Monday 15 October 2007

Dalrymple's straw debate

William Dalrymple is at it again. In yesterday's Sunday Times he built himself a straw man - the absurd notion that western values are superior to eastern ones - and then had some easy fun knocking it down. Dalrymple painted his usual picture of a tolerant Muslim east devoted to learning, as compared to the west's record of inquisition, imperialism and genocide. As before, he was keen to draw ahistorical parallels with current western foreign policy, especially in Iraq.

Dalrymple perpetuates the specious and simplistic 'west-good-east-bad' argument by simply reversing its terms. As always, such tilting at windmills is a way of avoiding coming clean about where you stand on key issues. So, William, can we have done with these artificial arguments and agree that pluralism, freedom of speech and gender equality are universal rather than 'western' or 'eastern' values - and that intolerance, oppression of women and political violence are unacceptable, wherever they occur? We Western liberals are only too keen to point out the failings of our own political systems: will western Islamophiles like Dalrymple be as critical of their new-found eastern 'Other'?

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