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European Progressives, Islamists: More Alike Than We Think?

I am currently reading The Flight of The Intellectuals, Paul Berman’s new book. The book is a continuation of an article published in The New Republic. In the first chapter, “The Philosopher and the Press,” Berman describes Tariq Ramadan’s rise to the top of the European intellectual elite.

What struck me the most about these pages was Berman’s innocuous reference to Ramadan’s tenure at the College de Saussure: “His [Ramadan’s] colleagues there were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin.” In other words, his secular colleagues were not bothered or outraged by the philosophy espoused by Ramadan, but by his willingness to introduce a form of creationism to the curriculum.

Following the reference to Ramadan’s experience at Saussure, Berman goes on to explain how Ramadan was ultimately abandoned by many — seemingly strange bedfellows — who in the past had shared a common cause. However, Ramadan is still considered a voice for liberal Islam. He is viewed as the face of the modern, European version of Islam. Berman writes: “Some mainstream journalists in France were drawn to him from the start. The Islam-and-secularism correspondent at Le Monde, full of admiration, plugged him regularly and sometimes adopted his arguments. At the Le Diplomatique, Ramadan became a cause, not just a story. The editor lionized him. Politis magazine promoted him. On the activist far left, some of the anti-globalist radicals and the die-hard enemies of McDonald’s saw in Ramadan, because of his denunciations of American imperialism and Zionism and his plebian agitations, a tribune of progressive Islam, even if his religious severities grated left-wing sensibilities.”

Note: “his religious severities grated left-wing sensibilities.” The left felt uneasy with Ramadan’s religiosity, not with his illiberalism.

During Ramadan’s conquest of the hearts and minds of European elites no one has raised concerns over his notorious double standards. Ramadan is a relativist as long as Muslims are excluded from the realm of relativism. Ramadan defends free speech as long as it does not offend the sensitivities of Muslims. He advocates women’s rights as long as they accord with the Koran. He supports every nation’s right to self-determination as long as that nation isn’t Israel.

The left is not troubled by his stance on women’s rights, gay rights, and freedom of speech. The only issue that truly riles them up is one’s religiosity.

However, since the left views Muslims as part of their struggle against Western hegemony, they are given a pass on their religiosity. Islam does not threaten the left in the same fashion as Judaism and Christianity. They look at Christians and Jews and see wealth; they look at Muslims and see poverty. It is common knowledge that the left is comprised of Marxists or Marxist-sympathizers, so viewing the world through a prism of one’s economic status is perfectly logical.

I happened to walk by an anti-Israel demonstration in Helsinki the other day. In the crowds I saw flags of Turkey, Palestine, and Hezbollah, all waving in the air in complete harmony. How is it that Turks, the lonely throne bearers of Muslim secularism, are comfortable with those who support the subjugation of women, the killing of Jews and the destruction of the Western liberal order? Among the angry crowds and waving flags I saw ethnic Finns standing next to those who would transform Finland into a society which would not permit such expressions of freedom as public demonstrations.

How can this be explained? Perhaps it is the Marxism that draws the political left to the Islamists and the usefulness of the political left that draws Islamists to the Marxists. However, there must be something deeper behind their collective fury. Maybe it’s anti-Semitism or maybe it’s something else.

Clarity is what is needed in order to analyze their respective motives. Both the left and the Islamists see the two religions that produced the Western liberal order, Judaism and Christianity, as malicious influences on the world. Hating Israel is the core of this opposition. Israel is a liberal light in comparison to the darkness of the illiberal and un-free Arab world. More importantly, Israel’s existence is integral to the respective theologies of Judaism and Christianity.

Perhaps, instead of viewing the hatred of Israel as a projection of post-imperialist guilt, Israel should be viewed as an entity that combines the two vilified religions into one. Israel is holy in the Jewish-Christian liturgy, but at present, also wealthy and militarily strong. Perhaps this is why progressive Europeans and pious Islamists were able to sail under the same flag. The boats heading towards Gaza did not bring together humanitarians seeking to ease the suffering of the Palestinians. They came together for martyrdom against liberalism and its sole guardian in the Middle East. In other words, the progressives and the Islamists are not a diverse group from all walks of life, but rather, an ideologically homogeneous group.

It takes arguably less effort to unite against something you hate (Israel) than for something you love (Palestine). As it looks now, the flotilla organizers were more interested in martyrdom than helping the Palestinians.