Why would a putatively conservative magazine and its audience care whether Western feminists care about Islamic women? That is the question that has occurred to me after seeing some of the reaction to The Weekly Standard‘s cover story this week. First, it would appear that the claim is false or grossly exaggerated anyway. However, suppose that it were true. Wouldn’t the conservative response be to be just as skeptical of feminist criticisms of traditional societies overseas as conservatives are normally skeptical of feminism here at home? Of course, not all traditions are equal, and no one would confuse The Weekly Standard for a bulwark of traditionalism anyway, but this seems to be one more instance of a conservative magazine trying to prove that it actually cares more about women’s rights or racial equality or any other given cause normally more associated with the left than those hypocritical liberals do. This is an interesting polemical tactic and can go some way towards undermining credibility of political adversaries, but it helps if it is a) true and b) in some way remotely consistent with everything else you claim to believe. This particular claim would appear to fail on both counts.
George Kennan had an outstanding remark about “that curious law which so often makes Americans, inveterately conservative at home, the partisans for radical change everywhere else.” This is often on display in mainstream conservative rhetoric vis-a-vis Islam or any non-Western society: traditional and customary structures at home are good, admirable and have stood the test of the time, testifying to their importance and meaning, while traditional structures elsewhere must be torn down and those living in those structures must be dragged, kicking and screaming, into enlightened modernity. The cultural radicalism we conservatives presumably deplore at home becomes a gift of liberation for the peoples of the world. There must be some sort of happy middle ground between this combination of domestic social conservatism and radical emancipationism abroad and a D’Souza-like call for American conservatives to discover their abiding common ground with traditional Muslims.