Melanie Phillips on “Liberalism versus Islamism”
(Note: Be sure to see Jeff in England’s inspired Dylan take-off
, “Revisions of Melanie.”)
In the past I have criticized British columnist Melanie Phillips because of her failure to think her way out of the liberalism that is the ultimate source of the Islamization that she decries. In a recent talk delivered in Sweden, she comes closer to identifying liberalism as the source of the problem, and she also points in the direction of the non-liberal values that are needed to limit liberalism and its inherent destructiveness. But because she remains unable or unwilling to articulate and affirm non-liberal principles as non-liberal principles, she remains trapped in her own liberalism.
I have interspersed bracketed and bolded comments in her talk. My remarks are not highly polished and may be unavoidably repetitive at times but are reasonably coherent. Early on, I am fairly tough on her. Later, as she starts to move toward an answer, I acknowledge that. But in the end, she ends up where she has always been: anguishing over Britain’s inability to resist the ongoing jihad campaign of Muslims in Britain against Britain, but unable herself to break decisively with the liberalism that has allowed this to happen, and thus unable to offer any real solution.
May 18, 2007
- end of initial entry -
Liberalism v Islamism
Presentation at Neo conference, Stockholm, Sweden, 11 May 2007
First of all, let me define my terms and say what I mean by Islamism and liberalism. Islamism is the politicised version of Islam which mandates jihad, or holy war against the infidel and conquest of the non-Islamic world for Islam. I’m well aware of the argument that there’s no difference between Islamism and Islam: that’s a theological argument for others to have.
By liberalism I mean the commitment to a free society, founded above all on the separation of secular government from religious worship—from which follow the concepts of equal respect for all people, freedom of conscience, tolerance and the rule of law. [“Equal respect for all people” is not right-liberalism or natural-rights liberalism, it is left-liberalism. If you have “equal respect for all people,” that is the same as being equally open to all people regardless of their culture, and that is indistinguishable in practice from multiculturalism.]
These two concepts, Islamism and liberalism, are currently engaged in a fight to the death. My argument is that liberalism is in danger of losing this fight because it has so badly undermined itself and departed from its own core concepts that it is now paralysed by moral and intellectual muddle.
Liberalism is the creed of modernity. The driving force behind the Islamic jihad is the fight against liberalism and modernity. All the iconic conflicts—Iraq, Israel, Kashmir, Chechnya, Sudan—are secondary to the fundamental aim of the jihad to prevent liberalism and modernity from destroying Islam.
The founding ideologue of modern Islamism, Syed Qutb, made clear in his writings that at the core of the salafi interpretation of Islam was opposition to the separation of religion and temporal power that resulted in liberalism and democracy. His governing impulse was the fear that the instinct for liberty was so powerful it would spread to and infiltrate the Muslim mind unless it was checked by the most repressive possible form of Islam.
The Big and Little Satans themselves, America and Israel, are proxies for liberalism and modernity. That’s why Islamism says they must be destroyed. Qutb famously went to America and concluded from seeing men and women dancing at a church hop that America was one giant brothel. And much of the bitter hostility to the Jews who started returning to Palestine in the 1920s was because the women wore shorts and were sexually free.
The Islamist goal is to destroy the virus of freedom and modernity before it infects the Islamic world, and to replace it with Islam. That is the core of the profound threat it poses to the west, a threat mounted through the pincer movement of both terrorism and cultural takeover.
This cultural takeover, or the aim to Islamise the west, was explicitly laid out in a programme of subversion for Europe by the Wahabbi Muslim Brotherhood almost 30 years ago. In 1978, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference sponsored a seminar in London which said Muslim communities in western countries must establish autonomous institutions with help from Muslim states, and lobby the host country to grant Muslims recognition as a separate religious community as a step towards eventual political domination.
In Britain in 1980, a book called The Islamic Movement in the West by Khuram Murad advocated an “organised struggle to change the existing society into an Islamic society … and make Islam … supreme and dominant especially in the socio-political spheres…” A Muslim Brotherhood document seized in Switzerland in 2001, known as “The Project,” outlined a twelve-point strategy to “establish an Islamic government on earth.” And the Brotherhood has now set up an intricate network of bodies across Europe to put all this into action.
Many Muslims in Britain and around the world are deeply opposed to this; indeed Muslims are the most numerous victims of the jihad. That’s why I use the term Islamism, to distinguish those who believe in Islamic conquest from those who merely draw upon Islam for spiritual sustenance. But at the same time, it is false to deny that Islamism is the dominant force in the Muslim and Arab world, false to deny that it is radicalising millions of Muslims in the west, and false to deny the huge inroads it has made into western society through this pincer movement of terrorism and cultural pressure.
But many in the west do deny it. They ignore the clear evidence of the goal of Islamising the west. They choose to believe instead that the reason for Islamist terror lies in the wrongs the west has done to the Islamic world—Iraq or Palestine, discrimination or Islamophobia. Indeed, even to speak in this way is to invite the deadly label of Islamophobia—a term invented to shut down legitimate and vital debate about Islamism. Far from defending core liberal values that are thus singled out for destruction, such people thus side with or appease those who attack them. So Europe—bastion of free speech—attacked those newspapers which published and re-published the Mohammed cartoons. And liberals committed to human rights march on the streets of London, behind banners saying Free Iraq and Free Palestine, shoulder to shoulder with Islamists who believe in death to gays.
[She doesn’t get the basic contradiction that results from making liberalism the thing we believe in rather than our substantive societies that include some measure of liberalism but also other things besides liberalism. Liberalism as she defines it means equal respect for all, equal tolerance for all. A corollary of that is that we must show special respect for people who are the outsiders. Multiculturalism and exaggerated solicitude for minorities such as Muslims is an inevitable consequence of making “equal respect for all people” one’s highest belief. Therefore today’s liberals oppose the Muhammad cartoons, because they showed disrespect for Muslims. In opposing the cartoons, they were thus being good liberals. As long as liberalism remains our ultimate guide, we are trapped in an unresolvable conflict between two liberalisms, the one that says we must have equal respect for all people including Muslims, and the other that says we must have free speech. Issues such as the Muhammad cartoons cannot be solved within the dialectic of liberalism; they can only be solved within the moral and political code of a particular culture, meaning that we tolerate that which is compatible with our culture, and do not tolerate that which is incompatible with our culture.]
