Cultural Relativism and Universal Values

Maybe scholars debating on the subject of cultural relativism in splendid isolation in the university could benefit from the work done by colleagues who have taken the trouble to collect data from field works. For this reason, I offer below some of the insights on culture taken from scholars from a generation earlier. Presumably, they spoke with authenticity given their vast experience of first hand encounters with other cultures.

Cultural Relativism and Universal Values

Cultural Relativism may be the reigning paradigm in public discourse today. Nevertheless, the paradigm is assumed rather than argued for. Debates on cultural relativism tend to remain at the level of abstract discourse that are strangely devoid of evidence collected from empirical or comparative studies of diverse cultures.

Perhaps, writers today find it hard to compare cultures in a globalized world when there is so much inter-penetration of cultures. In contrast, anthropologists up to the 1970s were able to study ‘primitive’ cultures without having to shift through the ground evidence to clear away foreign influence. I have in mind works like Claude Levi-Strauss on Structural Anthropology, Cliffore Geertz on Javanese Religion, E.E. Evans-Pritchard on Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande.

It is also easier for scholars to debate on cultural relativism in seminar rooms than to immerse themselves for a period of time in a foreign culture to see for themselves if indeed cultures are really that relative.

Maybe scholars debating in splendid isolation in the university could benefit from the work done by colleagues who have taken the trouble to collect data from field works. For this reason, I offer below some of the insights on culture taken from scholars from a generation earlier. Presumably, they spoke with authenticity given their vast experience of first hand encounters with other cultures. Continue reading “Cultural Relativism and Universal Values”

Multi-Culturalism – How Can it be Wrong?

These must be worrying times for Malaysian citizens if an official from IKIM, a government think-tank dedicated to the task of disseminating Islam as a tolerant religion, can come out with an article entitled “Debunking Multiculturalism�? that appeared in the STAR (22/08/06).

This article is written in response to an article published in the STAR on Tuesday 22 August 2006. See “Debunking Multiculturalism” by Md Asham Ahmad from IKIM (Institute of Islamic Understanding). The article is also available in the official website of IKIM

HOW CAN MULTICULTURALISM BE WRONG?

These must be worrying times for Malaysian citizens if an official from IKIM, a government think-tank dedicated to the task of disseminating Islam as a tolerant religion, can come out with an article entitled “Debunking Multiculturalism” that appeared in the STAR (22/08/06).

Credit must be given to the writer, Md Asham Ahmad, for his forthrightness in arguing that Islam – rather than multiculturalism – be the framework for social policy in Malaysia. Nevertheless, it is evident that the writer’s forthrightness is not accompanied by accurate facts, given his skewed reading of Christian history. Continue reading “Multi-Culturalism – How Can it be Wrong?”

Book Review:Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel J. Goldhagen

The Holocaust has become a symbol of absolute evil among Western historians. This is because the Holocaust was perpetrated by what was arguably the most technologically and culturally advanced country of Europe at that time. That Germany then could systematically execute six million innocent and helpless Jews is both horrifying and incomprehensible. To be sure, scholars researching this episode have made considerable progress with increasing access to hitherto forbidden archives. We now know in great details the whole machinery of death deployed by the Third Reich that implemented the program of genocide. It is strange though, that despite all these new details, scholars are not any nearer in agreeing on an explanation for the causes of the genocide.

BOOK REVIEW: HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS
AUTHOR: DANIEL J. GOLDHAGEN

The Holocaust has become a symbol of absolute evil among Western historians. This is because the Holocaust was perpetrated by what was arguably the most technologically and culturally advanced country of Europe at that time. That Germany then could systematically execute six million innocent and helpless Jews is both horrifying and incomprehensible. To be sure, scholars researching this episode have made considerable progress with increasing access to hitherto forbidden archives. We now know in great details the whole machinery of death deployed by the Third Reich that implemented the program of genocide. It is strange though, that despite all these new details, scholars are not any nearer in agreeing on an explanation for the causes of the genocide. Continue reading “Book Review:Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel J. Goldhagen”

Examining the Fabric of Moral Values

It has become fashionable to talk of moral renewal through “Asian values�?. However, the term “values�? suggests things personal and subjective, traits which are too light-weight to address the brute facts of the outer world and cruel dilemmas of life.

The challenge is to demonstrate in a concrete manner how Asian values can enrich human relationships in contemporary society. In our eagerness to develop concrete models of moral society, we may be tempted to rely exclusively on an idealized Asian moral heritage. Anyway, why not consider a concrete model from outside Asian society? Choosing a “contrast society�? may prove instructive and enlightening.

Review: Gertrude Himmelfarb. The De-Moralization of Society. Vintage Book

Ng Kam Weng

It has become fashionable to talk of moral renewal through “Asian values”. However, the term “values” suggests things personal and subjective, traits which are too light-weight to address the brute facts of the outer world and cruel dilemmas of life.

The challenge is to demonstrate in a concrete manner how Asian values can enrich human relationships in contemporary society. In our eagerness to develop concrete models of moral society, we may be tempted to rely exclusively on an idealized Asian moral heritage. Anyway, why not consider a concrete model from outside Asian society? Choosing a “contrast society” may prove instructive and enlightening.

Gertrude Himmelfarb shares our concerns, as evidenced by her scathing critique of the decay of contemporary Western morality. It is precisely her concerns that make the book The De-moralization of Society engaging, if not acerbic reading. Continue reading “Examining the Fabric of Moral Values”

Review: The Chinese in Malaysia

It is undeniable that the Chinese community contributed much towards the development of Malaysia. There is, however, a lack of scholarly studies on the Chinese community as a whole. In the absence of such documentation, it is tempting for some people to downplay and even ignore the contribution of the early Chinese community which helped Malaysia attain the status of a modern state. The need for Chinese scholars to present accurate historical facts that demonstrate how the Chinese community contributed towards nation building has become especially urgent. Such studies will also help contemporary Chinese to appreciate afresh the exemplary virtues left by their forebears such as economic prudence, perseverance and concern for communal welfare.

THE CHINESE IN MALAYSIA

Editors: Drs. Lee Kam Hing & Tan Chee Beng (OUP 2000)

Reviewed by Dr. Ng Kam Weng

It is undeniable that the Chinese community contributed much towards the development of Malaysia. There is, however, a lack of scholarly studies on the Chinese community as a whole. In the absence of such documentation, it is tempting for some people to downplay and even ignore the contribution of the early Chinese community which helped Malaysia attain the status of a modern state. The need for Chinese scholars to present accurate historical facts that demonstrate how the Chinese community contributed towards nation building has become especially urgent. Such studies will also help contemporary Chinese to appreciate afresh the exemplary virtues left by their forebears such as economic prudence, perseverance and concern for communal welfare.

In this regard, the new publication from Oxford University Press, The Chinese In Malaysia, should be viewed as a landmark in studies of Malaysian Chinese. For the first time, we have a team of local Chinese scholars pooling their expertise to provide a historically informed study which directly addresses issues confronting the Chinese community in Malaysia. Continue reading “Review: The Chinese in Malaysia”