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Nir Rosen and the Soft Misogyny of Immoral Equivalence

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

To his credit, Nir Rosen has expressed shame and apologized for his callous jokes on Twitter about CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan's sexual assault by an Egyptian mob. This column is not to pile on those comments by the Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, and New York Magazine contributor and (former) New York University Center on Law and Security fellow.

Instead, it is to point out that Rosen, in the course of apologizing, still clings to what many leftists believe in contrast to American exceptionalism. In the flaccid vision of multiculturalism, it is the notion that all cultures are equally valid. Essentially it serves the purpose of granting a leftist license to recognize something odious in another culture, so long as he balances it with a declaration that something in the United States, the bête noire of multiculturalism, is just as bad. Some have also called it "moral equivalence," but it is more accurately termed immoral equivalence.

Rosen's retreat into immoral equivalence took this form, in his interview with Betsy Rothstein of FishbowlDC:

I need to state that my views on women’s rights have always been quite radical (in defense of women). Moreover the last eight years of working in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia (like Afghanistan) and in Mexico only further outraged me, because I have seen first hand how brutally women are treated there. And we are only a little bit better in the West. The status of women in the United States is also deplorable. ...

Pardon me, but the status of women is more than "a little bit better in the West" and the United States. For example, rape is a crime here -- for the rapists. Our people and our law both consider the victim of the act of rape to be the woman raped, not the pious men supposedly driven to an animalistic sexual frenzy by the mere sight of a less-than-totally-covered female. Nor is the woman here sentenced to a hideous death post-rape for bringing dishonor to her family as an adulteress.

The immoral-equivalence device fails especially concerning the relative climate for women. Where would you rather have a daughter, assuming you would view her in the Western way, as a cherished member of the family and not chattel? A favorite tactic of drawing immoral equivalence is to conflate illegal crimes against women in the U.S. with legal practices in Africa and the Middle East -- the pretense that, e.g., honor killings are all the same with date rapes.

Right or wrong, leftists fault the United States for many things regarding women's rights. But those who profess to care for women's rights yet can't put aside their contempt long enough to view the global situation for women with perspective make a mockery of their cause.

Hibaaq Osman once argued before the United Nations than the only justifiable case for military force would be to oust the misogynistic Taliban from power in Afghanistan, then found herself in great distress arguing it unjustified when the U.S. did just that after Sept. 11. Nor was she alone among feminists with this rather bizarre dilemma; as described in a Village Voice article: "In heart-wrenching conversations and e-mail exchanges across the city and the globe, feminists find themselves split over how to handle possibly the most misogynistic regime in history. Many are deeply uncomfortable with the specter of a wealthy nation bombing a poor and already ravaged one."

How could anyone who truly cared for women's rights think it marginally better for women to go on being maimed and executed in soccer stadiums and girls to keep having acid thrown in their faces for attending school than for such a depraved regime to be overthrown if its vanquisher were the U.S.?

Feminist playwright Eve Ensler was another who changed her tone after Sept. 11. Her "The Vagina Monologues" originally included a monologue from Afghanistan, but she did a monologuectomy on that one after 2001 -- and started a campaign called "Afghanistan Is Everywhere," straight-facedly equating the most bloodthirsty, anti-female environment on the planet with ... everywhere else on the planet. She later equated women choosing to get botox injections with women forced to wear burkhas.

Examples of this device are legion; the question is, what compels it? Why cannot the left mount a positive cultural defense of the Middle East? The region is rich in history, philosophy, literature, wonders geographic and man-made, making its severe lack in human rights and individual liberty all the more deplorable. But those are Western values.

Still, why do the left strain themselves to pretend things here are just as bad for women? The tack requires admitting things are bad for women there, so why the reflexive action to seek parallels? Especially when there aren't any, as in the case of the climate for women: Yes, they stone women for being raped, but we have skinny models on magazine covers; yes, they have clitorectomies, but we have wage inequities ...

Is it that overtly admitting its cultural backwardness would imply admitting that Western values are better for the world? Or that the very act of arguing for better treatment of women requires adopting Western ideas about the value of women as individuals?

Put it this way: how many poor, oppressed, Third World women must suffer to keep your hipster multicultural disdain intact?

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