the population of Rwanda sets out to murder the other half, with no recourse to Western technology except the metal to make machetes, the explanation starts looking thin. And always it is mandatory for the women to be raped as well as being chopped up, the only question in the minds of the men being about what order in which to do these things. No doubt the same sort of dialogue was going on somewhere in the mind of Fred West, but at least he found it advisable to hide the corpses. 

It should be obvious that in Africa there is little hope without education and that any educational reform should emphasise the educating of women. We can't be sure that the rise of women to political prominence, there or anywhere, will guarantee the beneficial modification of a monolithic state — Madame Mao, after all, was a product of the Chinese educational system — but we can be sure that any monolithic state which resists the very idea of educating women has no intention of liberalising itself. This principle holds true all the way up to — or down to, if you like — the level of Saudi Arabia, which even the West's most ardently anti-Western feminists are ready to concede is an organised insult to their gender. (They would probably be less ready to concede this if Saudi Arabia were a declared enemy of the United States, but that's by the way.) Where women are concerned — and where women are concerned we are all concerned, or should be — Saudi Arabia is such a horror show that it would constitute all on its own sufficient reason for the West to wean itself off oil, if only to deprive those untold thousands of idle princes and useless Koranic scholars of their endless supply of free money, large amounts of which are used in an export drive to flood the world with extremist doctrine on the intellectual level of the Sexcetera channel but with the virulence of botulism. Countries in receipt of free money are under no compulsion to develop a real economy, and are thus less likely than ever to see even the material benefits, let alone the moral ones, of setting women free.

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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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