Identity Politics, Free Speech, and the Future of worldwide Liberalism
[...] Islam is not a race; the problems with it are not the product of fear mongering and fiction, but of ideology and facts—facts that have been stressed repeatedly by Muslims around the world, when they commit violence in the name of Islam and justify that violence by its teachings. Noting, as some of the cartoons do, that there is a connection between the teachings of Muhammad and Islamic violence, is simply to manifest an awareness of what has been repeatedly asserted by Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Omar Bakri, Abu Hamza, Abu Bakar Bashir, and so many others.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As it grows into an international cause cÃƒÂ©lÃƒÂ¨bre, the cartoon controversy indicates the gulf between the Islamic world and the post-Christian West in matters of freedom of speech and expression. And it may yet turn out that as the West continues to pay homage to its idols of tolerance, multiculturalism, and pluralism, it will give up those hard-won freedoms voluntarily.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The free world should be standing resolutely with Denmark, ready to defend freedom of speech. Insofar as it is not defended, it will surely be lost.
Michelle Malkin has also been closely following the flap over Danish free speech vs hardline Islamic prohibitions on iconography, which has taken on—to western sensibilities—the nature of ironic farce, culminating in calls to “Free Piglet” [see also, Chris Muir]. Sadly, though, not everyone finds humor in a situation that essentially has jihadists demanding the infidel surrender his ungodly crayons and inks, demands that have escalated into threats of death—and have become a propaganda tactic being used by some jihadists to gin up a war against the Danes.
Of course, not everyone is outraged; after all, where there’s an Other involved, there is sure to be a western elite offering some twisted and moderately exculpatory “explanation” for such cultural behavior as threatening cartoonists with beheadings and suicide bombings.
For this, we need look no further than France—generally quite nationalistic, but also, unfortunatly, increasingly frightened by the threat in their midst. From MSNBC, ”Editor fired after publication of Islam cartoons”:
The Paris newspaper France Soir has fired its managing editor after the daily printed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad that have sparked rising protests and boycotts in the Muslim world.
The daily confirmed that owner Raymond Lakah had fired Jacques Lefranc on Wednesday evening after a tumultuous day on which German and Spanish dailies ran the controversial cartoons that first appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.
Angered by the drawings, Palestinian gunmen jumped on the outer wall of a European Union office in Gaza City on Thursday and demanded an apology. Masked gunmen also briefly took over an EU office in Gaza on Monday.
Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry. The drawings have prompted boycotts of Danish goods and bomb threats and demonstrations against Danish facilities, and have divided opinion within Europe and the Middle East.
The publication by French Soir drew a stern reaction from the French Foreign Ministry.
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters that press freedom could not be called into question but urged restraint: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The principle of freedom should be exercised in a spirit of tolerance, respect of beliefs, respect of religions, which is the very basis of secularism of our country.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The issue is sensitive in France, home to Western EuropeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest Muslim community with an estimated 5 million people.
Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because of Ã¢â‚¬Å“these pictures that have disturbed us, and that are still hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Multiculturalism means never having to say your’re sorry…
Reaction in Middle East countries has been scathing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In the West, one discovers there are different moral ceilings and all moral parameters and measures are not equal,Ã¢â‚¬Â wrote the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the Danish cartoon had been about a Jewish rabbi, it would never have been published.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Sure. But as commenter Kyle points out, “If a Jewish rabbi had spawned a death cult responsible for the death of tens (hundreds?) of thousands over the centuries, then that analogy might not ring so false.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said Riyadh considered the cartoons an insult to Mohammad and all Muslims. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We hope that religious centers like the Vatican will clarify their opinion in this respect,Ã¢â‚¬Â he told the state news agency SPA.
In Beirut, the leader of LebanonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Shiite Hizbollah said the dispute would never had occurred if a 17-year-old death edict against British writer Salman Rushdie been carried out.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Had a Muslim carried out Imam KhomeiniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fatwa against the apostate Salman Rushdie, then those low-lifers would not have dared discredit the Prophet, not in Denmark, Norway or France,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hizbollah head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday night.
The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called on Muslims in 1989 to kill Rushdie for blasphemy against Islam in his book Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Satanic Verses.Ã¢â‚¬Â Rushdie went into hiding and was never attacked.
Predictably, we are simply seeing an Islamic version of identity politics finding its rhetorical niche: western deptictions of the Other are inauthentic and are to be demonized—though, with the death of Edward Said and the subsequent and extensive real-world cartooning (pardon the pun) of Said’s position of cultural ownership over individual ethnic narratives (one propagated by fierce proponents of identity politics within the academy, often out of blinkered idealism, often out of a cynical recognition that such a philosophical paradigm greatly expands areas for “study” and lends to the new champions of these area studies the label “experts” in the various new ethnic identity studies “fields”), this argument is taking on more tangible and extreme manifestations.
