Defending secular Europe
and ally was extremely angry at me for my article
criticizing the anti-Islamist manifesto for its evident secularist, anti-religious agenda. He wrote several e-mails using insulting and abusive language until I had to cut off the exchange. Another reader, the Swedish conservative whose comments have occasionally been posted at VFR in the past, also disagreed with the article, though in a civil and constructive way. His point is that Europe’s actual culture, its particularity, is secular at this point, and therefore any traditionalist defense of European culture against Islam has to start with a defense of secularism. Here is part of what he wrote, followed by my response.
Swedish conservative to LA:
Subject: Well done, and not so well done
Congratulations to a very good appearance on the radio program. Well done! I wish you were asked more often to appear in media.
What I mean with “not so well done” is your blog entry about the manifesto by the 12 writers. You wrote: “But instead, they campaign against religion as such, blind or indifferent to the fact that they are alienating Christians and believing Jews.”
I do not see these people campaigning against religion as such in the manifesto…. There are many things that have to be won back, but it has to be achieved step by step. As I see it, the overall gist of the manifesto expresses the best that the unifying essence of our cultural substance, in its current incarnation, can mobilize. And they clearly address severe cardinal failures of liberals (left-wing as well as neocons):
1. “This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field.”—An important message to the “War on Terror” people.
2. “We reject cultural relativism, which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions.”—The essence of this sentence is to reject multiculturalism.
3. “We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia,’ an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.”—a) Rejection of political correctness; “Islamophobia”- speak, b) Important distinction between Islam and Muslims.
So while you and I can wish that the Western civilization had not lost its connection with history, and had looked differently, this is what its cultural substance looks like today. This manifesto is in many ways the best that the Western civilization can mobilize in a unified way. So let’s unite. I do not agree with them about the wonders of universalism etc., but all in all I see the manifesto as a good enough approximation of my ideas in relation to Islam and the more urgent issues in the world. It’s just like I won’t oppose the Bush Administration’s emerging efforts against Iran because they call it “promoting democracy”. They could have called it “installing multiculturalism in Iran” for all that I care. The important thing is that the current regime in Iran is broken.
I see this as lockpicking. A lock has to be picked step by step and in a pragmatic way. Christians must see secularists as allies, and vice versa. And in this case it is you that chooses to ignore what our cultural substance of the West really looks like. Just as you, I want to rebuild a different cultural substance of the West. But important first steps here is to reject multiculturalism, to reject political correctness etc. But this is precisely what this manifesto addresses!
And the best fighters against Islam, and for the survival of the West, are so far seculars, not Christians. Two examples:
1) The country of Denmark. In Denmark the issues about the problems of Islam was dominating the national debate even a few years before 9/11 (NB: Islam, not Islamism). The main defenders of the cultural substance of Denmark are liberals (such as the prime minister) and The Danish People’s party (who are ideologically welfare statist social democrats). Denmark is a liberal country in the very best sense of the word. Liberalism works—in Denmark. If we take our particularist outlook of the world seriously, it is important to acknowledge this.
2) Ex-Muslims. The ex-Muslims come in many shades, many become Christians, but the most prominent among them describe themselves as secular. Look at this video clip of Wafa Sultan (and transcript). It’s a real knock-out iron lady attacking Islam and defending Western values more bravely than any Westerner could, on al-Jazeera:
How could you not support people like her?
Mr. Particular Swede
After a brief reply by me in which I mentioned that I had modified the blog entry to make it somewhat less critical of the manifesto, he sent this follow-up:
I admire your analytical eye that you have thanks to your long view of history. But in current events, and the pragmatics of the art of lockpicking, I have now seen an obvious weakness of yours. Quite as you said that you are not fit to be the governor of Arizona. Your understanding of Western cultural substance in the longer run is excellent and unmatched, but this particular blog entry of yours shows that you are too disconnected from the current incarnation of Western civilizational cultural substance.
Particularism, Lawrence, particularism! A true traditionalist conservative starts from the ACTUAL cultural substance of a society, no matter what he’d wish it had been instead. Look at the Danish People’s Party. Together with Naser Khader they have changed the world. The Danish Muhammad cartoons didn’t come from nowhere. And the Danish People’s Party is a welfare statist social democratic party, a realistic one who oppose Muslim immigration. Scandinavian countries have been like giant kibbutzes. It worked due to the amazing ethnic homogeneity. I don’t particularly like these systems, but this is the tradition over here.
