A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What Will It Take?

Okay, I admit it, I've been at it again. But when someone like Baroness Alexandra gives me such a perfect target, how can I resist? Could you resist? So here it is:

This is an article published in the Toronto Star, (ht Adora), which I thought may spark an interesting debate. It is a plea written by eleven Canadian Muslim academics and activists: Jehad Aliweiwi, former executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation, Taj Hashmi, sessional professor, Simon Fraser University, Amir Hassanpour, associate professor, University of Toronto, Tarek Fatah, host, The Muslim Chronicle, CTS-TV, Tareq Y. Ismael, professor, University of Calgary, Jacqueline S. Ismael, professor, University of Calgary. El-Farouk Khaki, secretary general, Muslim Canadian Congress. Shahrzad Mojab, associate professor, University of Toronto. Haideh Moghissi, professor, York University, Munir Pervaiz, secretary, Pakistan-Canadian Writers Forum, Saeed Rahnema, professor, York University.

A curtain of fear has descended on the intelligentsia of the West, including Canada. The fear of being misunderstood as Islamophobic has sealed their lips, dried their pens and locked their keyboards....

Islamic societies, run by variances of autocratic regimes, are in turmoil. Ravaged by rampant corruption, a widening gap between rich and poor, and suppression of dissent, the people in these societies have lost hope in their own futures.

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the unending occupation of the Palestinian territories and the quagmire of the Kashmiri dispute, have led many Muslims and non-religious peoples of Islamic origin, to view the West as the source of their countries' problems....

In the West, people of Muslim origin, be they religious or secular, are facing growing racism, Islamophobia and discrimination reflected in immigration policies and anti-terrorist legislation....

It is time for Canadians to stand up for the hard-won democratic values that the Muslim extremists oppose.

By rejecting the agenda of the extremists, Canada's intelligentsia would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslims and secular individuals from the region who reject both Islamophobia and Islamism. Islamism is not the new revolutionary movement against global forces of oppression, as a section of the left in this country erroneously perceives.

For too long the media have created an image that portrays communities from the Muslim world as a monolith entity, best represented by extremists....

We call on Canadian politicians and intellectuals to stand up for freedom of expression. Our democratic values, including free speech, should not be compromised under the garb of fighting hate.

When I started to read this post over on All Things Beautiful, I thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised by a serious acknowledgement from the Baroness of the rational, temperate, and measured responsiveness among these serious Muslim intellectuals, living among us, and coming to the defense of the values of the West.

Of course I was wrong. Here is Alexandra's response:

We don't mind standing side-by-side with you in the fight against the tyranny of orthodox Islam. In fact, we recognize that, as Sir Winston Churchill put it succinctly over a century ago, "individual Muslims may show splendid qualities". However, as long as you deny what Churchill equally well knew, you are not addressing the fundamental problem:

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. "

Can you believe it? Could you resist taking something like this apart merely in the name of common intellectual decency? I couldn't:

I'm not exactly sure what you want the topic of the "debate" to be about, Baroness, but I'll take a stab at participating.

If the purpose of quoting Churchill was to reiterate that many of the values of Muslim culture and the Muslim world are not to your taste, there is really nothing to debate. This is self-evident, and I, at least, would hold no brief to persuade you to change your taste. After all, many of those values are not to my taste, either.

As far as your assertion that these fine Muslim intellectuals are not "understanding the real problem" is concered, however, what you are saying to them is precisely this:

The real problem is that you are Muslim, the real problem is the content of your actual religious beliefs.

Now suppose, as a Buddhist, I said to you, the real problem in dealing with you is that you are a devout Christian, if you would cease to be a Christian, then I could deal with you.

Wouldn't you find this to be a little bit hostile on my part? And not really conducive to a genuine "debate" between us? Well, actually, so would I. And this is not just because I'm a Buddhist, though Buddhism asserts that irrational prejudice against any religion is a wholly bad thing, and bad for you, too.

It is also because I not only "stand up for hard-won democratic values", I actually can articulate some clear idea, beyond sloganeering, of what they really are.

One of those democratic values is that you must persuade your fellow citizens to agree with you, you cannot compel it, and that government--with the consent of the governed--has the right only to restrain criminal actions, and not to criminalize political or religious beliefs.

As far as the debate goes, our pragmatic need is to persuade the persuadable among the Muslims in our midst, that we do, in fact, support such a democratic value, and that they should, too. Within the very small compass of my world, I do everything I can to do this.
Your telling them, however, that the problem is that they are Muslim, is not giving me very much help.

It is also not giving these fine Muslim intellectuals very much help in persuading the persuadable in their own religious community, either.

Moreover, here you actually have some intellectually responsible and politically moderate Muslims to listen to. This is real and direct evidence, in fact, that political moderation and intellectual responsibility actually do exist among Muslims.

Do you address the evidence? Do you listen to them? Do you even acknowledge their support of democratic values? Not really.

What you do is say to them that the support they are giving to democratic values is inherently incompatible with their religious beliefs. Thus, it follows inevitably, if their support is genuine, they are intellectually incoherent fools.

Who you do listen to is a fine man, long dead, who--whatever else noble he may have been--had a political agenda of sustaining the control of the government of three-quarters of the world, mostly the Muslim part, by the countries of Europe.

Need I remind you that this same control was hardly democratic when it existed, and the political support of it was certainly not in the interest of "democratic values"?

To drag in Churchill, merely to reiterate your view that all Muslims are bad, might spark a democratic debate about moderate Muslims, but it is hardly a legitimate way of debating with them, or persuading them of anything.

The fact that you will really not even approach the idea of listening to them and debating with them is the "real problem". At least it is the real problem in places where we actually have some democratic values to defend.

What the devil do you expect to persuade them of in your "debate"? That their religious beliefs are wrong and that they really deserve the status of second-class citizens constantly monitored by the police, just like they are in Saudi, in Iran, in Syria, and in Jordan?

Under these circumstances, it would really be very interesting for you to actually articulate, in some specific detail, what you think "democratic values" are.

It would also be interesting for you to make the case, with reasons and evidence, that Christian belief inherently supports those democratic values. Far more interesting, in fact, than constantly reiterating, with nifty new pictures, that Muslim beliefs do not.

It would finally be interesting if you actually addressed why you think Christian belief is more correct than Muslim belief. Or even than Buddhist belief.

I don't remember having seen you do any of these things since I started looking in. If you did these you might be in a position to actually start a genuine and useful "debate" with the people who disagree with you rather than merely about them.

As I say, I couldn't resist it. And I'm damn glad I didn't. The good Baroness is apparently completely unconscious that this particular Churchill quotation is about as gratuitously irelevant, insulting, and offensive, in context, as any remark on Muslims to Muslims could be. And to what end? I ask you!

Frankly, the arrogance of this is too colossal to be anything but innocent. But the innocence is too colossal to be anything but inane.


Blogger The probligo said...

Personally, I think that you are too charitable to label the arrogance as "innocent".

I have not yet heard or read any commentator on matters Islamic with comments like these that did not in deadly seriousness mean exactly what was said.

6:44 PM  
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