Polygamy – the next big thing


The titillating chatter about the new internet “dating” site Polygamy.com hides some bigger truths.

The site is a brainchild of Azad Chaiwala, 33-year-old entrepreneur of Pakistani ancestry, living in Manchester. It’s animated by a heart-warming philosophy that “women are not sexual beings” but are “nurturing” and “caring”, in contrast to men who “can’t even walk down the street without seeing billboards that are triggering every notion inside them”. No doubt, many a third-wave feminist would be furiously agreeing, if not for the fact that this philosophy was espoused by a heavily-bearded man – or maybe despite of it.

Chaiwala does indeed sees himself as a feminist: “I think I’m the biggest feminist because I’m actually advocating for women’s rights. Ask these feminists, would they rather be a prostitute, would they rather be a mistress, a stripper, or would they rather be somebody’s wife? Would they rather be a mum? Have their own house and grow up and raise a family and spend their life with one man? Yes there may be co-wives in the picture but it’s better than sleeping with 10 men a night which a lot of ladies are unfortunately forced to do.”

According to Chaiwala, man’s destructive promiscuity can be only tamed by having up to four wives. Satisfied men won’t stray, and women will no longer have to desperately compete for unreliable rogues. And everyone will live happily ever after.

Marriage has indeed been widely considered throughout the ages as a practice that civilises man (in a gender-specific sense, not humankind) through ties of sentiment, commitment, and family-rearing. It is a great institution that contributes to social stability and is indeed one of society’s main building blocks. That much I agree with Azad Chaiwala, but there after our paths part. I’m a marriage egalitarian. Because I believe that marriage – or at least a stable, long-term, monogamous relationship – has so many benefits, I would like as many people as possible to have an option to enjoy it. Polygamous society – or indeed the far less common polyandrous society where a woman has several husbands – unequally distributes one gender, thus denying many the possibility of a different-sex relationship.

Polygamy, of course, is illegal throughout most of the world, including all of the developed Western world. Even the Mormons have had to eventually accept that fact. But I wouldn’t write polygamy off just yet. There are several reasons:

1.Once marriage is redefined as anything other than an officially recognised and sanctioned relationship between one man and one woman, there are no logical reasons for accepting some but denying other arrangements. This, by the way, is not necessarily an argument against the same-sex marriage, the issue on which I remain agnostic, or engaging in slippery slope-ism, but merely pointing out natural consequences of any change. If a marriage can also be an arrangement between two men or two women, why not one man and two women, or one woman and two man, or two men and two women, or indeed one man and four women, like Chaiwala would love to see? There is no logical argument for allowing two men to marry but not more than two people. If your arguments for redefining marriage revolve around the issues of individual freedom and autonomy, as well as making sure that “love wins”, what do you say to, for example, a man and two women who love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together?

2.The main driver for the acceptance of polygamy in the West are not and will not be Mormons, who have accepted monogamy as the new gold standard, or polyamorous hippies (though there are a few of them agitating for acceptance) but some sections of the Muslim population. I say “some” because an overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world live in monogamous relationships and have no desire to have more partners. But there are more conservative sections of Islamic community which want to exercise the option permitted to them in Koran and Islamic law. If, as many on the left are, you are a cultural relativist and enthusiastic multiculturalist, how are you going to in good conscience say no to polygamy if it’s just a different cultural practice? Remember: all cultures and cultural practices are different but equal and equally valid, so on what grounds can we deny Muslim men the opportunity to marry two or three or four women? We can’t be Eurocentric cultural chauvinists and try to force our beliefs onto migrants who come from different cultures, particularly those which have historically been victims of Western imperialism and oppression.

3.I’m old enough to remember when the radical left, including feminists, used to disparage marriage as an archaic, oppressive, patriarchal, sexist institution, which perpetuates bourgeois morality and commodifies, subjugates, exploits and imprisons women. Somehow over the past decade or two everyone fell in love with marriage to the extent of wanting to expand its outdated, exploitative blessings to gay men and lesbian women. Now that the left celebrates marriage between various dual combinations, why would it want to deny the joy of a state-approved blessing to other gender and numerical permutations?

Along similar lines, I’m almost, but not quite old enough, to remember when feminists used to burn their bras and rebel against various modes of attire imposed on the female gender by the patriarchy. These days, most feminists seem to be celebrating burqa and other “traditional” Muslim female attire, including donning the above-mentioned themselves in solidarity with their Muslim sisters. Old style Marxists, who didn’t think much of traditional religious societies and cultures, would consider Muslim women choosing to wear head-to-toe covering as an example of non-economically generated false consciousness. The younger generations of leftists, feminists and leftist feminists (without wanting to repeat myself too much), on the other hand, consider burqa in light of a woman’s right to choose (what to wear). Old and busted: burqa as an instrument of patriarchal oppression; new and hot: burqa as an expression of cultural diversity – and banning burqa as an example of racism and bigotry inherent in Western culture.

Ergo (to use the language of dead white male imperialists), if a Muslim woman has a right to cover herself, why shouldn’t she have a right to become the second or the third or the fourth wife if it’s an expression of her cultural identity as well as her choice, which leads to self-fulfilment and personal happiness?

People might snigger at Azad Chiavala’s website, but give it some time; the combined sentiments and rhetoric of the gay, feminist and multiculturalist lobbies, taken at their word, might yet make his vision of enriching the Western society with the ancient practice of polygamy a reality.