General Question

DominicX's avatar

At what point does the "culture excuse" go away?

Asked by DominicX (28777points) July 14th, 2009

We are tolerant of other people’s cultures to an extent, but how far will we go?

Couldn’t it be argued that oppressing women is part of the Islamic culture? Should we excuse it because “it’s just their way of life”?

This is not meant to be inflammatory. I’m genuinely curious as to what you all have to say.

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26 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I’m tolerant of people’s beliefs until they start harming others but we just can’t go invading other nations every time something awful happens either.

tinyfaery's avatar

Just because we do not agree does not give us the right to try and change it. Cultural change rarely happens or goes well when it is forced by outsiders. Change must come from within a culture.

Ansible1's avatar

How far will we(you) go? ask the native americans (i am)

sap82's avatar

How do you want us to treat women?

DominicX's avatar


What does that have to do with anything? I want women to have all the same opportunities as men. Simple as that. They should not be killed because they cheated on their husbands, they should be allowed to drive (they’re not in Saudi Arabia), etc.

sap82's avatar

Women aren’t men.

Response moderated
DominicX's avatar


So that means they deserve to be treated as lesser beings?

Whatever, I’m not participating in this discussion. My opinion is not going to change. It’s okay if you’re sexist. I respect your right to be sexist, but if you start trying to change the laws to support your views, then I will fight against you. It’s also no surprise that you’re religious. Religion does terrible things to people. (I’m Catholic, so don’t go branding me an atheist.)

Response moderated
augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Personal attacks are not permitted and have been removed. Let’s be civil, people.

sap82's avatar

oh im sorry. its your question fluffy dear.

Sarcasm's avatar

It’s tough to answer this question know that really the question of “alright, you’ve stopped tolerating, what’re you going to do about it?” is right around the corner.

I know I’ll stop respecting somebody after most acts of violence (I can see some justified things, and I’m certainly not outraged by UFC), or if they feel it’s right for certain demographics to not have the same rights as others. That’s the closest I’ll get to an appropriate answer to your question.

What’ll I do about it? Nothing noticeable. I certainly won’t go marching over to my neighbor’s house to beat him up after hearing word that he beats his wife. I didn’t go around TPing houses with “Yes on 8” signs back in votin’ season. I just live on a little more bothered.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

My view on it is simple. If it does not violate the innately universal rights that all human beings share then it’s ok. But in the case of degrading women, that’s not ok in my mind. but unfortunately, there is very little one can do about it if you’re not living in that country, even those who do and are trying to change it are seeing so much resistance.

DominicX's avatar

innately universal rights that all human beings share

If only we could all agree on what those are.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@sap82 to be honest I don’t know what you’re getting at here. you’re responses were removed so if they were an inkling to you’re true thoughts on the subject I missed it. But what do you mean women aren’t men? of course they’re not, but do you know what they ARE? Human Beings just like men, and thusly they deserve all of the same opportunities as men do.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with @ABoyNamedBoobs03 in that you treat people as human beings.

Are they living here in the USA? I am not in favor of changing law to accommodate some religious practice that is outright abusive. From what I understand there are Muslims bringing cases to the courts to change law to accommodate religious custom, If they want to live in England, USA, Netherlans, wherever, they have to adjust. Why are they going there otherwise? Every person I know from the middle east and came here, I have several friends, their families left for a reason and are grateful to be in the USA.

wundayatta's avatar

Who is “we?” What are the boundaries of “how far?” What do you mean by “excuse?”

Nations, including the US, have gone to war over these things. The US (we, for me) has invaded Iraq and Vietnam and Bosnia in the name of stifling those people’s expression of their cultures.

Do we use “culture” as an excuse to not “do the right thing?”

To answer this we have to know how we know what “the right thing” is, and how we give ourselves permission to say that our “right thing” is so right that we allow ourselves to go to war to bring this “right thing” to other people. There’s cultural imperialism, for you.

So, are there basic international human rights that we should leap to defend wherever they are offended? If so, do we have an obligation to defend rights of all people, or can we choose to defend only those peoples’ rights where we have other interests?

I think rights have little to do with it. I think it’s all about power and the expression of power. People use their power until others rise up against it. Everyone is both egocentric, and cultural-centric to one degree or another. To the degree you are egocentric or cultural-centric, you give yourself permission to interfere in other people’s and other culture’s lives. Righteousness plays a role in this, too. We dress up our imperialist behavior by saying we are doing it to protect the rights of oppressed people.

Are they oppressed? Do they want our “help”? Are we really altruistic? Or are we doing these things out of other motives? Finally, should the likelihood of being successful in our efforts play a role in our decision to engage in the effort?

This country has made an enormous number of mistakes in our history with respect to expressing our power outside the country in the name of protecting others. We’ve also had some successes.

Personally, I think that gifts enable oppression. The only rights that matter to people are rights that have been earned. We can be concerned and we can hate what is happening, but we still have to be patient and let other people solve their own problems.

I believe that when we do interfere, it is with hypocrisy. We are really out for our own good, but we dress it up as if we are being altruistic. If we really were altruistic, we would have intervened in the Congo and in East Timor and in Burma and in Sri Lanka and on and on. So, obviously, we are not altruistic.

The best we can do, I think, is to refuse to deal with people whose habits we don’t like. If they oppress women, we don’t trade with them. If they engage in ethnic cleansing, we don’t trade and we urge others not to trade, either. We do everything we can to make them aware of our disapproval of their ways, without violence.

This doesn’t mean we are right or wrong. It’s just a less hypocritical way of expressing our power. If our interests are actively being hurt, then we use military force, but without offering any justification other than we are expressing our own interests. We shouldn’t pretend we actually are using this policy to care for other people. It is far too clear that we don’t actually care about other people. We only care about trade and making money.