Why is a liberal society so reluctant to defend its own most cherished values of freedom and tolerance? The answer, I suggest, lies both in the intrinsic nature of liberalism—and also in what I would call our dominant culture of corrupted liberalism, in which true liberal values have actually been turned on their heads.
Corruption of liberal values
Our corrupted liberal culture has torn up the key precepts of liberalism so that it no longer knows what they are, let alone stands ready to defend them to the death. [She says that people should be prepared to die for true liberalism. That is a clear statement that she regards liberalism—not a particular nation or culture—as her highest earthly loyalty.] Authentic liberalism was a doctrine of social progress based on maximising the good in people’s behaviour and minimising the bad. It thus depended upon making moral distinctions between good and bad. [Gosh, according to her, people should be prepared to “die” for the sake of liberal social progress.]
But these distinctions have been destroyed by a combination of hyper-individualism—which grew out of liberalism—and a form of cultural Marxism whose agenda is to destroy liberal values. Between them, these trends tore up the concepts of objectivity, authority and the Judeo-Christian moral codes underpinning western values and substituted emotion, subjectivity, and moral and cultural relativism. [She’s terribly confused. First she upheld liberalism, which she defined as equal respect and tolerance for all, as her guiding value. Now she’s talking about “objectivity, authority and the Judeo-Christian moral codes underpinning western values” as her highest values. But “equal tolerance for all” is incompatible with objectivity and authority and the Judeo-Christian moral code. Objectivity says that some things are true and others aren’t; but such truth may lead you to have more respect for some people than others. Authority says that some statements have higher value than others and certain institutions and persons have more respect in society than others; but this violates Phillips’s Liberal Prime Directive of Equal Respect For All. The Judeo-Christian moral code says that some behaviors are good and some behaviors are abominable; and such judgmentalism violates tolerance.]
All lifestyles were now deemed to have equal status. [Why is she complaining about this? Didn’t she say that she believes in “equal respect for all people”?] Social or moral norms were intolerable because by definition they excluded by those who lay outside them. So normative values were replaced by those of groups hitherto deemed to lie outside them. [But how can you assert “normative values” if you believe in equal respect and tolerance for all people? The normative values of traditional Britain would lead one to have less respect for head-hunters, polytheists, and, yes, Muslims.] Such self-designated ‘victim’ groups became unchallengeable: they could now do no wrong, while the dominant culture could do no right. And ‘universal’ human rights law became the judicial weapon for minorities to overturn the values of the dominant culture.
Under the banner of liberal values, this actually destroyed the core precept of liberalism—the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies. [Well isn’t this funny. She’s complaining about all the things that I said earlier are the inevitable result of her own belief in liberalism as the highest thing. So her entire argument adds up to one giant unprincipled exception. She believes in liberalism, but she’s upset at liberalism when it goes “too far.” But she is unable to draw a principled line between the liberalism she believes in as her highest belief and the liberalism that goes “too far.”] Instead, feelings and emotion became most important. The particulars of a culture were deemed hurtful and thus illegitimate because by definition they divided one culture from another. The nation, rooted as it is in the particulars of history, religion, law, language and tradition, became seen as the cause of all the ills of the world from prejudice to war. And the culture of a nation had to be replaced by multiculturalism.
Many people think multiculturalism just means showing respect and tolerance to other cultures and faiths. If that were so, it should be unarguable. We should all support respect and tolerance. [Notice the knee-jerk liberal formulations, “we should all support respect and tolerance.” Respect for what? Tolerance for what? It is the essence of liberalism that it places a procedure, “tolerance,” over any particular substantive value. If tolerance is the good, then what principle limits tolerance?] But that’s not what multiculturalism is at all. It holds that all minority values must have equal status to those of the majority. [She just said that “we should all support respect and tolerance,” but now she denounces the idea that “all minority values must have equal status to those of the majority.” What is the difference between the two positions?] Any attempt to uphold majority values over minorities is a form of prejudice. [But by her own code of values, isn’t it indeed prejudice to uphold majority values over minorities?] That turns minorities into a cultural battering ram to destroy the very idea of being a majority culture at all. [But why, under liberalism, should there be a majority culture? In her list of the doctrines of liberalism, she pointedly did not include such things as “Britain’s majority culture.” She’s just adding that in now, as an unprincipled exception, meaning a non-liberal value or attitude that is not backed up by an explicit non-liberal principle.] And so, since no culture can assert itself over any other, liberalism cannot assert itself as a dominant cultural force. [That’s right. Liberalism, which believes in equal respect for all things, cannot defend its own existence, since it means we must respect non-liberalism as much as liberalism. The belief in equal respect for all is a principle of self-cancellation. But does she realize this? No. She thinks the nihilism just comes from the bad liberalism.] Instead society must fragment into a kaleidoscope of equal—and opposing—values, and liberal values must give way to their opposite.
That is what happened over the Mohammed cartoons. Freedom of expression is a key liberal precept. But under multiculturalism, that cannot trump a minority faith which holds that to publish these images is to give offence. So the minority wins over the liberal majority value, and Europeans decry not the violence and intimidation, the kidnappings, riots and murder which followed the publication of the cartoons but the offence to minority religious feelings that was given in publishing them.
