Saturday, January 2, 2010

Westergaard's Challenge

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Kurt Westergaard is the Danish cartoonish who gained international attention in 2005 for publishing a series of cartoons that insulted the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Not only did the direct attack on the Islam's founding father cause great umbrage among Muslims and the politically correct eveywhere, but it also violated the sacred Muslim precept that prohibited any visual depictions of their holiest prophet. Of course, in a democratic society that values freedom of speech, those restrictions apply only to those who voluntarily choose to be bound by them. The question was whether the Muslim community would recognize this fact.

They did not. As a result of the cartoon, Islamofascists all over the world responded with acts of violence. Fire was set to Danish embassies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran; riots broke out throughout the Muslim world; within seven months of its publication, more than 270 Christians had been murdered by Muslims who targeted them as "religious revenge" (more than half of them in Nigeria alone); and prominent individuals associated with the controversy - from conservative Danish politician Naser Khader to editors of newspapers that printed the cartoon, like Flemming Rose of Jyllands-Posten and Roger Koppel of Die Welt - were targeted for assassination. Westergaard himself, of course, has lived in a state of unending peril since he picked up his pen more than four years ago, a fact reinforced yesterday when a Somali member of al Qaeda armed with a knife and axe broke into Westergaard's home. The Danish journalist's life was spared only by his ability to quickly flee to his panic room and by the effective reaction of the Danish police.

One would expect such an incident to provoke outrage among the liberals for whom freedom of expression is such a core value. For the most part, this is exactly what has happened (although one wouldn't believe it when listening to FoxNews and the Republican National Committee). That said, there have been some unfortunate extremists on the far left who have - in a decision that will have logicians scratching their heads for millennia - thrown their lot in with the Islamofascists. As conservative columnist Jonathan Kay pointed out:

The post-9/11 shotgun marriage between leftists and fundamentalist Muslims has generated some bizarre juxtapositions. At anti-war demonstrations, militant feminists lock arms with women in Burkas. A group called "Queers Against Israeli Apartheid" marches in solidarity with Islamists who regard homosexuals as vermin. And the Socialist Worker (yes, it's still around), recently ran a column urging readers to support the Taliban's fascistic movement because it's "the face of anti-imperialist resistance in Afghanistan."

Sadly, Kay proves unable to overcome his own ideological bias in diagnosing the cause of this toxic alliance - no sooner does he accurately identify the problem than he louses up his own credibility by claiming that it is due to "a shared hatred of capitalism and globalization, and a romantic embrace of any fighting faith - no matter how bigoted or reactionary - that stands in opposition to Western civilization."

Ironically, by assuming that the radical leftists who support Islamofascist goals have an ideologically rational reason for doing so, Kay inadvertantly gives them too much credit. While a comprehensive study on this sub-group of liberal radicals has not yet been conducted, my own extensive interactions with them (having spent three years as an undergraduate at Bard College, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the most left-wing universities in the nation) leads me to a very different conclusion: Without exception, every radical leftist who preaches sympathy with Islamofascists (instead of the abject intellectual and moral contempt they so richly deserve) has at some point let slip to me a belief that I like to call Lahontanian political correctness.

The term "Lahontanian" comes from the Baron de Lahontan, a French travel writer who popularized the idea among certain intellectual elites that non-Western, non-Caucasian cultures were "noble savages" and should be thus universally admired and pitied by white Westerners (this concept is often erroneously attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, although its most ardent exponent was Lahontan and the term "noble savage" was coined by the playwright John Dryden). This concept grew in ideological coin with the rise of political correctness as a societal overreaction to the guilt felt by white Westerners over the moral wrongs of imperialism and racial discrimination. When the two merge, one gets Lahontanian political correctness, which for the sake of making it roll more easily off of the tongue, can be abbreviated to LPC - the idea that any non-Caucasian, non-Western people must be treated with nothing but respect by the white Western world, even when their beliefs and/or actions directly contradict, or become downright dangerous to, the most basic precepts of humanitarianism.

It is this impulse that has caused fueled men like Norman Finkelstein, who sympathizes with Palestinian terrorists over the Israeli Jews they wish to annihilate, and Ward Churchill, who claims that the September 11th attacks were justified retribution for our policies in the Middle East, and Noam Chomsky, who argues that the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia could not have been wrong since the most viable alternative would have been a pro-Western regime propped up by the American government, and the thousands of other radical leftists in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Latin America who agree with them on these and other related issues. It is a worldview that has caused unforgivable moral myopia, such as when the shouts of outrage that ought to be directed at the widespread Muslim oppression of religious minorities, women, and homosexuals (like the recent Pakistani law inflicting capital punishment on homosexuals in that nation) are brought down to a whisper and/or conscientiously qualified, out of fear that assertive and unapologetic denunciations would be viewed as "intolerant". Tragically, it is a philosophy that has caused men like Nadal Malik Hasan, an Islamofascist terrorist, to serve in the military for many years, despite clear signs of his ideological agenda, because higher ranking officers were discouraged from punishing him out of fear that they would be charged with religious discrimination. Thirteen people are now dead as a result of it.

This brings me back to Westergaard. On October 5, 2009 - twelve-and-a-half weeks before yesterday's assassination attempt - the Danish cartoonist was interviewed by Jonathan Kay. In that conversation, he made the following observation about the controversial images he introduced to the world:

"Many of the immigrants who came to Denmark, they had nothing. We gave them everything - money, apartments, their own schools, free university, health care. In return, we asked one thing - respect for democratic values, including free speech. Do they agree? This is my simple test."

I would extend this challenge to everyone who feels that the moral issues surrounding Islamofascist terrorism are anything other than a simple battle between good and evil. Few have claimed that the moral legacy of Western civilization is a perfect one - atrocities from the genocide of Native Americans and imperial subjugation to the Holocaust and persecution of African-Americans are testaments to this which receive (and rightfully so) a great deal of attention. At the same time, Western nations today are among the most politically stable and economically prosperous places in the world (yes, even with our economic recessions and political reactionaries), while the humanitarian values instilled as a matter of course in Western countries have made them by far the freest lands on Earth. When Muslim terrorists oppose the rights of men like Kurt Westergaard to speak as they please, they send the message that the specific beliefs of their faith should trump the Western ideal of free speech. What right do we have to reap the bounties of Westernism, only to side with those whose actions make it clear they wish to tear it down?

This is Westergaard's challenge, and it is one which the left must not fail to meet.

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