DominicX's avatar


You keep saying “we” towards the end, but who are you speaking for? How do you know that I don’t care about other people?

The Muslims and extremists think their culture is right. Some Muslims and extremists are just as egocentric about it as we are, to the point that they would commit acts of terror against another nation that opposes them. America is not the only nation who feels that their culture is the “correct” one.

And how do we know that these people don’t want our help? Of course the people doing the oppressing don’t want or need our help, but how do you know what those women who are being publicly executed feel? How do you know what homosexuals in Iran feel when they are sentenced to death for it? How do you know what the victims of the Darfur genocide feel? Are we willing to take the chance? Are we willing to give up the opportunity to do something about it?

wundayatta's avatar

@DominicX Look at the second sentence of my comment and you’ll see who “we” is, for me.

I figure that if people want help, they will ask for it. I’m not saying we don’t help. In fact, I suggested ways that I thought we could help. I just don’t include violence amongst those ways. I don’t think it works, anyway. The only way to change someone else’s behavior is to shun them until they act in a way that is acceptable to polite company. Of course, pragmatism usually does moral behavior in, so I think it’s kind of stupid to say you are being moral when you really aren’t.

dalepetrie's avatar

Personally, I think if you’re in your own country, it’s like the Prime Directive on Star Trek…any people should have the right to figure out their own form of governance for themselves, we don’t have to like or agree with what they pick, but we have to accept it if they are only attempting to rule themselves in their stated manner. Yes, that means sometimes there are going to be really bad human rights violations, but neither the United States nor the UN can act as the government/police of the world. Generally we see many points in history where more Democratic and open forms of governance have evolved over time, but we have to let countries get there on their own…we have to let them evolve in the way that their culture will evolve and reach their own version of self-governance that works for their people, it doesn’t have to model a Jeffersonian Democracy to work.

The only exception I make is when a government, regardless of how it treats its people, tries to deny another sovereign nation THEIR rights to self governance. That is when foreign forces should step in, when the safety or sovereignty of another nation is at risk at the hand of a rogue state. First, all diplomatic channels should be reviewed, exhausted and escalated to whatever point it takes to make everyone play nice and keep their hands to themselves.

Where the idea of accepting of a culture’s mores becomes more difficult in my opinion is when a group immigrates from one nation to a nation with a different culture. For example, we have a great number of Hmong and Somali immigrants where I live, and they have extremely different cultural mores than we do here in the midwest. A 1998 incident on one of our local morning radio talk shows (one of the highest rated in the nation in fact), exemplifies the point.

As I recall, a young Hmong woman murdered her baby, and for some reason there were a lot of apologists saying that her circumstances, which I don’t recall, made that an understandable action in Hmong culture. I personally think that if you live in a country, you OBEY THE LAWS OF THAT COUNTRY. It doesn’t mean however that you give up your cultural identity, but in the FEW cases where what your culture says and what the laws where you are living say, I’m sorry, but we can’t just allow people to do things our culture has put legal restrictions on for the good of our society, just because their culture disagrees. Well, this jackass said that the Hmong should “assimilate or hit the goddamn road.” He got in a SHITLOAD of trouble, and I think at the core he was probably trying to express his displeasure with the actions of one person and the whole idea that cultural identity somehow trumps societies laws. But that statement basically says to people, if you want to be an American then you have to deny who you are and adopt our culture, and forget your own. Well, that’s not right, either.

So, the line for me is, you should definitely not have to assimilate, you should be proud of your culture and live within your cultural beliefs. However, you do need to respect the laws and culture of another land if you move to a land where the culture is different from your own. No society could create a legal system where all cultures could be exempt from whatever laws their culture does not have…it would degenerate into anarchy.

So, I’d say, live and let live, be proud of who you are, but don’t come to someone else’s backyard and act like you own the place. And that works both ways.

galileogirl's avatar

We (@DminickX the people and government of the US) can’t control what happens in other countries but we can prevent people of different cultures from carrying on those activities within our borders. Whether it is cockfighting or honor killings there are consequences here.

The government has certain diplomatic and political constraints when it comes to what goes on in other countries. The people have more power. Remember apartheid in South Africa? It was the pressure by the people of the world on South Africa, our governments, our institutions and corporations that finally ended it.

Engrained cultural traditions have been in place for 100’s, sometimes 1,000’s of years. They may take decades to correct.

Of course one of our negative cultural traditions is to demand that we always get what we want immediately.. Maybe we can work on that.

JLeslie's avatar

@dalepetrie “Personally, I think if you’re in your own country, it’s like the Prime Directive on Star Trek.” LOL. I have not read past that, and I am ready to give you a GA. I love that.

answerjill's avatar

DominicX wrote to sap, “It’s also no surprise that you’re religious. Religion does terrible things to people. (I’m Catholic, so don’t go branding me an atheist.)”

I’m sorry that you have only had bad experiences with religious people. I’d say, people are people—I can think of wonderful exemplars of humans who represent both the “religious” and “irreligious” camps.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

We’ll always have to fight about it. There’ll never be an enough. In my country there is actually an Islamic court, although I’m not clear exactly how it works together with the existing legal system.

We don’t excuse it, we try to understand it. There is a difference. And if we think it’s barbaric, we have a discussion with them. Be civilised about your differences, if not you’re a barbarian.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

Never soon enough.

JLeslie's avatar

@Saturated_Brain that’s interesting. So who determines what the law is in the Islamic court? And, if someone is found guilty there, but not in your country’s regular court how are they punished? Is there a separate jail system?

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