Multiculturalism has produced furthermore two particularly lethal effects. First, it has left all immigrants abandoned, and none more lethally so than young Muslims. For if there is no longer an overarching culture, there is nothing into which minorities can integrate. [How does she expect there to be an overarching culture. when she makes “equal respect for all people, freedom of conscience, and tolerance,” and not adherence to any particular culture, her highest values?] Many young Muslims in Britain, stranded between the backward Asian village culture of their parents and the drug, alcohol and sex-saturated decadence that passes for western civilisation, are filled with disgust and self-disgust. They are then given, in our multicultural schools and wider culture, absolutely nothing to educate them about or fill them with respect and affection for the western society of which they are citizens.
Indeed, worse than that our schools fail to teach them historical truths. If they were taught the truth about, say, the crusades, slavery or the history of Israel and the Arabs—truths they will never have heard—this might make a huge difference to their attitudes. Instead, their heads are filled with distorted anti-western and anti-British propaganda which only reinforces the lies they are told in the Arab and Muslim world, deepens their feelings of grievance and resentment towards the west and further inflames their hatred of Americans and Jews. They are thus intensely vulnerable to the predatory jihadis recruiting in youth clubs, in prisons and on campus, who promise them self-respect and a purpose to life based on holy war.
Second, and worse still, multiculturalism has reversed the notions of truth and lies, victim and victimiser. Since minorities can do no wrong, they cannot be held responsible for acts such as suicide bombings which must instead be the fault of their victims. This key confusion, which has caused intellectual and moral paralysis in the west, plays directly into the pathological Muslim victim culture which makes dialogue impossible. Because so many Muslims genuinely believe they are under attack by the west, which is a giant conspiracy to destroy Islam. So they perceive their own aggression as legitimate self-defence, and the west’s defence as aggression. [The madness she is describing is the direct result of the liberal belief that society’s highest value must be tolerance and equal respect for all people, a belief that in turn destroys objectivity and authority and the majority culture, leading to an inverted world in which the worse the minorities behave, the more they are celebrated.]
This fundamental untruth has created a dialogue of the demented. Because instead of treating it as the mad discourse that it is and refusing to play along with it, Britain regards it as an extension of its own multicultural, minority rights doctrine which routinely reverses victim and aggressor. So the untruths driving the terror are merely deepened—particularly since the left, which controls British and European culture, demonises America and Israel. So the central Islamist perception of the Big and Little Satan, America and Israel, is echoed in mainstream British discourse where anti-Americanism is rampant and Israel is well on the way to being delegitimised altogether. This acts as an echo chamber for Muslim prejudice, reinforcing it and fueling the sense of paranoia and victimisation. And it has also released the virus of Judeophobia, with claims of a world Jewish conspiracy that are a re-run of the medieval blood libels leading to rising numbers of physical attacks on Jews. Our debased liberalism thus negates the power of reason, the key characteristic of liberal thinking, promotes murderous prejudice and weakens the west in its defence against Islamism by paving the way for its distortions and twisted thinking to take even deeper root.
What are the limits of tolerance?
People say, however, that the only alternative to multiculturalism is intolerance of minority faiths and cultures. This is completely wrong. It is a false antithesis; and it betrays a profound confusion between multiculturalism, which is fundamentally illiberal, and pluralism, which is the essence of a liberal society. Pluralism allows for many different groupings but, unlike multiculturalism, does not try to impose one uniform status on all of them. It allows a thousand flowers to bloom, with minorities forming communities of faith, ethnicity or culture within a society—but under the overarching umbrella of a national identity to whose core values everyone signs up. It is only by having that overarching set of common values—monogamy, freedom of conscience, equal rights for women, freedom of expression—that a society coheres as a common project. And a liberal society is no exception. If a liberal society doesn’t accept a hierarchy of values, that there are core principles which are non-negotiable and to which everyone must sign up, then by definition it can no longer remain a liberal society but must fragment into a kind of Balkanised tribalism in which the strongest groups win through intimidation or force.
[Ok, now, very late in the article (this should have come at the beginning), she is finally starting to pull away from the abyss. She is recognizing, though she doesn’t put it that way, that liberalism cannot be the highest value, that other values, such as nationhood, the majority culture, and monogamy, must precede and limit the liberal values of tolerance and equal respect for all people.]
A liberal, tolerant society—which is what Britain once was—welcomes and respects minorities within the overarching framework of British values. [All right—if British society with its liberalism is to survive, British values must have higher authority than liberal values and place limits on liberal values, though she doesn’t put it in those terms.] These provide a set of cultural norms from which groupings can deviate in their own private space, provided they do not conflict with the core precepts of our society. This is the basis of tolerance—and it has a quid pro quo. Ever since the Enlightenment the deal has been that, while the state makes no demands upon minorities practising their faith and culture in the private sphere, minorities in turn make no demands that the state must either adopt their own practices or turn a blind eye where the conflict is fundamental. Minorities do their own thing, but where their values conflict with the bedrock values of majority culture—freedom of speech, monogamy, women’s rights—they must give way.
[I basically agree with the above, in fact I agree with it more than Phillips herself does. What she’s really saying, though she doesn’t fully acknowledge it, is that true tolerance is only possible on the basis of agreement on some non-liberal norm, such as monogamy. That which is compatible with that norm, we tolerate. That which is incompatible with that norm, we don’t tolerate. Liberalism has nothing to do with such tolerance. Even a non-liberal society tolerates the things that are compatible with itself, and excludes the things that are incompatible with itself. But unfortunately, as we see below, though Phillips has worked her way toward the solution to the liberalism problem, she has not gotten there yet, because she reverts to saying that liberalism itself is sufficient, rather than saying that liberal values must be ordered and limited by non-liberal values in order to be viable and non-destructive. The bottom line is that she refuses to say outright that the values on which both British society and its liberalism depend—such as the primacy of the majority culture, monogamy, and the Judeo-Christian moral code, are non-liberal values. In other words, she implicitly acknowledges that liberalism depends on non-liberalism, but, by conflating the non-liberalism with the liberalism, she maintains the illusion, for her readers and probably for herself as well, that liberalism is self-sufficient. She thus remains deeply confused.]