Particularism, Lawrence, particularism!
You’re saying that Western Europe’s particularity is highly secularized, and therefore I, as a traditionalist, need to respect the fact that any defense of Western Europe against Islam is going to take a secular coloring, and therefore my criticism of the Twelve was off-base.
But I already understand that. For example, I completely backed Jyllands-Posten and the papers that reprinted the cartoons, despite the fact that they were doing it in the name of secularism. I attacked people like Patrick Buchanan who attacked Jylannds-Posten as anti-religious. I said that this is Europe, liberal Europeans, taking a stand against Islam, and we must back them.
So I have no problem supporting secular liberals against Islam. I respect liberals who are consistently liberal, such as Pim Fortuyn.
But that’s not the issue in this manifesto. This manifesto is an attack on religion as such. It is attacking religion more than it is attacking Islam.
So, on one hand it is understandable and forgivable that secularized European liberals will use the language of secularism when resisting Islam. I support them.
It is not understandable or forgivable when they actively attack religion as such instead of attacking Islam.
My position is that religious Westerners and non-religious Westerners need to work together against Islam. This means that they need to tolerate each other. As I have often said to people, I have friends who are atheists, and I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is atheists who actively attack and despise religion. I will not deal with such people. There is a world of difference between an atheist who simply says, “I don’t believe in God, I see no reason to believe in God, I’ve never had a religious experience, the whole thing makes no sense to me,” and an atheist who says, “This is crap. There is no God, society has to get rid of this ridiculous idea of God, the belief in God is some pathology that has kept the human race in chains, etc. etc.”
So: I tolerate atheists who tolerate religion. I do not tolerate atheists who attack religion.
The manifesto says: “We … call for … the promotion of … secular values for all.” As I read it, that is a call for the creation of a Europe stripped of Christianity. If Muslims want to strip Muslim societies of the Islamic religion, that is fine with me. But when atheist former Muslims enter Europe calling on Europe to strip itself of the Christian religion, I have a problem with that. If the signers of this manifesto want my support, they need to change the way they express themselves.
Howard Sutherland (who made a surprise appearance as a caller on the John Dayl show yesterday) writes:
Interesting exchange, but your Swede ultimately misses the point. As you note, the signatories do not really defend secular Europe, they promote universal secularism. From their names, it would appear that at least nine of the 12 are not Europeans at all, but Moslems in varying degrees of estrangement from Islam. Your interlocutor speaks of particularism. To defend European particularism, one would have to defend Europe’s historic Christianity and the local particularities of European countries. Real Europeans, not exiles from alien cultures, will have to do that. The signatories do not, nor do I think they wish to. Hirsi Ali (I am speculating) is not excited about being Dutch; she is excited about no longer being a Moslem. I suspect she could as easily have come to rest in England, France, Canada or the United States. I doubt she was drawn to Holland out of a love for Dutchness. She wanted to leave Somalia and the Dutch had left their door open. Rushdie has belittled the real Europe for decades. Your elided quote sums it up: “We call for the promotion of secular values for all.” That is no call to preserve Europe. It is the call of a transnational elite that fancies itself above and beyond particularities, one that will suppress European particularities right along with Middle Eastern. Actually, it has done an impressive job of suppressing what makes Europe European while not making a dent in what makes Islam Moslem. Those who think that way are the enemies of Christian Europe, if less demonstratively than violent Moslems. The fact that the violent Moslems are their enemies as well shouldn’t blind us to that.
What the Moslems want is obvious. What Christian traditionalists want is not too hard to understand. What the signatories of that letter seem to want (other than to be left alone by religious people, bloodthirsty or otherwise) is the void of liberalism. They want what they can never have, but in their intolerant pursuit of it they help destroy what remains of Europe. They are doing the Moslems’ work for them.
Another reader writes:
Regarding one of your readers’ agitation at your criticism of the belated secular attempt to combat Islam: There is a pithy Russian saying: “klin klinom,” meaning, the only way to remove a peg is to drive it out with another. Islam can only be removed by pounding in superior Christian values. Secularism is a weak peg and can’t do the job—as it has amply demonstrated.
[Note: The above exchange continues here
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 03, 2006 11:06 AM | Send