The results, of course, are predictable—and some of us have noted for years that such a political endgame was a necessary feature of the philosophical underpinnings of a movement that grants autonomy of self-definition (free from the legitimate checks of “external” criticism) to individual groups who, once they pulled resources and settled internecine battles over what was to be the estabished cultural narrative, would be able to use the widespread “enlightened / academic” acceptance of the multiculturalist premise itself as very potent political and cultural weapon, one that culminated in the peculiarly dangerous sociopolitical situation in which cultures were allowed to define their own rules of authenticity (and so, by extension, could exclude based on behavior or internal dissent), as well as lay claim to persecution when the Other dared criticize the group’s established narrative.
And with this claim of persecution came the justification for “fighting back” against “intolerance” that dared question the established wisdom of the group under critical scrutiny—a critical scrutiny that, conveniently, was now deemed inauthentic by philosophical design, and with the imprimatur of our own western academic “experts” in the field.
Orientalism (in the sense Said envisioned it), in short, has become a convenient de facto intellectual totalitarianism—one that, when combined with our western history of guilt over colonial adventures, manifest destiny, imperialism, cultural hegemony, and our status as the world’s sole hyperpower, provides a powerful liberal (in the non-partisan sense) impulse for granting autonomy, and for promoting a soft cultural relativism.
Unsurprisingly, this whole philosophical movement—insofar as it was based first on essentialism and then, once the group could be defined down through blood, to the excommunication of apostates to that essentialist narrative after the battle over defining the official ethnic and political narrative was internally decided—was destined to end in a will to power. Which is what happens when universalism—even in its softest and most agreed upon form (for instance, it could simply be a contractual, contingent universalism, to satisfy the sensibilities of post modernists)—is discarded in favor of the notion that individualism (the base point at which human universalism as an ideal is at its strongest, the point that Bush has cleverly made over and over again in his speeches) is to be surrendered to collectivism (the point at which the will of the most powerful within the group is always ascendant, and where apostacy, which we might call disagreement, is a legitimate offense), comes to mimic a kind of individualism by united front: “The Arab Street.” “The Jihadist.” Etc. These are types taken as individuals.
The way to fight back against such an historical drift toward a postmodern conception of a world defined by warring narratives vying for itinerate temporary ascendency (what is commonly called relativism, though the concept is not by nature evil) is to discredit the underlying mechanisms that allow them to form, take root, and aquire justification through intellectual means (be those means the academic acceptance and defense of the underlying premises, or the political and public policy adoption of the lessons offered by such defenses).
Britain (and other western European countries, Denmark among them) is learning firsthand the failures of such a philosophical paradigm; consequently, the Brits are left with vast swatches of London and its environs as essentially mini-autonomous countries who, though their inhabitants are granted legal claim as British subjects/citizens, are by an other measure in distressingly large numbers enemies of the state—often latent, but always potentially active. Which is wny it is no surprise that many terrorist experts fear that the next wave of terror will come from the westernized radicalism such poorly-considered social experimentation has wrought.
For its part, France has tried an ultranationalist approach—but one that has backfired because its attempts to assimilate were never more than lipservice; instead, they have created a caste system that is obvious both by the geography and the national attitude of the French in discussions of the plight of their internal problems [Mark Steyn has done interesting work on this].
So far, the US has managed to avoid many of the pitfalls facing European countries who have themselves for years relied on immigration and a folding in of former colonial subjects to keep their economies running. Part of our success, such as it is, has been the separation by ocean and distance of the immediacy and ease of immigration. But for the most part, our major success in keeping the “American” identity singularized (which is to say, “diverse” but united under its diversity) has been a commitment to assimilation—though over the past 30 or so years, the “melting pot” metaphor that was so crucial to the success of America has been doing battle with the mulitculturalist alternative of the “quilted” America, on country where balkanization is misguidedly, in my opinion, presented as a celebration of diversity rather than called what it is: a measure of dividing us up along ethnic and religious lines as a way to push identity politics and, from a cynical political perspective, to create ready-made groups to whom politicians are able to appeal.
Because let’s face it: it is more difficult winning the fidelity of 280 million individuals than it is to win the fidelity of ethnic “leaders” (who bargain for promises, power, influence) and who then direct their followers how to vote. It’s a form of lazy electoral outsourcing that, in this country, both parties are guilty of indulging in—though the modern conservative / libertarian movement often argue vehemently against the kernel precepts that enable it, while many progressives embrace the pragmatism of the political marketing convenience and pre-made collectivism these precepts have already prepared the groundwork for.
Longtime readers of protein wisdom will note that my own thesis is that philosophical and public policy missteps emerge from a fundamental (though popularized) misuse of the way language is “designed” to function. For more on that thesis, see, for instance, here and here.
(h/t Terry Hastings, Kyle)
Note: I forwarded this post along to several bloggers covering the cartoon kerfuffle; so far, I’ve received no responses. Which, I’m beginning to think it’s time to take Tbogg’s advice and just stick to the cutesy quips and staccato sentences. Not only do blog readers prefer such formulations—but I’m told, too, that the chicks really dig it.
See also, Brussels Journal (h/t Tom Pechinski)