Martin Sherman, Jerusalem Post, November 11, 2011
It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion.
–W. R. Inge, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1915
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
–Karl Popper, On the Paradox of Tolerance, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945
Many Western Europeans, from the man on the street to the cop on the corner, from the politician in Parliament to the immigration official at the border, have long considered it their obligation . . . to tolerate intolerance.
–from “Tolerating Intolerance: The Challenge of Fundamentalist Islam in Western Europe,” Partisan Review, 2002.
Across the Western world today, political liberalism is undergoing a process of self-cannibalization. It is being devoured by the very values which made it into arguably the most successful and influential socio-political doctrine in modern history.
At the very minimum, it is being complicit in actively facilitating its own demise though an unrestrained and undiscerning compulsion to apply these values universally–even when such application is not only inappropriate but detrimental to those values.
Acknowledging diversity is . . . diverse
Devotees of political liberalism fervently advocate–quite correctly–the need to acknowledge the diversity of humanity and to accept the existence of those different from us, i.e., the “Other.”
However, they then go on to advocate–with equal fervor–something that in effect empties the previous acknowledgment of all significance, i.e., that we relate to all the diverse “Others” as equals.
For what is the point of acknowledging diversity if we are called upon to ignore the possible ramifications of that diversity and to relate to those discernibly different from us as if they were essentially the same as us? Prima facie, this is absurdly self-contradictory.
For surely the awareness of difference raises the possibility that different attitudes (and actions) toward the “Other” may be called for.
Although acknowledging diversity necessarily negates equality, this does not a priori mean that “Ours” is morally superior to “Theirs”–although the plausible assumption is that “We” have a subjective preference for “Ours” over “Theirs.”
This, of course, might entail certain practical ramifications for the preservation of “Ours” lest it be consumed by “Theirs”–depending on “Their” appetites and aspirations.
‘Us’ as an item on ‘Their’ menu
As the foregoing citation from W.R. Inge underscores, it would be injudicious to relate to carnivores and herbivores with an undiscriminating sense of egalitarianism. Indeed, if one is not mindful of the differences between oneself and the “Other” (say with regard to dietary preferences or predatory predilections), disaster may well be unavoidable.
Note that making such a diagnosis of difference does not necessarily imply a value judgment as to the relative moral merits of eating flesh or eating grass. However, operationally, it is a distinction that is essential for the preservation of grass-grazers and–and no less pointedly–for the shepherd charged with their welfare.
For no matter how sympathetic to, or appreciative of, the untamed majesty of predators one might be, the fate of the flock is likely to be grim if it is left to graze in wolf frequented territory with nothing more coercive to protect it than an appeal for understanding.
Now while I do not wish to push Inge’s ovine-lupine analogy too far, those who would dismiss it as overly facile would do well to recall that political liberalism has faced several challenges in the last century from adversaries which could plausibly be viewed as predatory.
It has had to contend with ideologies that were totalitarian, expansionary and irreconcilably inimical to its core values of socio-cultural tolerance and individual liberty.
The ‘Other’ as . . . ‘Other’ There was, for example, the kinetic clash with Nazism and the ideological clash with Communism. Political liberalism withstood them and prevailed.
It is facing another fateful encounter in this century: The existential clash with Islamism–a foe not less totalitarian, no less expansionary and no less irreconcilably inimical to its core values.
It is far from certain that this time it will prevail.
The major source of peril today is the reluctance–indeed the resolute refusal–to acknowledge the emerging threat. True, there were sympathizers in the West for both the Nazi and Soviet causes, which although they viewed themselves as antithetically adversarial to each other, both strove to eliminate our democratic freedoms and way of life.
However, the denial we are witnessing today seems qualitatively different. Leading liberal opinion-makers in mainstream intellectual establishment appear totally incapable of conceiving (or at least, totally unwilling to acknowledge that they are capable of conceiving) of the “Other” as anything but a darker skin-toned version of themselves–with perhaps somewhat more exotic tastes in dress and a greater penchant for spicy food, but with essentially the same value system as theirs, or at least one not significantly incompatible with it.
Indeed, there seems to be an overriding inability to admit the possibility that the “Other” is in fact fundamentally different–i.e., genuinely “Other”–and may hold entirely different beliefs as to what is good and bad, what is legitimate and what is not.
A catastrophic corruption of the discourse
It is of little practical consequence whether this is the product of an overbearing intellectual arrogance, which precludes the possibility of any alternative value system, or of an underlying moral cowardice, which precludes the will to defend the validity of one’s own value system.
The result is the ongoing retreat from the defense of liberty and tolerance in the face of an ever-emboldened, intolerant Muslim militancy–not only across the Islamic world but within the urban heart of many Western nations as well.
Even more serious, it has undermined the capacity for honest debate, for accurate assessment of strategic geopolitical shifts . . . and for formulating timely and effective responses to deal with them.
