12 Sep 2006

Why the Liberals Won’t Fight

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Brett Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal, describes the intellectual acrobatics of the contemporary liberal Western intelligentsia.

An instinct for pacifism surely goes some way toward explaining the left’s curious unwillingness to sign up for a war to defend its core values. A suspicion of black-and-white moral distinctions of the kind President Bush is fond of making about terrorism — a suspicion that easily slides into moral relativism — is another.

But there are deeper factors at work. One is appeasement: “Many Europeans feel that a confrontation with Islamism will give the Islamists more opportunities to recruit — that confronting evil is counterproductive,” says Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born, former Dutch parliamentarian whose outspoken opposition to Islamism (and to Islam itself) forced her repeatedly into hiding and now into exile in the United States. “They think that by appeasing them — allowing them their own ghettoes, their own Muslim schools — they will win their friendship.”

A second factor, she says, is the superficial confluence between the bugaboos of the Chomskyite left and modern-day Islamism. “Many social democrats have this stereotype that the corporate world, the U.S. and Israel are the real evil. And [since] Islamists are also against Israel and America, [social democrats] sense an alliance with them.”

But the really “lethal mistake,” she says, “is the confusion of Islam, which is a body of ideas, with ethnicity.” Liberals especially are reluctant to criticize the content of Islam because they fear that it is tantamount to criticizing Muslims as a group, and is therefore almost a species of racism. Yet Muslims, she says, “are responsible for their ideas. If it is written in the Koran that you must kill apostates, kill the unbelievers, kill gays, then it is legitimate and urgent to say, ‘if that is what your God tells you, you have to modify it.'”

A similar rethink may be in order among liberals and progressives. For whatever else distinguishes Islamism from liberalism, both are remarkably self-absorbed affairs, obsessed with maintaining the purity of their own values no matter what the cost. In the former case, the result too often is terror. In the latter, the ultimate risk is suicide, as the endless indulgence of “the other” obstructs the deeper need to preserve itself. Liberal beliefs… deserve to be protected and fought for. A liberalism that abandons its own defense to others does not, something liberals everywhere might usefully dwell on during this season of sad remembrance.

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