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Of pornography, prostitution, and miniskirts

Along with homosexuality, other practices commonly attributed to Western values are pornography, prostitution, and immodest attires.

Pornography is especially of concern because it is associated with masturbation and infidelity. However, its consumption is deemed a form of deviancy by itself. Its distribution is a legal offense in most non-Western countries. And people are willing to tolerate considerable censorship if necessary to minimize access to pornographic material. According to a survey in China in 2008, four out of five people support Web censorship because of concern for pornography.5

As to prostitution, it too is said to be a Western value and is a crime in most non-Western countries. In some Islamic countries, it is punishable by death—death by stoning in some countries. Most other countries impose long prison sentences. Under domestic and diplomatic pressure, many countries began to lessen the penalties. But that has usually provoked controversies.

Before 2012, for example, Vietnam had a rigid law against prostitution that imposed long prison sentences. Pressures for change resulted in a new law in 2012 that imposed fines rather than prison terms. The law was passed over stiff opposition by critics who saw it as capitulation to Western values.

A news story distributed by the German wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur concurred. The story stated that despite the opposition, the relaxation of the law reflected growing public acceptance of prostitution and other moral taboos such as sex outside of marriage. The writer credited this trend, at least in part, to Western influence.

“Twenty years ago. Western values were seen as opposite to Eastern values, and there was no connection, but now the economy has opened,” the news agency quotes a civil right activist, Khuat Thi Oanh, as saying. “People have become more connected to Western values. In the same way, these values have become more desirable.” But to most Vietnamese, they are still very alien to their values.

When Westerners tout Western values, these are usually not the characteristics they have in mind.


  • 1 Rebecca Wright, “Is the Sultan of Brunei Imposing Sharia Law to Clean Up His Family’s Image?” CNN, April 9, 2019. https://www.cnn. com/2019/04/09/asia/brunei-sultan-intl/index.html.
  • 2 Jaafar Sheikh Idris, “Polytheism, Arrogance, and Obscenity: Elements in the Western Values,” paper presented at an Islamic conference in Kuwait, January 22-24,2007.
  • 3 That was the year Iranian students led a grassroots Islamist revolution that toppled Shah Pahlavi, a close ally of the U.S. The students also held 52 U.S. embassy personnel hostage for 444 days. The Shah’s secular government was subsequently replaced by Islamist theocracy, with a hitherto exiled Ayatollah Khomeini as the “Supreme Leader.”
  • 4 Fawaz A. Gerges, America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 4.
  • 5 Cited in Kris Kristoff, “China Much Freer,” New York Times, August 24, 2008.
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