If you haven’t discovered him yet, you should start paying attention to Pascal Bruckner, a French philosopher deeply involved in our current struggles. His recent book, The Tyranny of Guilt; an Essay on Western masochism, is a first-class analysis of how Western guilt over presumed past crimes has paralyzed us in the present, preventing us from doing the good works our instincts would normally produce. He’s quite right, and although much of his subject matter is European, his insights are as important for us as for his fellow Europeans.
He’s written a very important essay on “Islamophobia,” in which he calls for the word to be banned. He notes that the term was coined by Iranian Islamists, as part of their campaign against the modern Western world, which was the point of the 1979 revolution that brought down the shah. And he goes on to analyze the several ways in which the word is used. First, it equates secularism with fundamentalism, by branding critics of Islam as intolerant fanatics, even when they criticize Muslims for intolerance. Second, it masks the jihad, using “Islamophobia” to deny the accuracy of their critics.
Those two tactics are aimed against us, non-Muslims who criticize the doctrines and practices of the Islamists. “Islamophobia” is deployed in the culture war in order to silence us. It fits seamlessly with the broader strategy of political correctness, which famously criminalizes free speech that offends the followers of favored ideologies.
We are not the only ones that the forces of radical Islam have targeted with “Islamophobia.” Above all, this pernicious concept is aimed at Muslims who want to debate their own doctrines, and perhaps even change them. This point is very often missed by the great majority of pundits, many of whom view Islam as something intrinsically unchangeable. Bruckner does not make this mistake, and his words are as accurate as they are eloquent:
…it wants to silence all those Muslims who question the Koran, who demand equality of the sexes, who claim the right to renounce religion, and who want to practice their faith freely and without submitting to the dictates of the bearded and doctrinaire.
…young girls are stigmatized for not wearing the veil, as are French, German or English citizens of Maghribi, Turkish, African or Algerian origin who demand the right to religious indifference, the right not to believe in God, the right not to fast during Ramadan…they are delivered up to the wrath of their religions communities in order to quash all hope of change among the followers of the Prophet (my emphasis ML).
Since our traditions of free speech are unlikely to be abandoned if there were an open debate, the would-be censors resort to legalistic maneuver; they try to make criticism of Islam or of most any radical Muslim illegal. Bruckner again: “On a global scale, we are abetting the construction of a new thought crime, one which is strongly reminiscent of the way the Soviet Union dealt with the ‘enemies of the people.’”
The establishment intellectuals and the other members of the ruling class don’t want to fight on the side of the opponents of “Islamophobia.” It’s so much easier to simply go along, taking refuge, as we have seen in the post-Tucson diatribes, in calls for “civility” that play directly into the hands of the enemies of free speech. As Bruckner warns, “our media and politicians are giving it their blessing. … Every objection, every joke becomes a crime.”
The latest battle in this very important war is now taking place in Copenhagen, in the vicious legal case brought against Lars Hedegaard, the head of the Free Speech Society. In the upside-down Orwellian prison being erected around free speakers, Hedegaard is charged with racism and “hate speech” for criticizing Islamists’ persecution (and sometimes murder) of Muslim women. That such a case should be admitted into a Western courtroom is an outrage and a threat to all of us; that any Western intellectual fails to rally to Hedegaard’s side is a badge of shame.
It’s a tough and nasty fight. Most Americans, most Europeans, and indeed most Muslims, are on our side. But few are willing to fight it out. Pascal Bruckner is one of those who is fighting, and he warrants our attention and our embrace.