The Price Tag of Modern Liberalism
By David Solway
FrontPageMagazine.com | 4/16/2009
As we struggle to come to terms with the “Islamic fact,” it should by now be obvious that we are dealing with what Robert Spencer has called “stealth jihad,” a serpentine Islamic movement which envisions the demolition of a way of life and the weakening of the State which braces it. We do not seem to realize the extent to which we have boogied into the arms of those who would jeopardize our stability and well-being, as if in agreement with the Islamic notion of the West as jahiliyya (“pre-Islamic,” i.e., pagan, ignorant) and therefore deserving of immolation.
For militant Islam, the West is ripe for the plucking. Whether we are dealing with the sly, insinuating eloquence of Tariq Ramadan, whose project is the gradual permeation of Islamic culture into the center of the Western public space, or the agonistic declamations of Dyab Abu Jahjah, who defines assimilation as “cultural rape,” the difference is the same: the message is that of Islamic supremacy.
Countries like Holland, England, Belgium, France and eventually Canada will find themselves paying in tax dollars and social turbulence, if not in blood, for their political inertia, ethnic patronage, civic permissiveness, electoral calculations and the usual multicultural chestnuts. This is the price tag of modern liberalism, which the precient American political thinker James Burnham, in his 1964 Suicide of the West, defined as “a philosophy of consolation [that] permits Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution.”
As Burnham writes, “liberalism proposes a set of pale and bloodless abstractions…no one is willing to sacrifice and die for”; as a result, it “cannot come to terms with power, in particular with force, the most direct expression of power.” Liberalism imagines a “new and better world” where “the soul may take refuge from the prosaic, unpleasant world of space and time” and where “the abandonment of a million of one’s own countrymen and the capitulation to a band of ferocious terrorists become transformed into what is called ‘liberation’.” Liberalism, Burnham concludes, “is the ideology of Western suicide.” And yet it remains part of the diet of Western thinking, a hydrogenated doctrine that is inherently lethal and enjoys a long shelf life.
Kenneth Minogue, in his classic study The Liberal Mind, published four years after Burnham’s volume, has stringently interrogated the liberal dynamic. If it is not actuated by a “passion for truth,” it threatens to produce precisely what it reprehends, “violent social opposition,” “political repression” and “the myths and illusions which sustain powerful institutions and corporations.” Liberalism, he contends, is “prone to subject its view of the way things are to a hopeful picture of the way it would be nice for things to be.” It is at the mercy of a variety of crippling hallucinations, including “the belief in a rational harmony, the illusion of ultimate agreement, and, perhaps most central of all, the idea that will and desire can ultimately be sovereign in human affairs, that things will eventually pan out the way we want them to.”
Untutored liberalism is the pixie dust of the rational mind. The utopian prepossession and especially the swooning reveries of the can’t-we-all-get-along crowd, wedded to the concept of moral, cognitive and cultural relativism, are very difficult to eradicate unless we recall, as Minogue reminds us, that there is no one “so repentant as a sorcerer’s apprentice who suddenly realizes his experiments in sorcery may be the death of him.” He may wake up in time to rethink himself—or be swept away by his own broom. The same applies to “whole nations [that] may be similarly deluded.”
The worst offenders are our card-carrying “intellectuals” and their political masters, those whom Oriana Fallaci befittingly caricatured as “cicadas” chirping their two-note melody: resilement from their own existing culture, justification and embrace of the Other. Chief among the latter we find leaders like Britain’s Gordon Brown and President Obama, two men who are earnestly doing Islam’s wet work. With regard to the former, the list is so long we can derive an approximate sense of infinity from it. I will mention only two notable offenders here.
Louise Richardson in What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, proffers a naïve, IRA-conflict resolution model to come to terms with our adversaries, oblivious of the fact that the IRA was never interested in overrunning England as radical Islam anticipates the conquest of Israel and the West. Nor was the IRA a global organization with sleeper cells scattered all over the world with the intent of inflicting maximum damage and destabilizing entire economies.
Richardson’s core assumptions that al-Qaeda and the assorted terrorist franchises are rational actors who have only limited aims and whose behaviour is predicated on American foreign policy, and that victory in the “war on terror” can be achieved by negotiation with terrorist archons or by empowering peaceable moderates who either cease being moderate or are moderated out of existence, comprise an infallible blueprint for failure, demoralization and defeat. Such recommendations and policy options amount to tethering the goat while the wolf roams free.
Complicating the issue is the fact that many self-declared “moderate” Islamic institutions are anything but. An excellent example of such doubletalk is furnished by the influential “moderate” Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) whose mission statement promotes the “Islamic values of Mercy, Justice, Peace, Human Dignity, Freedom, and Equality for all.” This exalted rhetoric has not prevented it from accusing Israel of causing the “pattern of violence” in the Middle East and profiting from 9/11, defending Hizbullah as a “liberation movement,” supporting Hamas and the various Islamic charities known to have funded terrorism, speaking not of Islamic terrorism but of the “manifestations of hate rooted in a distortion of American culture,” exonerating those responsible for the August 2006 airline plot in London, and so on (Stand4Facts.org).
Then we have a presumably reputable historian like Karen Armstrong who, in Islam: A Short History, takes the argument a step further: it is the “fear and despair” at the heart of fundamentalist irruptions that need to be addressed—not with the “power” or “force” that aims at defeating or containing an enemy but with the “liberating” influence of “understanding” that, in effect, allows that enemy to vitiate the very ideals and institutions that are the social as well as spiritual bulwarks of Western civilization. “Western people must become aware that it is in their interests…that Islam remains healthy and strong,” she avers. We must refrain from viewing Islam as “the enemy of democracy and decent values” and welcome this dignified and cultivated faith into the moral edifice of the West.
This is a prescription for disaster and speaks more to the sanitizing naivety of much Western scholarship and thought than to the real dilemma which confounds us. It is nothing less than a manifesto for a coming Islamic brutopia. As she pedals her bicycle over the moon, it seems the passage of time has done nothing to temper Armstrong’s enthusiasm. Her more recent panegyric, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time, gives the impression of having been written by someone looking at history through the eye-grille of a burka.
All of which leads to an inescapable conclusion. In the drama of civilization being enacted before our very eyes, it is not only the bombers who are suicidal.
David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. His most recent book is The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity.