The horrendous attacks on women in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve have exposed a deep crack in the façade of radical multiculturalism. On one side are radical feminists who argue that sexism, no matter how innocently expressed, must be vigorously repressed. On the other are the mavens of racial and ethnic identity politics who preach that Muslim refugees must be exempt from too much censure for sexual assault, lest we be guilty of “Islamophobia.”
Forced to choose between the two, some feminists come down on the side of anti-Islamophobia. Harvard University International Nieman Fellow Laurie Penny, for example, was far more outraged by the supposed “theft of feminist rhetoric by imperialism and racism” than by the attacks themselves. She doesn’t excuse the attackers outright, but it’s clear she’s far more worried about confirming the “narrative” of Islamophobia than defending the rights of women.
Why is that? One reason is that Muslim refugees now enjoy the pre-eminent position in the canon of multiculturalism. They are thought to be the most victimized, so they get most of the attention, even to the point of sacrificing the feminist cause.
But there are deeper philosophical reasons. Many people think multiculturalism is all about defending common humanity. It isn’t. It’s about creating a new power structure that divides humanity into competing and unequal groupings.
As I explain in my upcoming book, “The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left”:
“In order to justify the plethora of self-generated identities, the very notion of the human being must be eradicated. It must be sliced and diced only according to what each identity establishes as its own local truth. … If we believe, as identity theorists do, that the individual human being as we commonly understand him or her is a social fiction, then it is not that big of a tragedy if some people are sacrificed for the sake of others. Without a respect for all human beings, regardless of their place in the identity pecking order, it is fairly easy, even necessary, to separate people into winners and losers in the power game.”
In the Cologne case, the losers of this new power game are women. In the current sweepstakes of multicultural victimhood, they are lower in the pecking order than Muslim refugees.
It’s a blatant double standard—one for Western women and another for Muslim refugees. But we really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, radical multiculturalism is philosophically grounded in the logic of the double standard. According to the canon of “white privilege,” all white people, regardless of their individual views, are assumed to be racist by definition. Racial minorities, on the other hand, cannot by definition be racist. Only white people can be. There’s one standard for one and another standard for another.
In the case of Cologne, the same is true for not only for Western women and Muslim refugees in Germany. It also is true for German and Muslim refugee men as well. Does anyone doubt for a second that Penny would have bent over backwards to explain away the import of Cologne attackers if they had been German men?
Here’s the root of the problem: Multiculturalism and its offshoot identity politics are supposed to be about equality, but they are not. They are actually about pretending that different things are the same. According to the canon of identity theory, a white woman who claims she’s black is “really” a black woman. A male who insists he’s a woman is “really” a woman. A Muslim refugee’s victimhood status entitles an assailant to be treated “as if” he were innocent because he’s a victim of Western cultural oppression. In all these cases, people claim to be something they are not. And yet they grab the mantle of equality as if they were.
This contradiction is why the defenders of multiculturalism must always change the subject. As Ralf Jaeger, minister of the Interior for North Rhine-Westphalia, explained after the Cologne attacks, “[w]hat happens on the right-wing platforms and in chatrooms is at least as awful as the acts of those assaulting the women.”
Never mind all the actual acts of rape and groping—what matters more are the words of people who committed no crimes.
Yes, we all know Germany’s horrible past, but Jaeger’s hyperbole is not merely overcompensation. Jaeger is descending into the very same moral abyss he claims (and I assume sincerely) to abhor. By invoking such a false moral equivalence, not only are the actual crimes of men minimized, but the equal rights of women are sacrificed. It represents an astonishing Faustian bargain with a new and different kind of intolerance.
As I explain in “The Closing of the Liberal Mind”:
“In practice, identity and equality work against each other. The more the former is pushed, the more the doctrine of equality is Balkanized. It becomes a contest between competing demands for recognition and privilege.”
In that contest, there are winners, and there are losers. And in Cologne, it looks as though the losers are women and the cause of feminism.
Kim R. Holmes, a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation, oversaw the think tank’s defense and foreign policy team for more than two decades.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.