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November 05, 2007



It is heartening to see a father be so outraged about some of these practices, which are too often labeled women's issues, then marginalized.

I've been researching and working on the "honor" killings issue in Jordan for a number of years. I'm not convinced Jordanian fathers love their daughters less than, say, American ones, though I can certainly understand why someone from the outside would think that. There is just a different set of priorities within Jordanian families, as well as a different social pressures placed on them.

Still, I'm not excusing these crimes. I find them horrendous.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

G Davis

Aren't absolutes of thought what got the good folks of Mali or Jordan or anywhere else so entrenched culturally?

I agree, personally, that these sorts of cultural practices are truly repugnant. To me. Within my set of mores.

I would not presume to suggest another parent loved their child less than I love mine.

There are cultures that would suggest we Americans are crippling our children by not allowing them to do for themselves. We over protect them, we under appreciate the value of self reliance.

The world is as large as it is small. Cultures vary wildly within miles let alone across oceans.

I don't believe one set is right and others wrong.

I do believe if we talk to each other more, all of us might move toward a less self destructive middle culturally.

There is no solution to the injustices done within cultures, except perhaps exposure to different cultures.


Good points, G. Davis. I agree that absolutes are to be avoided.

But finding a cultural middle is not necessary either. We can stand by our convictions of right and wrong, even when we recognize that they are contingent on some level. As I suggest, it is in a sense a question of whether you keep the quotes on your use of the word wrong all the time, or whether you take them off sometimes to better express the strength of your conviction.

I believe that it is important for people with a nuanced sense of morality -- the kind you describe -- to make clear to those with absolute certainties (often politically on the Right, but not always) that our positions are not weaker than theirs -- they are open-textured, open to reexamination, but they are nevertheless very strong. Sometime we would even die for certain beliefs (particularly our political right to openly question and express them -- the basis for matching our morals with changing circumstances).

I went into more depth about my sense of the way we shape our values in some in earlier posts, one from October 16, called "George W. Bush and his Unique Way with Words" and from October 4, "Torture, First Principles and Our Children." I'd love to hear your thoughts!

G Davis

DDad-I think there's a difference between individual value systems and collective value systems.

You're mixing emotions about our relatively insignificant political polarization with the emotions of cultural differences which carry far more weight if we look at ourselves as one species worldwide.

Our polarization politically is a product of very good marketing. We're told the strident right are wing nuts whack jobs hell bent on forcing you to live under their value system. A very tiny minority of the hard right might actually stone you if you sin against their values, but most, if you sit down with them to chat are reasonable people with very similar hopes and dreams as yourself that happen to have a different way of expressing themselves. I know I've been tagged with whack job tags of various colors through my life only to surprise folks with how willing I am to talk with them, and more importantly listen to them. In most cases, no one's views were necessarily compromised, but a more reasonable approach to a middle course of acceptance both could live with was the result.

If we don't interact with differing views, we will never find our similarities, we will only focus on the marketing campaign highlighting our differences.

Does it really matter if my neighbor follows the golden rule because he thinks it will deliver him to heaven or I follow the tenet of the same rule because it's simply what my soul tells me is the right thing to do? Right without quotes?

That in no way implies disengagement...I *fight* figuratively every day with whomever is willing to engage to break down marketing barriers that keep us isolated from each other. I will never give up questioning, but I will also never give up serious introspection. Willingness to embrace our differences is what seperates our great nation from most others on earth, and I will not allow phony political fights to destroy that.

But when we wander into the world view and start condemning entire other peoples because of some collective cultural view, I think we make a serious mistake.

How could you ever know what the individual father in Mali feels in his soul as his individual daughter is mutilated because of a collective cultural habit? How could you ever state unequivically and absolutely that you *love* your daughter more than he *loves* his?

International culture wars can not lead to compromise. Literally fighting other cultures over more systems has failed since time began. How could they not as they seperate individuals from each other, pit collectives against each other. Would that same Mali father think of you as his daughter's savior if you were to literally force yourself on them? Or would he protect his family from some unknown force?

Now if you were to take the time and sit down with the Mali father, discuss your views with him...listen to him about why he continues on the collective path...perhaps middle ground could be found. Perhaps the father would agree that him forcing his daughter's mutilation is wrong, that she should be allowed to choose for herself. It doesn't completely satisfy yours and my moral system that sexual mutilation is bad, but it does start a process of evolution for Mali daughters.

