03/07/2007 01:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Should Any Cultural Tradition Demand Respect

Last week Alan Dershowitz had a blog on Palestinian teenagers who were raping Israeli women as 'retaliation' for Israeli abuses. He rightly took Muslim feminists to task for supporting some of the most misogynistic regimes in the world, but he went off course a bit making comparisons with Israel. It's not the best time to boast about the Israeli feminist record when Israeli women are being harassed and beaten by Orthodox Jews for wearing Western clothing, and forced sit in the back of the bus on the state-subsidized Egged line.

Fundamentalists in every religious system are cut from the same cloth, they just dye it different colors. In every system they're the same rigid and willfully ignorant authoritarian personalities, who only feel safe under the dictatorship of a man or the dictatorship of a book. Lacking the courage to confront power when they have grievances, they attack scapegoats instead, usually women. Women are ideal scapegoats since on average they're not as strong as men physically and are trained from birth to be accommodating.

Ancient Middle Eastern traditions--patriarchal, bellicose, authoritarian, and misogynistic-- have poisoned every religious system that originated there. Judaism, lacking a religious hierarchy, has perhaps been the most successful in reforming these traditions, but it's by no means free of them. Israel has consistently given far too much moral authority and political influence to the lunatic fringe of Judaism in Israel, just as Americans in recent years have given far too much moral authority and political influence to the lunatic fringe of Christianity.

The brutal traditions of a fratricidal, genocidal era in history shouldn't be respected simply because they're old, or because some old men who thought the earth was flat wrote them into books. They should be recognized for what they are: the savage, ignorant prejudices of a primitive age.

Multiculturalism goes off the deep end when it demands respect for all cultural traditions. Should we respect human sacrifice, clitoridectomy, child marriage, suttee, and all the other brutalities that have been perpetrated and glorified in the name of tradition? All cultures are pernicious to some degree, because they idealize some human trait and demonize others, forcing us to be a bit warped, a bit less human. Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have suffered not just from colonialism, but also from the worship of machismo, which has mired them in ignorance, meaningless slaughter, and cruel tyrannies for centuries. Our own culture has installed selfishness and greed as the highest virtues, leaving us the most alienated, overworked, and discontented people in the world.

Since Western culture has changed considerably over the years, and could clearly use further changes, why should other cultures have immunity, if their people, or some group of them, are being dehumanized in some way? What's sacred about culture? Every culture has much to teach and much to learn, and "tradition" is no excuse for inhumanity. Nobody's "way of life" is precious if people suffer under it.