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June 22, 2003

Prejudice

Different forms of prejudice are held to different levels of disrepute. The hierarchy seems as such:

Race is the most heinous one. Sexism is the most acceptable. And others like religious bigotry fall somewhere in the middle.

Racial prejudice seems so unjustified to many people because one can not control race. But certainly religious zeal and bigotry can be the incitement to much hatred on a similar level, no? Though that is true, in the case of religion, the "other" is more often optional. In the case of race the "other" is fixed and unchangeable. Consider the case of the Jews-the pogroms and persecutions of the Middle Ages in both Christendom & the Dar-al-Islam took a high toll in lives, but there was often a safety valve, that of conversion or dissimulation. In contrast, the Third Reich's racialist anti-Semitism was more total and brooked less compromise.

On the issue of gender, places like Saudi Arabia openly practice gender apartheid, and though the West finds it distasteful, there is no outcry equivalent to the protests over South Africa's policies in the 1980s. I think this is partly due to the fact that agricultural societies (and now post-industrial societies) have been shaped by patriarchy and patrilocality so long that it is an internalized assumption that is hard to break even for "modern" individuals. Additionally, all men have mothers and quite often sisters, so the prejudice against women is of a different nature than that of race or even religion.

Recently in Europe they have been attempting to attack anti-Islamic sentiment as "racism." Critics point out that Islam is not a race, but a voluntary belief system. But if this is openly acknowledged and accepted, then it is harder to characterize the demands that traditionalists make that Muslims conform themselves to "European values," perhaps even convert to Christianity, as beyond the pale of discourse.

Posted by razib at 11:50 PM