Would you be dissatisfied with that? Or will you insist that the Mali father is wrong (without quotes) and you are right absolutely?


Time is short in my life, but I will set aside a bit to read your other entries...good exchanges are hard to find on the net.


I agree with you, G Davis, that we should avoid blundering our way into an "international culture war." And claims about how one culture is or is not generally better than another culture are a dead end. Let's leave that kind of idiocy to Victorian explorers and Bill O'Reilly.

And I agree with you that it would be self-defeating and stupid to simply pronounce to a father in Mali that genital cutting is wrong and that if he allows it he loves his daughter less. In practical terms -- as a form of cultural interaction -- that would lead nowhere. I would learn nothing and neither would he.

But I stand by the claim that the willing infliction of a lifetime of pain on a child is not a loving act.

Of course when I say that a parent who supports female genital mutilation loves his or her child less this is a rhetorical device. In truth, you could never measure a parents' love -- too many behaviors and actions to take into account, not to mention the unmeasurable aspects of love! But this rhetorical device is intended to get busy readers (like you, like me) to stop and think about the connection between the actual consequences of our actions towards our children, on the one hand, and our heavily fortified self-image as loving parents, on the other.

I intended to draw attention to a simple claim: namely, that authorizing or supporting the genital mutilation of your daughter, knowing that it will cause her a lifetime of pain, is not a loving act. I believe this to be true regardless of cultural context.

Are you really unable to say that support for this kind of genital mutilation is not a loving act? And if you agree that it is not a loving act (despite the protestations of the people of Mali that the girl will thrive because of it), then can't you also agree that in respect to this one act at least these parents love their children less?

I am sure that a parent from Mali could show (rightly) that, in respect to innumerable other acts, parents in the U.S. love their children less too.

Perhaps when we send our children off to hierarchical, pressure-filled, conformity-inducing schools, largely unsupervised, so many hours a day, we are showing "less love" in some way (despite our protestations that they will thrive because of it. Thrive in what sense, ultimately?).

I would not want to do a final accounting -- none could be done. But I can say with conviction that I love my daughter more for not having authorized the destruction of her sexuality and other functions by authorizing her genitals to be cut. On that one point -- not to measure ourselves generally against mothers and fathers in Mali, but on that one point -- parents in the U.S. are showing more love for their daughters. Can you agree with that?

G Davis

From my personal moral perspective, I totally agree with you.

What I am questioning is your absolutism about love or loving act.

If an act is culturally accepted and/or mandated, would it be a loving act for an individual father to relegate his daughter an outcast for her life based on his personal view?

Is this father not stuck between a hard spot and a rock? Whatever he chooses, his daughter suffers desperately.

I simply think you could find room for the viewpoint that most of the world's daughters are stuck in cultures that are harmful to them. That this is not a reflection on the parents of these daughters or their love for their children, but rather a larger issue of how women are viewed worldwide.

We are spoiled in this nation...having the resources and education to either change the practice or remove our children. Most of us also have the resources to not view our children as a burden. Visit a large city slum sometime and see the level of *love* displayed by there for many of our own children.

All of these are different problems than I love my girl more than you love yours.


Point taken that the problems and issues are far more complicated than what set of parents "loves" their daughter more.

And I also appreciate your point that many people are caught between choices (in your example, genital cutting vs. being relegated to the position of a social outcast, which might lead to poverty, starvation, even death...), none of which is without pain.

I do believe, however, that it is important to recognize that some people draw a line, simply cannot act otherwise, even faced with the most terrible dilemmas. In wartime, some people simply do not collaborate, even if this decision costs the lives of their family. In cultural contexts of all kinds, some people refuse to go along -- that is how change often begins. And this act always involves a kind of love, whether for family or humanity in general.

As I said in the post, I have no idea how I would weigh my options as a father in Mali (I am making no claim of my intrinsic moral superiority here). But I admire those 5% of families that do not support this practice.

You're right that love is a different dimension, and bringing it in has the drawback of oversimplifying things. But if love means anything to most people around the world it means something in the family context. It is at stake here, and I believe that it is useful to draw our attention to that connection. Even if only so that we set out into the world with the hope of understanding others, but with our own bearings intact.

Thanks for the great thoughts... You've made me clearer on this than when I hit "post"!

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