James Taranto, liberal know-nothing on Islam

I stopped reading James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” column in September 2006 after he approvingly linked Ralph Peters’s characterization of the leading Islam critics as would-be mass murdering Nazis and subsequently refused to issue a correction after I wrote to him about it. Now Taranto turns his gaze on Geert Wilders. Most of the article is a long, tiresome rehash. He gets to his substance at the end, where he shows himself to be a writer unable and unwilling to grapple with an intellectual argument that doesn’t fit his liberal universalist conceptions:

Mr. Wilders’s views on Islam, though, are problematic. Since 9/11, American political leaders have struggled with the question of how to describe the ideology of the enemy without making enemies of the world’s billion or so Muslims. The various terms they have tried—“Islamic extremism,” “Islamism,” “Islamofascism”—have fallen short of both clarity and melioration. Melioration is not Mr. Wilders’s highest priority, and to him the truth couldn’t be clearer: The problem is Islam itself. “I see Islam more as an ideology than as a religion,” he explains.

His own view of Islam is a fundamentalist one: “According to the Quran, there are no moderate Muslims. It’s not Geert Wilders who’s saying that, it’s the Quran … saying that. It’s many imams in the world who decide that. It’s the people themselves who speak about it and talk about the terrible things—the genital mutilation, the honor killings. This is all not Geert Wilders, but those imams themselves who say this is the best way of Islam.”

Yet he insists that his antagonism toward Islam reflects no antipathy toward Muslims: “I make a distinction between the ideology … and the people…. There are people who call themselves Muslims and don’t subscribe to the full part of the Quran. And those people, of course, we should invest [in], we should talk to.” He says he would end Muslim immigration to the Netherlands but work to assimilate those already there.

His idea of how to do so, however, seems unlikely to win many converts: “You have to give up this stupid, fascist book”—the Quran. “This is what you have to do. You have to give up that book.”

Mr. Wilders is right to call for a vigilant defense of liberal principles. A society has a right, indeed a duty, to require that religious minorities comply with secular rules of civilized behavior. But to demand that they renounce their religious identity and holy books is itself an affront to liberal principles.

Notice how Taranto segues directly from quoting Wilder’s remark that what he, Wilders, says about Islam is not his invention, it’s what Muslims themselves say about Islam, to Taranto’s response: “Yet [Wilders] insists that his antagonism toward Islam reflects no antipathy toward Muslims.” But Wilders was not expressing antipathy toward Islam, he was making assertions about Islam that are arguably true. Taranto neither accepts their truth, nor denies their truth. He simply translates Wilder’s arguably true assertion about Islam into Wilder’s “antagonism” toward Islam. Taranto thus shows himself to be liberal know-nothing who refuses to discuss the possibility that Islam is indeed what its critics and its believers say it is.

Revealingly, in Ralph Peters’s demented September 2006 column attacking the Islam critics, quoted and analyzed by me here, he repeatedly engaged in exactly the same characterization of a rational argument as bigotry as Taranto has done. For example, Peters wrote:

Web sites list no end of extracts from historical documents and Islamic jurisprudence “proving” that holy war against Christians and Jews is the alpha and omega of the Muslim faith. The message between the lines: Muslims are Untermenschen.

Notice how Peters segues directly from his accurate summary of the arguably true statements of the Islam critics that holy war against unbelievers is the alpha and omega of the Muslims faith, to his response, “The message between the lines: Muslims are Untermenschen.” Exactly like Taranto, Peters doesn’t stop to ask if the critics’ statements about the centrality of holy war in Islam are true or false. He simply says that such statements about Islam express evil hatred of Muslims and the desire to exterminate them. Peters thus shows himself to be liberal know-nothing who refuses to discuss the possibility that Islam is indeed what its critics and its believers say it is.

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Ron L. writes:

James Taranto is worse than your comments suggest. As a liberal, he is unable to ask the simple question whether the West can tolerate a religion that is not only illiberal, but seeks our conquest. He cannot acknowledge the goal of conquest, so he blames Wilder’s intolerance for acknowledging it. It follows that he is unable to see the problem with the Muslim equivalent of Mensheviks, who seek peaceful and even democratic Islamization as opposed to the Muslim Bolsheviks, who seek conquest or terrorizing into submission. Finally, as a liberal, Taranto cannot understand that a Muslim Europe can no longer be European any more than Muslim Anatolia is the Byzantine Empire.

LA replies:

Yes. If an intelligent, serious, and politically prominent person states that religious group X is commanded by its religion to seek to conquer our society, doesn’t it at least behoove Taranto to state an opinion as to whether or not he agrees with that assertion? But he doesn’t do that. He doesn’t say that Wilders is wrong, or right. He simply translates Wilder’s warning about Islam into an assumed “antagonism” against Muslims. He refuses to consider whether the statement that Islam seeks to conquer non-Muslim societies is true or false.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 01, 2008 03:29 PM | Send

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