Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Good Start

My own test for spotting a phoney liberal is as follows. If you think Bush is a fascist and Castro is a progressive, you are not a democrat. If you think cultural traditions can trump women’s rights, you are not a feminist. And if you think antisemitic rants are simply an expression of frustration with American and Israeli policy, you have learnt nothing from history.

Sarah Baxter, who goes on with:

It is no longer possible to tell at a glance which side people are on. My husband, a photographer, has long hair and wears T-shirts and cargo pants. We live in stuffy Washington, where almost everybody wears a suit and tie but secretly longs to be artistic and hip. On the school run, nice lawyers confide to him that they hate George Bush, despise the Iraq war and are not as reactionary as they look. They are completely thrown if he tells them he dislikes Islamo-fascism more than Bush, is glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein, supports Nato against the Taliban and thinks the Iranian mullahs should never be trusted with a nuclear bomb. He considers himself an antifascist who believes in the secular values of the Enlightenment and human rights. There is nothing radical about being tolerant of the intolerant, he says.

While you're at it, check out Emily Hill on Martin Amis, who features in Baxter's piece. Hill would pass Baxter's test for a genuine liberal, I suspect. She has her blind spots: Islamic zealots were "nurtured" by the West "as a counterweight to genuinely secular and anti-imperialist mass movements" -- genuinely run by the Soviet Union. Often writers from her perspective find it convenient to forget there ever was a Cold War. The U.S. made its bad choices during that war, but they were not unforced errors.

Yet she can see something:

Put your hands up, said Amis, if you think you are morally superior to the Taliban. When a minority of the audience did so, Amis muttered: ‘About 30 per cent…’ His implication is that, in our current relativistic climate, it is taboo to assert your superiority to anything – even the Taliban. Anyone who values freedom, Amis says, should have a problem with Islamism. He graphically went through some of the feudal punishments that the Taliban metes out to women who step out of line. ‘We’re in a pious paralysis when we can’t say we’re morally superior to the Taliban’, he said. His attack on cultural relativism is welcome, and it certainly exposed moral sheepishness amongst the assembled at the ICA. But I couldn’t help thinking: is that it? Is that what it means to be ‘Enlightened’ and principled today – to be Not-The-Taliban?

There's enough shared reality in that that I can talk to that person and be confident we're using the same words to mean the same things, mostly.

Labels: ,