Most minorities accept this. Many Muslims accept it, and manage to reconcile their faith with acknowledging that sharia law must give way to English law and values. But a third to a half of British Muslims want to live in Britain under sharia law, even though its precepts—such as polygamy, the subordination of women or the death penalty for apostates or gays—are totally inimical to western society. And multiculturalism gives them the muscle to insist that their practices must become mainstream.
This confusion over liberalism and its multicultural antithesis is paralysing our ability to defend our way of life—and also defend those Muslims who need our protection from the Islamist threat to their liberty. In Britain, it has surfaced in controversies over the veil. In one legal case, the courts ruled that a 16 year old pupil had a ‘human right’ to wear the full length jilbab to school, even though the head teacher had banned it on the basis that it would cause other girls at the school to be intimidated and coerced into wearing it and signing up to extremism. And indeed the pupil herself was clearly being manipulated by Islamist groups. This ruling was eventually overturned. More recently, a huge debate erupted over whether Muslim women should be entitled to wear the face-concealing niqab veil in public situations such as consulting a member of Parliament, appearing as a witness in court or teaching children in class. Many thought they should not, and were promptly denounced for religious intolerance. It took Muslims themselves to point out to these muddled multiculturalists that wearing such veils was not a religious requirement at all but a wholly political act, designed to keep women servile, to intimidate the public and to recruit yet more to extremism.
What should be done, and isn’t being done
In the fight to defend the west, true liberals should face down the mind-twisting manipulation and say this: that Muslims are welcome and deserve respect for their way of life, but on the same terms as everyone else. There can be no discrimination, after all, as even multiculturalists must agree. And these are the terms laid down for everyone since the Enlightenment: that minorities are welcome to form communities of faith or culture, but they must accept that where there is a conflict with the host culture, the minority gives way. If they do not accept this but insist that the host society must change to accommodate their values, then they are by definition not moderate but extremists; not citizens but colonisers; not Muslims seeking religious freedom but Islamists seeking to destroy freedom.
And for Islamists there is no room in a liberal society. True liberals never thought they had a duty to accommodate fascism. True liberals always fought it. So must we do with religious fascism. Liberalism separates the religious from the secular; so we too must separate Muslim conscience, which we should respect, from Islamist conquest, which we must resist.
[And what does all this brave talk about “no room for Islamists” mean? She’s said that a third to a half of British Muslims want to live under sharia. Therefore, what? What does she propose to do about the sharia-believing Muslims in Britain and the ones that are still coming into Britain?]
[Also, her recognition that belief in sharia is the problem undercuts her earlier argument that the problem is not Islam, the problem is Islamism which seeks to destroy liberalism. Sharia predated liberalism by a thousand years. Muslims would want sharia whether they were in a liberal society or a totemistic society or an Eskimo society. So the problem is not modern “Islamism,” the problem is Islam.]
In the fight for liberalism, we must not give an inch. We must defend our society in two ways, negative and positive. On the negative side, we must stop Islamists recruiting to extremism and terrorism in our countries. On the positive side, we must staunchly reassert our own values. But we are actually doing neither of these things.
In Britain, despite some welcome success in stopping terror plots, we are doing virtually nothing to stop Islamists recruiting in the mosques, in prisons, in youth clubs and on campus. [She talks about stopping them from recruiting, not about kicking them out of the country. So she doesn’t want to solve the problem, she wants to manage it.] Last January, an undercover TV documentary revealed that certain prominent ‘moderate’ mosques were advocating the murder of homosexuals, the beating of women and hatred of Christians and Jews. Nothing is being done to address this. [What does she propose be done to address it? Note that that in this 3,500 word speech, the word “immigration” does not appear once. To indulge in all this brave talk about not giving an inch to Islamists, and then remain utterly silent about stopping the immigration of Islamists into Britain and kicking out the ones that are there, reveals the same ultimate emptiness in her position that I’ve talked about all along.]
Despite the Prime Minister’s promise to outlaw the radical group Hizb ut Tahrir (which believes that Britain should be an Islamic state), the Government refuses to do so. Yet this group is telling countless British Muslims that it’s their duty to wage holy war, and that Muslims have a duty ‘to be prepared to launch attacks on Britain from within’. [Ok, and what does she propose be done about this enemy terrorist organization and its members? She doesn’t say.]
As for our values, far from reasserting them they are going down like ninepins. While our universities refuse to act against Islamists on campus on the grounds of freedom of expression, Leeds university cancelled a proposed lecture on the links between the Nazis and Islamic antisemitism after protests by two Muslim students. [This is another example, which she doesn’t acknowledge, that the liberal values of freedom of expression must be limited by a non-liberal moral code.] And after students at Cambridge university published a magazine satirising religion and which published one of the images from the Mohammed cartoons, they were disciplined by the university, threatened with prosecution by the police and forced to apologise to Muslims, Christians—and Jews, who hadn’t even been mentioned.
Above all, Britain must not allow the encroachment of sharia. Yet it is paving the way for sharia. There are now areas of the country under the informal parallel jurisdiction of sharia law. A blind eye has been turned to honour killings, forced marriage and polygamy—now polygamous men settling in Britain are even receiving welfare benefits for their multiple wives. We have sharia-compliant mortgages; our tax authorities are considering recognising polygamy for inheritance tax purposes; and the government is encouraging London to become the global hub of Islamic banking, despite the fact that such arrangements will force those who make use of them to conform to sharia law.
The problem is that we seem to suffer from the innate weakness of liberalism while failing to benefit from its strengths. Those strengths lie in its claim to universalism, its governing belief that liberty and equality are the inalienable rights of human beings everywhere. But we don’t uphold this because multiculturalism tells us it’s wrong to impose our standards on those who don’t share them.
