The controversy around the upcoming and now-delayed movie The Kite Runner drops a very modern contradiction right in our laps.
How? Many well-meaning people believe that the path to a peaceful, enlightened world demands multiculturalism, defined as a welcoming, tolerant attitude toward the different morals and customs of different cultures around the world.
Bad Old Ugly-American Think: Only American Way is The Way.
Good New Think: Each society has its Way, which we must understand and respect.
That all sounds great, and much of the time it is. We have much to learn or re-learn from societies around the globe. We don’t have all the answers and we shouldn’t pretend we do.
But…But: What happens when the Multi-Culti Way conflicts with one of our cherished values?
That’s what has happened in The Kite Runner, as columnist Georgie Anne Geyer points out today. However, I think she muffles the point a bit.
What’s happened is this: The movie, following the book, depicts a humiliating homosexual rape of one of the main characters, a member of an Afghan tribe known as the Hazara. The rape would be abhorrent to anyone, of course, but we now learn that to this Afghan community, it is a violation almost beyond imagining. And that has some people worrying that the release of the movie could actually put the young Afghan actors in mortal danger for taking part in the scene. Enraged tribesmen might kill them.
The Kite Runner flap is about more than a movie, because it shows that many times, we cannot have it both ways. If you go Multi-Culti on this issue, you side with the humiliated Afghans. You say, as Geyer seems to say, that clumsy and myopic filmmakers should have known better and should not have filmed this scene. They should have worked around it, perhaps, or created some other crisis to propel the plot, or just not done the movie at all.
But if you follow that line, look what you’ve endorsed: You’ve gone against the honored Western tradition of free artistic expression, which basically says: “Hey, Afghans, sorry you’re offended, but this scene was in the book and it’s going in the movie because taking it out would wreck the whole artistic production. Our artistic vision and commitment to the truth trumps your tribal sensitivities. If you don’t like it, don’t go see it.”
And this gets back to the incomplete and sometimes dishonest way we approach multiculturalism, as if it’s just a matter of admiring the colorful blankets and baskets made by some African tribe while ignoring ugly customs like clitoral circumcision and arranged marriages.
And it’s not just Afghanistan or Africa. The Scandinavian countries with their large populations of Muslim immigrants are being forced to deal with these painful decisions as Western values clash with Islamic values. If you have a society dedicated to equality of all citizens, what happens when you admit millions of people who do not believe women are equal?
Many “foreign” customs are salutary, many are benign, and some are loathsome. Sometimes they’ve got it right, and sometimes they’ve got it wrong. An honest discussion of multiculturalism demands that we make distinctions and not be called “racists” or “cultural imperialists” when we do.
Check Geyer’s take on the Kite Runner problem here if you like.