Irony, thy name is Irony
In a post defending Karen Armstrong’s Guardian piece (on which Dan wrote here) advocating for an Orwellian idea of “tolerance” — by way of an institutionalization of politically correct speech when the objects of that speech are protected groups designated by the elites who presume to prescribe the parameters of what counts as “tolerant” — Mahablog counts protein wisdom among the “haters” whose “knee-jerk reactions” could be reduced to this:
Short version: Because there is Muslim terrorism, and because there are Muslims who commit unspeakable atrocities, we are justified in hating all Muslims and denying them the same degree of tolerance and respect we want them to give us.
But compare Maha’s helpful encapsulations to Dan’s actual argument — one that you’ve also heard me make on a number of occasions:
the [Danish Muslim] cartoons that were printed were printed precisely because they had spawned murderous outrage in the Muslim world, and because some of them were faked, and because it was news, and because we in the West must defend our freedom of expression, even against the sort of person who would murder a filmmaker for criticizing Islam [...]
As far as our freedom of the press goes, I am sure that there are many Muslims who admire it precisely because they would like similar freedom of expression. There are also likely some who understand the wonderful job it does of apologizing for the excesses of some of their co-religionists, in articles such as the one you’ve just had published.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if Mahablog’s “shorter” formulation approaches anything near the original argument, which explicitly separates out the two groups of Muslims Maha is at pains to claim “rightwing haters” conflate for purposes of sating their inveterate bigotry.
Of course, expecting Mahablog to correctly characterize an argument made by one of her ideological opponents is like expecting Michael Moore to ignore a cheese platter or a box of Mallow Pies. So there’s really nothing remarkable to it, other than its readily self-deconstructing audacity — obvious to anyone who bothered to click the links and not take it on faith that Maha was fairly characterizing the arguments she claimed to be summarizing. Which, I’m guessing, excludes a fair number of Mahablog readers.
No. The irony comes when Maha claims in her comments that she is “intolerant of intolerance” — which she essentially uses as a handy excuse (ala Mona) to disregard the opinions of those who are, by nature (which to a leftist, boils down to political ideology, the personal being the politcal and all), conservative. Because, the calculus goes, 1) conservatives are haters, 2) haters are intolerant, and 3) Maha, as we are told, is intolerant of intolerance. Thus, she refutes all conservative arguments without having to trouble herself with considering them: birthed from hate, conservative arguments are illegitimate. And Maha only listens to the kinds of legitimate arguments that aren’t born of hate — namely, those that come from people who share her worldview.
Nice and compact, that is — though it doesn’t leave much room for plot twists.
One of the arguments that made it through Maha’s filter — before she shut down the comments, citing (as justification) the arrival of the haters — comes from E. Nough, a well-respected and extraordinarly intelligent conservative who writes:
Between Armstrong’s article and this post, there is so much question begging and conflation, it’s frankly difficult to know where to start unraveling the whole mess.
Well, let’s begin with this idea that “right-wingers” who don’t embrace Muslim incursion into Western society “hate Muslims.” This use of the term “hate” is as trite as it is useless, except as leftist demagoguery. It reduces well-thought-out opposition to Islamic cultural imperialism to “knee-jerk” emotional reaction. At that point, of course, it’s easy for the likes of Maha to dismiss it. Failing to embrace Islam, warts and all, is not motivated by “hate” any more than failing to embrace the Iraq War was motivated by “cowardice.”
Armstrong’s claim that “free speech implies respect for the opinions of others” is nonsense, easily refuted by Maha’s own attitude to “right-wingers,” whose opinions she clearly holds little respect for. That’s not to say Maha is against free speech: she simply knows that Western notions of free speech require only a respect for the right of others to hold an opinion or religious belief. (Then again, maybe not: after all, she is “intolerant of intolerance”.)