At the same time, we have the innate weakness of liberalism in spades. We see everything through the prism of the profound liberal delusion that the world is governed by reason and that all people have goodwill. This means that liberals cannot grasp that some of the things that divide people are insuperable barriers and are not susceptible to reason. They cannot acknowledge the transcendent and irreducible nature of religious fanaticism. They think instead that everything is subject to negotiation and compromise. So their instinct is to reach out to Islamists to reason with them, to draw the poison of this extremism by giving it rewards and inducements that will play to the fanatic’s self-interest and turn him into a pillar of western society. That is why liberals do appeasement; and Britain, the cradle of liberalism, does it better than anyone else.
Liberals also think they are superior in intelligence to everyone else. So they don’t understand that the Islamists are actually playing them for suckers, exploiting the intrinsic weakness of a liberal society they correctly assess as decadent: no longer prepared to fight for its values because it no longer even knows what they are.
What we are living through in the west is nothing short of a repudiation of the Enlightenment, a repudiation of reason; and its substitution by irrationality, obscurantism, bigotry and clerical totalitarianism—all facilitated by our so-called ‘liberal’ society, and all in the name of ‘human rights’. Western liberalism now embraces its Islamist mortal enemies and attacks its American and Israeli allies in the fight to defend civilisation.
We are giving the Islamists the message that we are theirs for the taking. This is how liberalism may disappear up its own backside.
[While I agree with her criticisms of Britain’s suicidal liberalism, Phillips’s fundamental error remains: she thinks that radical liberalism is the problem, and moderate liberalism is the solution. Therefore she cannot articulate a way out of Britain’s existential crisis, because the way out of the crisis requires the adoption of a non-liberal belief system in which non-liberal values would have ultimate priority over liberal values.] <;p>
Dimitri K. writes:
Very funny was to read Phillips’s article with your comments. Her brave speech reads like joke. Of course, I understand that in her place, I would probably say even less, or nothing at all. Maybe it is better to say nothing?
Also, it seems to me that I understand why liberals don’t oppose immigration: their goal is not less than controlling the whole world. Who cares about some small country like Britain, when the whole world is at stake? Our countries are nothing but instruments for winning over the hearts and minds of other peoples, like infantry brigades for General Staff.
Dimitri’s second paragraph is priceless.
Jeff in England writes:
There is no hope for Melanie despite some occasional movement. That’s because she is not really interested in thinking through an issue but rather in giving the appearance (especially to herself) that she is. To think through issues you have to be flexible and be prepared to admit your previous positions may be wrong. And deal with some nasty truths. I don’t think Melanie is capable of that.
To think through issues you have to be prepared to make conclusions which you may feel uncomfortable with. The Suspects simply can’t do this. If they could, they would easily conclude that the present dangers caused by Islamic immigration can only be stopped by stopping Muslims coming here. For the Suspects, down to the last man and woman, they cannot bring themselves to make this obvious conclusion (really a ten year old could make it without trouble). It’s something like finding out a person you thought you loved doesn’t love you but letting the relationship continue because throwing him/her out would be admitting he/she never really loved you.
Deep down it is inconceivable to the Suspects that Muslims don’t love or want to be part of the liberal society which the Suspects believe in (even if they are what is known as conservative). Western arrogance at work one might say. In the genes! Followed by Western self-abasement. In the genes! A sort of S&M on a political scale. Never seeing the other culture or group for what it TRULY is. It can only be a mirror of one’s own views and agendas. But of course the motions are gone through and it seems like Melanie and Spencer and the others are criticising Islam and Muslims. Very impressive words seem to flow from their keyboards. “But the truth was far from that.” Again, it is like a lover calling his/her beloved every bad name under the sun giving the illusion of real antagonism but you know they will end up together again.
The same applies to the immigration issue in general. We see many conservatives coming down hard on “illegal immigration” convinced that they are thinking logically and acting in tough manner. In fact, any sort of logic would show that the real problem is immigration in general and how it is destroying the West. But that would mean admitting that one’s Nation of Immigrants/Melting Pot liberal society was never a real entity. The lover one thought was real was really a projection of one’s imagination.
Haven’t many of us been through that sort of scenario, where our “dream lover” is found not to love us but we can’t admit it? Just as many people refuse to believe that the dream lover doesn’t exist, many Suspects refuse to believe that the Muslims or Western immigrants in general are not what the Suspects would like the Muslims or immigrants to be. Truly to admit this would be catastrophic for the Suspects’ own identity. So they enact a whole scenario of pretense and convince themselves and others that they are dealing with the issue at hand in a firm and logical manner. And we are expected to be impressed by this exercise in pretense. And to keep quiet when we realise that the whole agenda of the Suspects has been a sham.
REVISIONS OF MELANIE
(based on Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna”)
Now little girl lost
She takes herself so seriously.
She brags of Britain’s misery
But still wants to live dangerously.
And when bringing Muslims’ name up
She speaks of a farewell kiss to Western society.
She sure gotta lotta gall
To be so useless and all
Producing no solutions to stall
The Muslim takeover call.
Oh, how can I explain
It’s so hard to read on.
And these Revisions of Melanie
They’ve kept me up past the dawn.
Here is the original stanza:
Now, little boy lost
He takes himself so seriously.
He brags of his misery
He likes to live dangerously.
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me.
He’s sure got a lotta gall
To be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall
While I’m in the hall.
Oh, how can I explain?
It’s so hard to get on.
And these Visions of Johanna
They’ve kept me up past the dawn.
Ben W. writes:
Melanie Phillips writes about liberalism that, “Those strengths lie in its claim to universalism.” Making universalism an attribute of liberalism essentially makes liberalism an absolute. Yet she claims that the Judeo-Christian “code” is a fundamental layer for “true” liberalism. This is a contradiction—either liberalism is universal and absolute or the Judeo-Christian code is. Not both—there cannot be two universalisms—a contradiction in terms.
