April 26, 2013 | Commentary

Is Jemima Khan Using Relativism to Defend Polygamy?

Back at the Sunday Times, Jemima Khan writes that polygamy is on the rise among Muslims in Great Britain. While hers is a news item rather than an opinion piece, there is no trace of moral repugnance or condemnation in her article.

As the daughter of a famous billionaire, the former wife of a Pakistani cricket player-turned-politician, and the one-time girlfriend of Hugh Grant, in England at least she is the stuff of celebrity magazines and a glamorous fixture among the London upper class socialite crowd.

Celebrity and the embrace of liberal causes have made her an attractive signature. Given her politics and her crusading style for freedom of expression, one would expect her to raise the feminist banner and look at the phenomenon of polygamy in horror. Instead, true to form, the liberal turns reactionary when an ‘oppressed minority’ cites victimization as a pretext for continuing backward moral practices.

No surprise perhaps – Khan is no novice to moral contortions. She was for Wikileaks’ Julian Assange before she was against him; and she flirted with anti-Semitism before rediscovering her Jewish family background.

But has she gone too far this time?

Signing off conspiracy theories about the Jews is one thing – many of her British intellectual fellow-travellers endorse much the same views. Endorsing polygamy while the Book of Mormon is playing in the West End is quite another.

Nevertheless, Ms Khan’s argument will end up justifying this odious practice under the pretext of multiculturalism and good interfaith relations – something that will no doubt win her acolytes among the British liberal left.

Citing widespread support for the practice among Muslims, Khan’s piece basically offers two reasons for legalizing polygamy among Muslims:

Since the practice occurs among consenting adults, its only downside is that it fails to provide legal protection to wives – not because it is wrong, but because it lacks legal recognition. And since it is widely practiced and accepted by British Muslims, criminalizing polygamy will not eliminate it but only ‘victimize’ the Muslim community ‘further’.

In other words, polygamy is not intrinsically bad. It is bad because, by being illegal, it fosters discrimination against women who are in illegal polygamous relations and it foments victimization among a community who fails to understand why polygamy is wrong and interprets opposition to it as further proof of anti-Islamic sentiment.

Thus, Ms Khan has found a way to justify polygamy in the name of multicultural integration and, yes, the right of women to equal protection under the law.

What will follow then, a defense of female genital mutilation and domestic slavery – both widely practiced in the Muslim world – or a piece extolling the qualities of monogamous partnerships?

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC

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