Take the Arab Spring, for example, which much of the mainstream media heralded as the dawning of a new spirit of freedom and enlightenment from the Maghreb to the Persian Gulf. Almost a year since it began, the results are hardly cause for optimism. In Tunisia and Libya, Islamist governments have been ensconced by popular vote. In other countries, such as in Egypt, the religious fundamentalists has been hugely empowered; in yet others, such as Syria and Bahrain, similar outcomes have only been avoided–so far–by wholesale massacres.
Nothing that has occurred–or been prevented from occurring–seems to vaguely justify the rosy forecast that accompanied the initial stages of revolt as to the imminent emergence of Arab regimes founded on values and systems analogous to those of Western democracy.
None of this should have been unexpected.
The facts were available for anyone willing to recognize them. On the verge of the Arab Spring (December 2101), the respected Pew Research Center conducted a survey of popular opinion in several Muslim countries.
The two countries included in the poll with relevance for the Arab Spring were Egypt and Jordan. In both, massive majorities (over 70 percent on average for Jordan and over 80% for Egypt) supported:
• execution by stoning for adultery;
• whippings or amputation of hands for theft and robbery; and
• the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.
This then was the broad-based value system of the masses who drove the popular uprisings across the Arab world, despite the external trappings of modernity, despite the tweets, the smart phones and the social network connections.
It is a safe bet that had such a poll been conducted in the EU, North America or Australasia the findings would have been radically different.
So perhaps it is time that we begin to recognize that the “Other” really is the “Other.”
Orwellian mind-control tactics
The politically correct endeavor to shy away from harsh truths has introduced an almost Orwellian atmosphere of 1984 mind control into the debate on the ramifications of Islam for political liberalism.
Pronouncements almost on a par with the “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength” employed by The Party to control the dystopian state of Oceania in George Orwell’s classic novel of pervasive dictatorship are emerging with disturbing frequency.
For example, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in effect pronounced that “religious fundamentalism is secular” when he characterized the radical Muslim Brotherhood as an organization that is “largely secular.”
A similar instance of convoluted, nonsensical gobbledygook came from the Obama administration’s homeland security adviser James O. Brennan, when he made the astounding claim that accurately defining the threat would exacerbate it: “Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists, because jihad is a holy struggle. [C]haracterizing our adversaries this way would actually be counterproductive,” he said.
So by reorganizing the rhetoric we will somehow dispel the misperceptions, from which the planners/perpetrators of wholesale carnage in the name of Islam apparently suffer, as to the sources of their beliefs and the nature of their motivations? But perhaps the pinnacle of Orwellian endeavor came from then-British home secretary Jacqui Smith, who took it upon herself to bring home to radicalized UK Muslims that they were not who they thought they were. In a breathtaking stroke of self-contradictory double talk, she presumed to dub the acts of terrorism perpetrated by Islamists in the name of Islam as “anti-Islamic activity.”
Her 2009 interview with Der Spiegel was shockingly reminiscent of the “mind control through language” policy employed by Orwell’s Big Brother and his omnipresent Party.
Clearly in an intellectual climate such as this–where truth is condemned and dismissed as politically incorrect hate speech–no effective response can be marshaled against the gathering storm facing Western civilization and the values of political liberalism that underpin it.
Menace of Muhammadanism: Prescient premonitions
Such reticence and evasion was not always prevalent. In an era long before political correctness crippled the ability to articulate the truth in the public sphere, far-sighted men warned of the impending clash.
Thus seven decades ago, Hilaire Belloc, the prominent Anglo-French writer and historian, raised the trenchant question: “Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Muhammadan world . . . reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?” (The Great Heresies, 1938) He was not alone in his sense of foreboding.
In the first edition of his The River War, published in 1899, Winston Churchill set out a withering critique of the effect Islam has on its followers, its debilitating effect on economies of nations that embrace it, and the enslavement of its luckless women.
While he admits that “individual Muslims may show splendid qualities,” he contrasts this with realities on collective level, where “the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.”
Few who page through the latest Arab Human Development Report sponsored by the United Nations Development Program and independently authored by intellectuals and scholars from Arab countries, would dispute this today.
Churchill goes on to warn: “No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Muhammadanism is a militant and proselytizing faith . . . and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science . . . the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”
But how long will the West remain “cradled in the strong arms of science?” Might this question not help concentrate minds over the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program?
Let me conclude with the observations of a gay intellectual regarding the propagation of Islam in Europe, where private Islamic academies–subsidized by European governments–“reinforce the Koran-based . . . morality learned at home that prescribes severe penalties for female adulterers and rape victims (though not necessarily for rapists), and that demands . . . that homosexuals be put to death.”
With some foreboding he remarks: “If fundamentalist Muslims in Europe do not carry out these punishments, it is not because they’ve advanced beyond such thinking, but because they don’t have the power.”