She also writes, “What we are living through in the west is nothing short of a repudiation of the Enlightenment, a repudiation of reason…” Many analysts in fact see the beginnings of modern irrationalism in the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was itself in many aspects a repudiation of the Judeo-Christian code she refers to as a bedrock of liberalism.
Her universalistic “religion” appears to be a liberal “rationalism” born of the Enlightenment and as such her references to the Judeo-Christian code can’t be taken seriously. Like other liberals, she is parasitically existing off a Judeo-Christian foundation she really doesn’t take seriously.
Stewart W. writes:
I think Jeff is in some ways a bit too hard on the “Usual Suspects,” at least at a personal level. In my observations of people’s political views, it strikes me that, aside from a handful of committed leftists and liberals on one side (professors, journalists, and other basket cases), and an even smaller number of traditionalists on the other, most people have somewhat liberal viewpoints, but with what I call “conservative instincts” beneath, leading them to make the usual array of unprincipled exceptions in their daily lives. I suspect that they are not at all “liberal to the core,” but are rather lost in years of cultural indoctrination and formal education, obscuring their somewhat inchoate “conservative instincts,” which are their true nature.
For many of these people, virtually everything their parents, friends, teachers, and media have ever told them has been liberal, and that is not an easy thing to unlearn. In many ways, the “Usual Suspects” have made it most of the way out of the liberal woods, but just can’t seem to get through to the sunshine.
Of course, as you have pointed out, that doesn’t diminish the damage that they cause, by appearing conservative but not leading people all the way out of the wilderness. It does mean, for me on a personal level, that I feel sympathy for their position and try to work to positively encourage them to finish their journey. It is a fine line for us to examine, expose and deconstruct their remaining liberal beliefs while still trying not to alienate them personally. Not always an easy task.
Ben W. continues:
Islam has claims towards universalism in government, morals, law, social customs and theology. It is universalistic.
Phillips has a concept of liberal society (her brand of universalism) that “includes” Islamic communities and groups. How one universalism can contain and limit another universalism is a problem. She is trying to square a circle. In essence, she is saying that liberal society (an absolute in itself) can effectively and efficiently manage to include and contain another universal structure (with its own absolutes) without conflict.
But two universals (absolute in scope) cannot co-exist unless one of them gives way. Does she expect Islamic communities to relativize themselves and their concepts in giving way to another universalism (liberalism)? That would invalidate their own concepts and raison d’etre. They won’t do it voluntarily without badly rupturing their own religion. Phillips expects Islamic believers to do to themselves what liberal Christians have done to themselves (i.e., relativize their own religious essence).
Christianity is no longer a “universal” in Western society because liberals have turned it into a private confession totally separated from the public arena. She expects the Islamic communities to do the same in Western society—privatize their religion and minimize the universal aspect.
In essence this is the battle happening according to Robert Spencer in Turkey (“Turkish Secularism on the Ropes”):
Ben says: “She is trying to square a circle. In essence, she is saying that liberal society (an absolute in itself) can effectively and efficiently manage to include and contain another universal structure (with its own absolutes) without conflict.”
That is a brilliant statement of the problem. Phillips and all neocons and moderate liberals envision a Western society in which every human culture, religion, ethnicity and race live together, sharing a common liberal culture. They think that just as Protestants, Catholic, and Jews formed a common citizenship and cultural identity in the America and the Britain of the 1950s, the same arrangement can be extended to include every race and religion on earth. As Ben points out, Phillips refuses to recognize the nature of Islam. Islam is an absolute universalism which insists on ruling. To demand that Islam become like Protestantism is to demand that Islam cease to be Islam.
The upshot is that Phillips will keep stating her belief and hope that most Muslims want to be a part of liberal Britain, even as most Muslims know that this is not true. And she will never see the truth, because that would mean admitting that her liberalism is wrong. Despite her repeated feints in the direction of a realistic, non-liberal understanding, she keeps returning to the liberal formulae, her only true language. As proof of what I just said, even at this moment, even as her country is being steadily conquered by Muslims who hate everything Britain is and seek to destroy it, what does Phillips affirm as her credo? “Tolerance! Equal respect for all people!”
So I must conclude (and this is also a regretful reply to Stewart) that Jeff is probably right. Melanie cannot change. She will keep running around in the same circle forever.
A reader who is often critical of VFR writes:
I like your Phillips commentary very much, it’s apt and amusing too. But here is something you may have missed. Read these two paragraphs and feel the contradiction. In the first she says liberalism is strong because of universal belief in liberty and equality for all and in the second she says that we (we liberals) refuse to see that there are people different from us!
“The problem is that we seem to suffer from the innate weakness of liberalism while failing to benefit from its strengths. Those strengths lie in its claim to universalism, its governing belief that liberty and equality are the inalienable rights of human beings everywhere. But we don’t uphold this because multiculturalism tells us it’s wrong to impose our standards on those who don’t share them.
“At the same time, we have the innate weakness of liberalism in spades. We see everything through the prism of the profound liberal delusion that the world is governed by reason and that all people have goodwill. This means that liberals cannot grasp that some of the things that divide people are insuperable barriers and are not susceptible to reason. They cannot acknowledge the transcendent and irreducible nature of religious fanaticism. They think instead that everything is subject to negotiation and compromise. So their instinct is to reach out to Islamists to reason with them, to draw the poison of this extremism by giving it rewards and inducements that will play to the fanatic’s self-interest and turn him into a pillar of western society. That is why liberals do appeasement; and Britain, the cradle of liberalism, does it better than anyone else.”
Yes, she’s tacitly admitting that the very thing that she thinks is true and great about liberalism, its claim to universalism, is the thing that blinds us to the fact that some people are incompatible with us. But she doesn’t acknowledge this contradiction or seek to resolve it. The contradiction she’s pointing to is her own.
