Leftists versus liberals: Britain’s “debate” on Islam

Two years ago I wrote at FrontPage Magazine:

According to even the most hard-boiled thinkers among us, our domestic safety rests on two foundations: assimilation of U.S. Moslems, and security measures against terrorism. But the successful assimilation of all U.S. Moslems is a pipe dream, and our vaunted security measures only add up to managing the intolerable threat of domestic terrorism, not ending it.

That sad description still holds true today. Consider Melanie Phillips’s article in the July 5 Daily Mail, in which she excoriates the British government’s delusional thinking about Islam. Before I go further, let me stipulate that Phillips is not someone you would think of as a hard-boiled anything. She is a self-described liberal, as well as a Jew, who constantly appeals to liberal British ideals of tolerance and pluralism. Yet, so soft and pathetic has the once-proud country of Great Britain become that a liberal Jewish woman is virtually the hardest-line person in the entire British mainstream—indeed, a courageous voice in the wilderness—when it comes to the subject of Islam.

Phillips starts off by speaking in direct and alarming terms about the significant numbers of Muslims in Britain who support extremism and terror. In the respectable precincts of British opinion, she points out,

… the air is currently thick with recriminations that Britain has failed to do more to win Muslim hearts and minds. Is this true? I’m afraid not.

In other words, the establishment leftist view is that many Muslims support terror because they have a justified grievance against Britain, and it’s up to Britain to show the Muslims that the grievance is not justified, by adopting pro-Muslim policies, and this will make the Muslim support for terror go away.

According to Phillips, that diagnosis is insane, suicidal, and wrong. What, then, does she think is the problem?

Just as crucial is to address the hatred and lies that are driving this violence. In particular, what must be combated with the utmost vigour is the Muslim culture of grievance, the belief that the West is engaged in a conspiracy to attack and destroy the Islamic world.

This delusion has meant that many Muslims misrepresent Islamist aggression as self-defence, and the West’s attempt to defend itself as aggression. This double-think means that Britain is itself blamed for the attacks mounted upon it.

So, it turns out that Phillips, like the left, thinks that the key is to win Muslim hearts and minds, only she wants to do it by proving to the Muslims that it is not true that the West seeks to destroy the Muslim world. (As I discussed yesterday, this also seems to be the view of Tony Blair, who is slightly to the right of his leftist colleagues.)

Second, and more troublingly, Phillips completely fails to understand that the Muslim belief that the non-Muslim world “is engaged in a conspiracy to attack and destroy the Islamic world” is not some recent phenomenon. It is 1,400 years old. It comes from the Koran itself, which states over and over that people who don’t believe in Allah and his Prophet are evil, because they know the truth but have rejected it out of sheer perversity. Moreover, by spurning Islam, the infidels are dishonoring Allah and his Prophet. Such a horrible insult—an insult to God himself—must be avenged. It was the dark genius of Muhammad to take the Arab shame-honor syndrome and make it cosmic, by teaching his followers that all non-Muslims on earth, simply by the fact of being non-Muslims, were shaming Allah, a disgrace that Muslims could remove only by killing, converting, or otherwise subduing the non-believers.

Yet Phillips, whose entire writing career is currently devoted to warning Britain about the Muslim threat, and has recently published a book on the subject, Londonistan, does not seem to understand these basic facts about Islam. Instead, she imagines that the Muslims’ notion that the West is their enemy is a good-faith though mistaken belief from which the British can dissuade them by rational argument! Faced with a religiously motivated, mortal enemy, she calls for the deployment of the ultimate liberal weapon: humane discourse.

But Phillips’s liberal folly doesn’t stop there. She adopts the chic idea that Islamic radicalism grows out of the cultural alienation of young Muslims in the West, which makes them vulnerable to the siren call of the radical sheiks. She contrasts this explanation with that of Britain’s dhimmi government, which blames the Muslim radicalism “almost entirely on Islamophobia, poverty and foreign policy,” that is, on the West itself.

So there you have it. Britain’s leftist government blames Muslim radicalism on the West. Phillips, the “conservative” in this debate, blames Muslim radicalism on a combination of alienation and fanaticism, which, she avers, can be combated by rational persuasion aimed at demonstrating to the Muslims that the West is not seeking to harm them. The left thinks that the West really is harming Muslims, and therefore that the solution is for the West to do more to accommodate the Muslims. Phillips thinks that the Muslims have a mistaken belief that the West is harming Muslims, and that solution is to prove to the Muslims that this belief isn’t true.

The leftists of the British establishment, and the liberal columnist Melanie Phillips, equally subscribe to the fantastic delusions that Muslims are reasonable people and that there is something that the West can do that will convince Muslims to abandon their anti-Western hostility. There is still no one in the British and Western mainstream who understands that the source of the Muslims’ hatred of the West is Islam itself.

- end of initial entry -

Jeff writes:

Good article but now superseded by the fact that the British leftist government led by Tony Blair is now saying it is not going to and nor should the West take the blame for Muslim extremism. This is exactly what Blair emphasised in his speech earlier in the week. He has turned the blame for extremism back on Muslims. Of course not everyone in the leftist government or in the non-governmental left agrees with Blair but on the whole his views seems to be getting a decent reception among various Labour supporters as well as Conservatives. So please add this to your article.

LA writes:

I linked my blog entry of yesterday in which I discussed the Blair speech, and in this current article on Phillips I said that Blair is to the “right” of his leftist colleagues. But how successful has Blair been in dragging the leftist establishment along with him on his slightly less leftist views, for example, in the war on terror?

There are actually three positions here and the distinctions between them are rather fine. Blair this week said that the previous view was that we have to defeat the Muslims’ “false sense of grievance” against the West. So his view was already to the right of the leftist view attacked by Phillips, which is that the West has objectively done bad things that justify Muslim hostility. In his statement this week, Blair in effect is going to the right of Phillips, saying that the British cannot persuade Muslims, but that “moderate Muslims” must do this. Blair thus rejected one utopian position, only to adopt another in its place.

Now most conservatives would believe that the difference between the Blair/Phillips positions on one side and the leftist position on the other is fundamental; after all, the left is saying that the West’s own wrongful acts are the ultimate cause of Muslim terrorism. But in regard to the most fundemental point, these seemingly radically different positions all come down to the same thing: Muslims are rational people who have, according to the left, a true belief that the West is out to get them, or, according to Blair and Phillips, a false belief that the West is out to get them. The left says the Muslims’ true belief that the West is hostile and oppressive to Islam can be removed by changing Western behavior so that the West is no longer oppressing Islam. Blair and Phillips say the false belief that the West is hostile and oppressive to Islam can be removed by persuading the Muslims that the belief is false. As between Phillips and Blair, Phillips says Britain must persuade Muslims of this. Blair says the moderate Muslims must persuade Muslims of it. All three parties—the left, Phillips, and Blair, believe there is something that can be done that will alter these Muslim beliefs and eliminate Muslim hostility to the West. All three parties subscribe to the liberal world view which says that there are no real enemies, that the people who seem like enemies are in fact reasonable men (so they are all, all reasonable men) who are reacting either against our actual oppression of them, or against what they reasonably though falsely believe is our oppression of them. All three parties preclude the possibility of the West’s recognizing its enemies as enemies and taking serious steps to defend itself.

See Melanie Phillips’s response to this article and our further exchange.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 06, 2006 03:46 PM | Send

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