You are here

Why do we allow discrimination based on culture?

Why do we allow discrimination based on culture?

Date Published: 
Wednesday, 15 August, 2012

Prior to the Olympics however, you may recall that Saudi Arabia got itself into bother by attempting to send an all-male team. The International Olympic Committee (which governs such things) said they weren't having that, and demanded that Saudi Arabia send some women. So it did. Sarah Attar — an American of Saudi descent — came for track-and-field, and 16 year old Wojdan Shaherkan was sent to represent the country in Judo. And all was well with the world again. Except, the women representing Saudi Arabia would do so covered from head to toe and Wojdan Shaherkan was close to being sent home in a row over whether or not she could wear the hijab while competing. Having initially said no, the Olympic bosses gave in and allowed her to cover her head. And all was well with the world again. Everywhere from the Guardian to the Daily Mail this was lauded as a huge success – a giant step forward for women. Progress had been made, they said. But had it? Or had we just normalised and accepted the separation and covering of women, and can we now expect more of the same in the future? Will Egypt's women, or Algeria's women, or Turkey's women now be required to cover from head to foot and if so, will we accept that as duly as we have done on this occasion? My question is – how much further to the edge will we allow women to be pushed?


As part of a defence to the backlash against multiculturalism that allows young women and girls in the UK to live a life of misery, Barbara Ellen asked the following question in the Guardian: "" Do you see what she did there? Not only did she declare that race is something to be tolerated (why? There's nothing to tolerate in a person's skin colour), she used race and culture interchangeably. Therefore, if you criticise a culture, you are criticising a skin colour, and hence you are a racist – which is not only a morally contemptible position, but also one which can ruin a career, a reputation, or even involve you in criminal charges. And they wonder why people are reluctant to criticise cultural practices.

We need to get this clear – race is not culture. Race is a skin colour or national or ethnic grouping and it gives no indication whatsoever of who a person is or what they stand for. Culture, on the other hand, is a series of actions which are routinely carried out within any defined community and are usually based on tradition or religion or both. If we define culture as a set of actions, and some of those actions amount to the forced enslavement and rape of young girls, then that can and should be condemned – culture or not. Cultural practices have always been condemned, fought against, and changed. It has happened all across history; it is called progress.