In response to what I’ve just said, I think that Phillips might reply that it’s not a contradiction. She would say that if liberals truly believed in the strong part of liberalism (the assertion of universal equality) and insisted that everyone in the society subscribe to it, then the Muslims would reform themselves and become good citizens. Instead, liberals follow the weak part of liberalism, the belief that everyone is the same, and so they keep believing that non-negotiable differences with the Other can be negotiated. But, Phillips would continue, if liberals stopped trying to reason with Muslims and simply imposed liberalism on them (like Bush trying to impose democracy on Iraq), then all would work out.
That, I am guessing, is what Phillips would say is her position. But it won’t fly, because the strength of liberalism that she points to, i.e., its claim to universalism, is inseparable from its weakness, i.e., the inability of liberals to “grasp that some of the things that divide people are insuperable barriers and are not susceptible to reason.”
Don T. writes:
Just came across VFR and am enjoying reading through the articles.
One thought concerning Melanie Phillips and George Bush. They both share the same conviction that Islam can be made to relativize itself (ie. minimize its universalism—as one of your posters wrote) to come under the democatic umbrella. What a fiction!
Steven Warshawsky writes (June 30, 2007):
I have an observation about Phillips’ speech, which I don’t think was addressed in your comments or the reader comments.
Like most “anti-Islamism” liberals, Phillips focuses her criticism almost exclusively on Muslim attitudes towards women, gays, and Jews. In other words, as a good multiculturalist, she primarily is outraged by the fact that Muslims are not multiculturalists. Granted, these are very important issues, and they provide practical grounds for those on the left to make common cause with those on the right in opposing Islamic aggression and creeping dhimmitude.
Still, at least speaking from an American perspective, I disagree that women’s emancipation and toleration towards religious and sexual minorities—as important as these are—is the true heart of our culture or the true foundations of our free society. (After all, there was plenty of “women’s lib” in the former Soviet Union.) The heart of our culture is economic liberty, i.e., capitalism. From economic liberty stems many, albeit not all, of the values and characteristics that we cherish in our nation: self-reliance and rugged individualism, equal opportunity and a fluid class structure, technological innovation and material prosperity, free expression and artistic achievement. And yes, female emancipation.
I also am convinced that there can be no true political liberty where a person’s ability to earn a livelihood and use his talents and resources to promote his own welfare is squelched by the government. Hence, it is no coincidence that colonial America—by the late 18th Century, the society with probably the highest standard of living and largest proportion of independent farmers and craftsmen in the world—rebelled against the “big government” designs of Imperial England, and bequeathed to us a constitutional political structure premised on limited government, equal political rights of citizens, and the widest possible latitude for individual, local, and state action.
Islam as a religous-political doctrine is not compatible with either western-style capitalism or our constitutional political system. This is the real danger. And while the ideology of multiculturalism has clouded our society’s ability to perceive and respond to this danger, I believe it is the steady slide towards socialism that is sapping the resolve of our people to combat this problem with the requisite pride and ferocity. Brtiian, where socialism is much farther advanced than in the United States, correspondingly suffers from an even weaker national will. Indeed, it appears, sadly, that Britain is effectively dead as a great nation. Muslims see this, and are starting to feast on the British corpse. Canada will be next.
However, many, perhaps most, Americans still have the character and fortitude to fight back. Socialism has not yet destroyed us as a people. (Of course, the Democrats keep trying…) That’s why there are almost no pro-jihadist protest marches here by Muslims, like you see in Europe. It’s still too dangerous for Muslims to act openly in violent opposition to American society. Lots of ordinary Americans would relish the opportunity to take a swing, or a shot, at kaffiyeh-clad protesters carrying signs that say “Death to America” and “Behead All Non-Muslims.” But for how long, who knows.
Thucydides writes (July 1, 2007):
I went back to read your excellent post, which I had originally missed, on Melanie Phillips’s “Liberalism versus Islamism.” You are right to focus on the absurdity of her endorsement of the liberal idea of equal respect for all.
Traditionally, we practiced tolerance, where appropriate, but that is no longer much appreciated. Tolerance is the decision to put up with something we do not approve, provided it is not too damaging, in the interests of social harmony. This followed naturally from the idea of human imperfectibility. We should put up to the extent we can with one another’s shortcomings as we all strive for improvement. This does not sit well with liberal utopianism, which assumes all human shortcomings are externally caused and could be easily overcome; only stupidity or malice stand in the way. It is also objectionable because it is judgmental, and judgment implies a definite idea of what is good and what is not, and that violates equality.
Equal respect, which is the modern liberal replacement for tolerance, is very radical; it demands in effect the disestablishment of morality. Any notion of community standards is tossed out. “Disapproval is not allowed,” is an exhortation that appeared on a placard during the 1968 Paris riots. The community (and the government) must be neutral with respect to conceptions of good; otherwise the ideal of equality is brought down.
Now this can quickly lead to preposterous results from which liberals like Melanie Phillips back away (however incoherently), but it is their default position—namely, that all community standards are suspect, and at a minimum have to be rationally justified. Of course, the moral practices of a community cannot, strictly speaking, pass such a test. They are not founded in rationality, but rather derive from the inheritances of the past, often the categorical sources associated with religion. Enlightenment efforts to provide a rational foundation for morality, such as Kantian liberalism or Benthamite—Millian utilitarianism have failed. Even they started with inherited moral values, including marriage and promise keeping.
It might be a beginning on the road returning to sanity to go back to the original idea of tolerance, and start to think about what we can live with, and what we cannot. Phillips’s dilemma is that she is trying to address that question in the context of liberal neutrality, not tolerance, and that is an impossible job. What we can live with (and what we cannot) can only be determined by our shared experience and standards and by some common idea of the good of our culture (however badly these have been eroded by decades of modern liberalism), not by abstract liberal notions of justice or individual rights. The problem cannot be addressed, let alone resolved in the context of liberal neutrality. That is why Phillips falls into such incoherency.