Armstrong also conflates two very different episodes of what she perceives as “Islamophobia”: the publication of Mohammed-mocking cartoons in Jyllands-Posten and the attempt to block the construction of a huge mosque in London. One was an exercise of free speech, which happened to be offensive to Muslims — which was the entire point, since the paper was protesting against existing pro-Islamist self-censorship in the Western press. The other was a more clear-cut case of restriction on Muslims in the West. Armstrong incorrectly — but quite deliberately — makes them out to be the same thing: to her, mocking a religion is the same as restricting religious worship. To call this “wrong” is the mother of all understatements: it’s anathema to the real liberal principles of Western Civilization. (And once again, we have “Islamophobia” reducing well-founded opinions to irrational fear — an odious tactic that the Left seems to have embraced enthusiastically. Apparently, all opinions must be respected, except those that disagree with the Left’s dogma.)
Finally, Maha begs the question that publishing the Mohammed cartoons, or even preventing the building of that humongous mosque in London, is “discrimination against all Muslims — in retribution for the wrongs some of them do. Yet again, this trivializes many people’s issues with large-scale Muslim presence in Western society, to mere childish tantrum. The presence of large numbers of Muslims in western society is not without consequences, as India, Persia, Malaysia — and now Thailand, Spain, the UK, and France are finding out. Surely it’s valid to ask how much of a footprint Islam should be leaving on one’s society, especially given its ingrained intolerance of principles we supposedly hold dear? (And no, it’s not just limited to “some “small numbers” of Muslims, as a quick glance at Muslim societies would tell you.)
Armstrong’s conflation of speech and oppression, and Maha’s “[intolerance] of intolerance,” seek to prevent even the asking of the question. Funny how they still consider themselves “liberal.”
Pointed — and dead on. But more importantly, filled with specific arguments and refutations that systematically take on the assertions made by someone claiming to be intolerant of intolerance.
Maha’s reaction? Predictable:
E.Nough: “Well-thought-out opposition to Islamic cultural imperialism”? Jeez, son, how much Kool-Aid did you drink this morning?
There are some people who are so much up to their eyeballs in bullshit they can’t see it any more. I try to respond reasonably to reasonable people, but you’re too far gone for me to salvage.
— immediately followed up by another Maha comment, signaling that her threshold of tolerating intolerance had been met:
Folks: The rightie haters are showing up and being nasty; so I’m closing comments. To anyone whose comments I deleted: I’m sorry for you, but I’m not your therapist.
To recount: Maha completely mischaracterized the argument offered by Dan (among others) that took Karen Armstrong to task for promoting and defending an idea of “tolerance” that is, at its core, the opposite of tolerance: which is to say, by institutionalizing restrictions on speech that are determined either by the groups under critical examination (who have reason to want criticism muzzled) or by those who hold that “tolerance” is synonymous with “not giving offense” (who would reduce freedom of speech to a glorified speech code, with “freedom,” in this new formulation, replaced by “approved,” and with themselves and the identity groups they favor in charge of doing the approving), Armstrong is effectively arguing for a “free speech” that is, by design, only “free” once the content has been socially sanctioned.
Which is not all that unusual — after all, we have laws against libel and laws against inciting violence — but those are very narrow restrictions; what Armstrong — and Maha, and many progressives, including certain presidential candidates — want, however, goes much broader, and would add “giving offense” to the list of restrictions placed on speech.
But given that offense is completely subjective, advocating for such a position is precisely the same as advocating for the end of free speech, which is itself based around an idea of tolerance that is precisely opposite that being espoused: namely, the willingness to accept offense as a necessary proponent of true freedom of speech. It is difficult to tolerate things we don’t like — but that’s what makes it tolerance in the first place, and is precisely what gives free speech its power.
Turning “tolerance” into a demand that no offense be given is to turn tolerance into an intolerance of those things that give offense — even though free speech was designed exactly to protect those things that DO give offense.
By closing her comments, Maha shows that she is indeed “intolerant of intolerance”. The only problem being that her idea of “intolerance” is anathema to those of us who remain committed to free speech: because Maha’s conception of “intolerance” — giving offense, “hating” — marks the kind of toleration that gives free speech its force.
So by claiming that she is “intolerant of intolerance”, what she is really saying is that she doesn’t tolerate the traditional notion of tolerance that undergirds free speech — or, more succinctly, that she is intolerant of free speech.
Which explains why she shuts down comments in the name of tolerance, I suppose.