I WAS TALKING to an educated woman last night and she said something that struck me. I was explaining how Islam tries to undermine our culture, and she said, "We don't really have a culture in America."
Just by coincidence, when I got home, my wife had been reading the book, Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and she was sharing parts of the book with me that described what things are like in Somalia. It's very different in many ways, of course. For example, in Somalia, everyone knows their family's history back about 800 years! Every child memorizes all the names of their ancestors. It's a cultural characteristic known as "ancestor worship."
Here's another difference: They're very tribal in Somalia. In other words, people look out for their own clan over everyone else, and if your third cousin needs help, you help him, even if you've never met him before. Another aspect of tribalism and ancestor worship is that anything you do that is shameful dishonors your whole clan. In that culture, you could be shunned by people because of something your great grandfather did a hundred years ago.
As my wife was sharing this with me, I thought, "Here's a way we can discover the outlines of our own culture, which we don't see because it's like water to a fish — we can do it by looking at another culture."
When we find something that seems alien or foreign or when it seems hard to understand why anyone would be that way — we've found something different from our culture, which means we have noticed something characteristic of our culture that is not characteristic of the other culture.
So here are some characteristics I was thinking about that define American culture: We are not tribal. We are individualistic, and part of that individualism is the lack of responsibility (or shame or dishonor) for people related to us. So if my great grandfather was an adulterer, people don't remember that, they don't care, and they don't think less of me because of it.
We do not worship our ancestors, which might be considered another aspect of individualism.
In America, we believe in pluralism — that is, we believe there is not one right way or one right religion or one right culture. We believe everyone has the right to worship however they choose, and to believe what they want. We expect people to have different philosophies of life.
What I've said so far as a definition of American culture is so different from almost any group of human beings anywhere on the planet in the history of humanity as to be revolutionary. Any tribal people who exist now or have ever existed would probably look at our lack of tribalism as a complete lack of humanity or honor. They would probably think our culture isn't a culture. And they would be frightened at our lack of unity or similarity with each other.
But here's another thing that makes us even more strikingly different than any other culture that has ever walked the earth: Women here have rights, freedom, and power — to such an extend as would be shocking and offensive not only in present day China, many places in Africa, and everywhere in the Middle East (except Israel), but in every other time and culture back through history.
When most men in America talk to women, and women answer, men actually listen, even if they don't like what the woman is saying. Men don't dismiss women, for the most part. Men don't beat women. They don't lock women up for being uppity. Here, women have the right to speak their minds, even to men.
Of course, some men do, in fact, dismiss women, and even beat them. But it is rare and frowned upon by an overwhelming majority of our citizens. It is considered to be shameful and offensive by most Americans. And beating and locking up women for being uppity is against the law — and that law is enforced.
Americans are also can-do, inventive people. We will find a way. I remember reading a book of sayings from around the world — sayings that characterized the culture of the different countries, and I really liked the one for America: The harder you fall, the higher you bounce. That kind of optimism is characteristic of American culture.
So here are four characteristics that are part of "American culture." Individualism, pluralism, women's rights, and optimism. These characteristics are shared by other countries and cultures, but they are definitely signature parts of our own culture.
The reason I bring this up is because Islam is a culture. It is an aggressive culture that is not pluralistic — that is, it wants to be the only culture. It wants to subjugate or eliminate all other cultures, and it is incumbent upon each Muslim to strive mightily to make it so. Wherever Islam takes hold, it eventually replaces the existing culture.
How can we defend our culture from Islam's relentless aggression? Well, the first step would be to know we have a culture! And ideally, we should know what is unique about our culture, and we should know what parts of our culture are worth protecting and defending.
Our clarity about the unique, valuable characteristics of Western culture is a kind of immune-system — it's a strength that gives us the will to protect and defend the liberty and equality we have taken for granted our whole lives.
What part of your culture would you be willing to defend?