Thanks to Thucydides for the excellent statement. It is remarkable that Phillips, who in some of her writings, especially Londonistan, has sounded a stirringly, even shockingly, traditionalist note, speaking in favor of Britain’s traditional majority culture, its established religion, its Judeo-Christian morality, and its nationhood, then turns around and enunciates as her highest principle the belief in “equal respect for all people,” a left-liberal, “openness-liberal” notion which obviously undermines the ability to defend a particular culture and its standards. (See the first paragraph of this article for an explanation of the difference between natural-rights liberalism and openness liberalism.) She doesn’t see the contradiction, because her m.o. as a writer is to attack bad things, not to think through her own ideas and their premises. So she relentlessly attacks Islamism and the British appeasement of it, but she never questions whether her own position on these things is coherent or even adds up to a position at all.
The upshot is that she is incapable of responding to critical questions. For example, several correspondents have told me that they have asked Phillips why she says nothing about restricting Muslim immigration, and she hasn’t replied. So not only does she say nothing about reducing Muslim immigration, she refuses to say why she says nothing about reducing Muslim immigration. An influential writer who is unwilling or unable to give an account of her position on a key issue (or, in this case, her lack of a position on a key issue) is in a weak position to say the least.
Thucydides’ discussion of the proper meaning of tolerance—“putting up with something we do not approve, provided it is not too damaging”—is very useful. The “not too damaging” implies that there is something particular we believe in that can be damaged, something that places limits on what things can be tolerated. It means we tolerate the things that are compatible with the survival of our society and its standards, and that we don’t tolerate things that are not compatible with the survival of our society and its standards. The things we tolerate don’t have to be completely in conformity with our standards, because then the question of putting up with them wouldn’t arise. They are, in other words, somewhat objectionable, but not fatally objectionable.
We thus arrive at the following classification:
- Things which are in conformity with our culture and its standards.
- Things which are not entirely in conformity with our culture, but which we can tolerate because they don’t threaten our culture.
- Things which contradict and are dangerous to our culture, and which we do not tolerate.
Phillips, as you point out, is obviously trying to think about these things; she recognizes there is a problem with preservation of a valued culture. She is working however, with concepts of conventional liberalism which are completely inadequate to the task of analysis, and which block her from reaching the necessary conclusions. With liberals, everything starts from the false philosophical anthropology which regards humans as inherently good, and therefore morally equal. Starting from a false idea of human nature and of the human condition, it is impossible to reach rational conclusions.
March 27, 2009
In 1938, John Maynard Keynes, himself a famous liberal, looking back on his early attitudes, recognized that excessive expectations of inherent human rationality and failure to allow for fallibility were a problem. He said:
“As a cause and consequence of our general state of mind, we completely misunderstood human nature, including our own. The rationality we attributed to it led to superficiality, not only of thought, but also of feeling.
“I can see us now as water spiders, skimming gracefully, light and reasonable as air, the surface of the stream, without any contact with the eddies and currents underneath.”
Adela G. writes (in a new entry linking this entry, dated March 27, 2009):
You quote Phillips as saying,
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 22, 2007 10:46 PM | Send
“First of all, let me define my terms and say what I mean by Islamism and liberalism. Islamism is the politicised version of Islam which mandates jihad, or holy war against the infidel and conquest of the non-Islamic world for Islam. I’m well aware of the argument that there’s no difference between Islamism and Islam: that’s a theological argument for others to have.”
Right out of the starting gate, the poor thing is crippled by her underlying liberal assumptions. She claims that the argument that there’s no difference between Islamism and Islam is a “theological argument,” rather than more accurately describing it as a “semantic argument.” By using the adjective Islamists themselves would no doubt prefer, since they only occasionally let slip that Islam is anything besides a religion or theology, she subconsciously allies herself with them. Before her discussion even begins, she’s put the West at a disadvantage by granting to Islam a small, but telling, point.
[LA replies: I don’t agree with Adela on this. By describing the argument, “there’s no difference between Islamism and Islam,” as a “theological argument,” Phillips does mean something. She means that the argument is obscure, indeterminate, or practically irrelevant. But of course it is none of those things. Whether Islamism is the same as Islam is both knowable and of the utmost intellectual and practical importance for all critics of Islam. By airily refusing to engage with this issue, she not only declares her incompetence as a participant in the discussion, she indicates bad faith. Her position is dishonest, because, while she says she takes no position on whether Islamism is the same as Islam, in reality, throughout her writings, she insists that Islam itself is ok, that only the extreme forms of it are a problem, and that it’s wrong for Westerners to oppose the spread of Islam as such. (See her exchange with me at VFR in 2006.) Thus she HAS taken a position on the “theological” question of Islamism vs. Islam while denying that she has done so, in order to avoid having to defend the position she has actually taken.]
You then quote her as saying:
These two concepts, Islamism and liberalism, are currently engaged in a fight to the death. My argument is that liberalism is in danger of losing this fight because it has so badly undermined itself and departed from its own core concepts that it is now paralysed by moral and intellectual muddle.
She’s hopelessly crippled—off to the knackers with her! Liberalism is not in danger of losing this fight (between itself and Islam) because it has so badly undermined itself and departed from its own core concepts that it is now paralyzed. On the contrary it is now paralyzed because it has remained so completely, so fully, so truly itself—the same self that she says has at its core “equal respect for all people.” Liberalism is the pacifist who will not raise his hand against his attacker even if such inaction means the forfeiture of his own life. It is not liberalism’s departure from its own core concepts but strict adherence to them that has paralyzed it. In its birth are the seeds of its destruction.
I cannot criticize her for failing to acknowledge her innate liberal bias since she is apparently too blind even to see it, much less recognize it for what it is. But I do not have to take seriously the maunderings of such a unperceptive person, even though I may well take into account any influence that she wields, God forbid.
I couldn’t bring myself to read her argument any further. From the start, it badly, even fatally, undermined itself by so consistently maintaining its underlying, if unacknowledged, core liberal principles.