The Illusion of Agreeing with Everyone

In my last blog post I quoted UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the launch of Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010 as saying that achieving gender equality is vital for achieving development goals overall, and for boosting economic growth and sustainable development. She furthermore stated that

  • policy needs to advance gender equality, so that women as well as men can benefit from job creation and investments in social infrastructure,
  • the under-representation of women in the workforce has significant negative economic consequences,
  • Achieving gender equality promotes human development.

So any normal human being would then sit back and expect giant gasps or people screaming EUREKA while hurrying back to their countries to correct their old ways of repressing women.

Or not?

Why are arguments such “sustainable development”, “economic growth”, and “human development” not enough to sway opinion in favor of gender equality in areas such as South Asia, which Helen Clark was referring to?

Like everything else it is a question of priorities. It is NOT a question of rational discourse or trumping 3rd world backwardness with the superiority of Western technology or even “if we all sit down together and talk then they will realize how wrong they are”. They chose to live this way and they did so for a reason. You may not agree with it and I may not agree with it – but they do.

Not everyone puts economic freedom before everything else. That is why Multiculturalism is a dangerous illusion and it is part of the reason why the US messed up so badly in Iraq. The problem is called mirror imaging and it denotes the expectation that opposite parties hold the same basic values and priorities as you yourself do.

In fact, the list of other possible priorities is endless: religion, tribe, ethnicity, honor, tradition, happiness, greed, etc. The US apparently values financial freedoms over all else.

The prevalence of honor killings in some parts of the world is testament to other people having other priorities. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000.  Not even the sanctity of human life, can we agree upon.

Half the women imprisoned in Afghanistan are detained for “moral crimes” such as running away from home, refusing to marry, marrying without their family’s wishes, and “attempted adultery”.

When claims of the (financial) virtues of gender equality are put forward in South Asia and Africa they clash with a cultural or religious ethos that places women under the authority of men and that take precedence over any financial considerations you might bring up. This is why the UNDP report will have absolutely no impact outside the UN system.

Specifically, Islam institutionalizes the inferiority of women to men and spells out different rights and duties to each sex. When Helen Clark says that “policy needs to advance gender equality” she is basically saying that Muslims should ignore certain parts of their religion in order to gain financial progress.

In my own part of the world, Northern Europe, there ruled the idea that immigrants could merge seamlessly into society and create a new diversity that would enrich all those involved, and that, over time, immigrants and their descendants would gradually shed their old silly ways and instead adopt a more enlightened Scandinavian way of thinking. It has now been proven wrong.

The new generations do in fact not blend in, enrich society at large or change their ways. Immigrant groups from certain areas of the world pose no problems to society and others do most certainly. The result of the grand Multiculturalist experiment has resulted in some immigration populations that live in ghettoes, that are more prone to violence, hold the same values as the parent generations, have much higher unemployment rates than ethnic Danes and pose a great financial burden on the host society.

On February 27, 2003, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz rejected the claim of then-Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki who predicted that “Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers … would be required” to provide adequate security in a post-invasion Iraq. Wolfowitz said that Shinseki was “wildly off the mark,” and that he was “reasonably certain that they [the Iraqis] will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep [troop] requirements down.” Wolfowitz’s position was shared by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who predicted that post-war troop levels would be lower than what was required for the invasion of Iraq.

Saddam was a vicious dictator who liked to kill his own people as a hobby and the US would bring freedom and democracy – so why was it actually unreasonable for Wolfowitz to expect Iraqis to greet the US as heroes or liberators? Because, to many Iraqis there are thing that are more important than freedom and democracy – things such as national pride, or the sheer opportunity to kill lots of Americans.

In American debates the notion that other people may have other priorities than achieving the American dream of material wealth is often met with ridicule and arguments such “they all want to come and live here so obviously they agree with us” or ” in order to achieve any of those other priorities you first have to make some money and then you can go after your other dreams. Even an Islamist terrorist has to eat, right?”.

Yes, but he may prioritize killing you before making a sandwich or building a house by the sea. One thing does not preclude the other.


  1. You make some excellent points here that I’d like to comment on.

    1. Eureka moment – I cannot see how the UN simply pointing out a better way to behave will actually achieve anything. It’s a positive development but getting a culture to change its habits is probably not going to happen. Better to do something than nothing I guess.

    2. Mirror Imaging – This is very true. The West cannot understand why some cultures do not automatically change when it would be so logical (from a western perspective) to do so. I saw a documentary on women in Saudi Arabia and was very surprised to learn that they would prefer the West not to meddle in their affairs. Change must come internally and not be forced upon them. Their alliance does rely with their religion, husbands and country and to have the West bash these things does more harm than good in my opinion.

    I saw a great piece in how since the women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, they are protesting my “adopting” the taxi driver as their son which makes them a relative and thus able to use for transport.

    3. US believes economic freedom comes before everything else – That is the mentality of the USA with the prevailing thought being – More money equals more happiness and well being. Economics comes first with religion, tribe, other considerations being way down on the list. It has been shown in Iraq that it definitely does not work and the US seriously underestimated tribal loyalties.

    4. Multiculturalism – I understand your frustration with the Muslims in Denmark and Europe as a whole. I even had some problems with that group when I studied in France. There are some very large problems to overcome but I would say the Muslim/Europe issue is not a good baseline from which to form an opinion of multiculturalism. Here in California is a better example in which immigrants come and then really do turn into Americans over time. There are many reasons why which are too many to explain here but I would say just because it is not working well in Europe doesn’t mean it cannot work better in other areas. I think the USA would actually be the best example of how it can work.

    But great post!!!

  2. The Independent is running a great series of articles by Robert Fisk about the relations between men and women and particularly about honour killings in the Middle East.

    Quote: "But the grim truth is that Westerners can no more change this – can no more persuade village elders in Afghanistan of the benefits of gender equality and an end to "honour" killings – than we could have persuaded Henry VIII of the benefits of parliamentary democracy or Cromwell of the laws of war. The height of such pomposity came the other day from Navi Pillay, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Violent 'honour' attacks," she pontificated, "are crimes that violate the right to life, liberty, bodily integrity, the prohibition against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the prohibition on slavery, the right to freedom from gender-based discrimination and sexual abuse or exploitation, the right to privacy, the obligation to denounce discriminatory laws and harmful practices against women." Phew. I can see how they'll be shaking in their shoes after that in Baluchistan and Helmand province."

    The whole series is worth reading. Go check it out.

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