From time to time, I entertain a sort of running dialogue - with myself. No, I'm not crazy, at least not yet. What I am attempting to do in that dialogue is persuade myself that Western leaders and opinion makers could not betray the West, by incremental steps sometimes imperceptible, into the clutches of our adversaries - not by means of some nefarious conspiracy, but in consequence of their own imbecilic fantasies and delusions. Some part of me, cynical and melancholy though I am, is desirous that there occur no apocalypse of liberalism.
Alas, I believe that I'm am losing that argument with my pessimistic instincts, which suggest to me that, when the moment arrives, our leaders will sooner turn intolerant towards us, and our cultures, than acknowledge that, say, Islam is not a religion of peace.
Joseph Loconte, writing in the Weekly Standard of the film being prepared by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, you see, engages in the stereotypical hand-wringing and cleverer-than-the-messenger, who-should-be-shot posturing, which performance summons up all of those dark thoughts. His article is illustrative of everything that is wrong with the elite commentariat in the West, and why we cannot now rely upon them in this regard, and why they will likely continue to fail us.
Referencing the controversy the knowledge of the film's production has already occasioned, Loconte avers that
The sorry fact is that Holland and much of Europe are ill-prepared for a contest against religious extremism. This latest debacle is less about Islamist militancy, however, than about the moral vertigo created by Europe's liberal and secular ideologies. European approaches to religion, pluralism, and immigration are failing miserably--and few seem to understand why or what to do about it.
And right from the inception, his analysis is veering luridly off-course. Why should this matter be thought to be less of something and more of another, as though we were here confronted with an opposition? For clearly the matter is a both/and sort of affair, with the "moral vertigo" of European secularism having swept the house clean of vigorous belief, leaving it emptied for the arrival of "Islamist militancy". It is true that few understand what to do about this; but that pathetic fact is owing to the inability or unwillingness of European elites to think outside the box of their little managerial utopia, in which the old Marxist dogma of religion as epiphenomenon of material privation has never withered away. Europe indulges Muslims for a variety of reasons, but one of the most potent is that her elites simply cannot believe that anyone could take that stuff seriously on prolonged exposure to the material comforts and seductions of post-Christian, post-national Europe.
So, Wilders' proposed solution, involving the cessation of Muslim immigration, a ban on the Koran, and surveillance of mosques, strikes Loconte as a provocation, one that will engender what Wilders seeks to prevent, alienating moderates in the process:
Nevertheless, Wilders suffers from his own brand of dogmatism. He admits that most of Holland's one million Muslims are not violent theocrats-in-waiting, but he denies that there is such a thing as "moderate" Islam. What does he expect Dutch Muslims who play by the democratic rules to do in response? Tear up their Korans?
Now, I will gladly concede that Wilders' rhetoric is perhaps a bit overheated; given recent events in Holland, I cannot fault him for that. But Wilders does, for all of that, admit the crucial distinction, namely, that between the pernicious, hateful, and invidious doctrines contained within the Islamic tradition, and the adherents of that religion, who, as Christians themselves often do, take or leave what they want from a religion. Ironically, for one so concerned to preserve certain fictions of Western modernity, Loconte collapses this distinction, implying, as a good nominalist, that Islam is as its adherents do - and if this is so, then Islam both is and is not, or may be, a bellicose and persecuting creed. In such a case, the Dutch would be right to throw up their hands in resignation - to ignorance as to the nature of the religion - and to go along with Wilders on prudential grounds. Why take chances?
Thus we have a crusade to rescue liberal democracy that would dissolve one of the foundations of democratic government, namely, the separation between church and state. By assuming the mantle of Grand Inquisitor, Wilders seeks to wield state power not only to define the belief system of an entire faith community, but also to stigmatize and criminalize it.
Of course, Wilders does no such thing, as none of his proposals collapses the distinction between church and state. Merely defining some doctrine or creed as inimical to the (implicit limits of) a public orthodoxy (which all nations possess) does not conflate church and state, no matter how much defenders of the Open Society bleat that it does. To do so neither legislates in the name of some particular sect, nor mandates adherence to the doctrines of a sect; it is only to say that one may not propagate such and such a creed, because said creed is destructive of our way of life - which way of life is rather capacious, indeed. In essence, this complaint would have it that a negative act is simultaneously a positive act - that not-M equates to C. Which is absurd.
Loconte is not finished with the absurdities, however, as he next asserts that Wilders and his defenders assert a spurious right of government officials to launch witch-hunts against religious communities. Of course, this must be false, and on grounds Loconte has already admitted, namely, that Wilders acknowledges the majority of Dutch Muslims to be law-abiding. Were I in the position of Wilders, I'd be feeling a bit tetchy, and might accuse Loconte of trafficking in scurrilous and borderline-libelous accusations; if one distinguishes between the lawless and the lawful, and is then told that one does not, someone must be lying. However, this does not exhaust the disquieting undertones of Loconte's argument; he, in fact, hints that perhaps Wilders, and not the Muslims, should be silenced:
Free speech is a touchstone of democratic societies, as is freedom of religion. Sometimes these rights clash, but a just state strives to uphold them both. It apparently doesn't occur to Dutch elites that when government takes sides in religious questions--under the banner of free speech--it undermines democratic freedom. When it attacks people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion, it lights a match.
Hence, if a government insists upon the rights of free speech in such incendiary cases, it subverts the democratic liberties of the aggrieved party. It seems to me that this is an instance of the "moral vertigo" caused by "liberal and secular" ideologies, particularly those of cosmopolitan liberalism and the Open Society, begging as it does the questions of the limiting conditions of the existence of a particular set of liberties. What, however, could I possibly know, being a would-be Grand Inquisitor? Prior to that concluding paragraph, Loconte delivers himself of the following:
The coalition government and others remain at odds over what do to about the Wilders film. The Christian Democrats favor a ban, while Labour defends freedom of expression. The prime minister warns of security problems and economic boycotts, and is looking for a legal way to stop its release. In January, a U.S. military task force in Afghanistan posted website commentary warning that the film could undercut local support for foreign troops (a post that was subsequently removed). Dutch forces in Afghanistan, where angry demonstrations have occurred, are reportedly bracing for the worst. As one soldier complained to a Dutch journalist: "As if we have nothing better to do."
Juxtaposing the statements about the Dutch Labour party, which is supportive of Wilders' rights of free speech, and the taking of sides in religious questions, what we are left with is the conclusion that free speech in this case would involve such a taking of sides and subversion of democracy (for the Muslims). And, because free speech might undermine the war effort, perhaps we should wish the prime minster success in devising a way around the constitutional protections of free speech. In the name of democracy and the war, speaking unpleasant truths about Islamic doctrine, thus puncturing the myths of toleration and openness, might best be forbidden, investing that old saw about "fighting them over there" with new meaning: We refuse to fight them here, because we're fighting them over there.
It ought not be doubted, not even for a moment, that such sentiments express the inclinations of our leaders, who would sooner shower with obloquy, even legal proscription, speech that contradicts their stultifying dogmas and baleful policies, than admit the untenability of these latter. Of course, they needn't worry themselves over the false dilemma Loconte poses, of free speech vs. the democratic rights of a diverse population: they could simply recognize that, certain doctrines being inimical to the latter - namely, those of Jihad, Sharia, and Dhimmitude - those doctrines should be deemed seditious, outside the scope of the freedom of speech. One cannot claim the protection of the community for activities aimed at its subversion. It is apparent, however, that our elites would prefer to subtilize themselves into dhimmitude. They are weak reeds, indeed.