Turning liberalism on itself
By Robert Sibley
The Ottawa Citizen
April 24, 2009
Suicide is probably more frequent than murder as the end phase of a civilization.—-James Burnham, Suicide of the West.
As hate-fests go, the United Nations anti-racism conference Durban II in Geneva this week held no surprises. Tinpot politicians ranted against Israel. Terrorist supporters ranted against Israel. European representatives listened meekly to the ranting against Israel. By Tuesday, as Hudson Institute scholar Anne Bayefsky reports, Durban II delegates had rammed through a final declaration reaffirming the declaration of the first anti-racism conference eight years ago that effectively labelled Israel a racist state.
Even the staged walk-out by representatives of 23 European Union countries when Irans president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his we-all-hate-Israel speech was unsurprising. It takes little moral courage or intellectual insight to protest something you knew ahead of time was going to happen. Ahmadinejad made his reputation calling for Israels destruction. He wasnt going to behave differently this time. So why did the Europeans attend in the first place?
To be sure, not all did. Nine western countries Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Australia, the Netherlands and Italy boycotted the conference. In fact, Canada took the lead on this issue. Long before other leaders stepped forward, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would not attend Durban II because it would not lend legitimacy to the event by its presence. The prime minister reiterated his reasoning after Ahmadinejads performance: We are very concerned that, around the world, anti-Semitism is growing in volume and acceptance, justified … by opposition to Israel itself. Canada will not lend its name to an international conference that promotes these kinds of things.
Some will argue it is better to attend in the hope of influencing the course of events and preventing the worst irrationalities. This may work in some cases, but the being-there-is-everything attitude can be counterproductive. When Iran, Libya and Cuba, the three countries particularly active in organizing Durban II, cast themselves as beacons of anti-racism and human rights, and everyone nods politely because they want to be tolerant and co-operative, part of the dialogue, you know the lunatics have grabbed the keys to the asylum.
Durban II was intended as a review and reaffirmation of Durban 1, the 2001 World Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa. The 2001 gathering, which took place on the eve on the Islamist terrorist attacks against the United States, was itself little more than an excuse for Third-World leaders to vent their envy and resentment of the West, with Israel as the focus of hate. This years conference delivered more of the same.
Syrias foreign affairs minister, Faysal Mekdad, denounced the Judaization of Israel, claiming Israeli laws that grant Jews the right to return to Israel are a form of racial discrimination. Palestinian representative Riyad Al-Maliki claimed that Israeli insistence on the Jewish nature of the country was a form of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Why would any self-respecting western nation be part of such a farce? Ahmadinejad and his fellow travellers were able to return home and claim that they struck a blow against Israel while western diplomats cowered before them. Thus, attendance at Geneva gave legitimacy to the anti-Semitism of the Arab-Muslim world by providing an audience. Thus, a conference intended to raise the worlds consciousness about intolerance was little more than a forum for intolerance. Thus, western leaders betray the hard-won ideals of western civilization freedom, rights and tolerance, to name a few in the face of the new barbarism.
Why, you might ask, would western leaders be so nave and foolish?
The answer requires recognizing Durban IIs not-so-hidden agenda. Consider recent statements by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 57-member voting bloc in the UN that directed much of the Durban II agenda, and ensured that Libya chaired the conference. Ihsanoglu has boasted how the riots that erupted in Europe after the publication of Danish cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed were a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed. The West, he said, must look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility. In other words, freedom of speech stops when dealing with Islam, to borrow an observation from Ed Royce, an American congressman.
Anne Bayefsky argues that Durban II is part of the effort by Islamic states to push UN members to adopt laws that would protect the right of Muslims to not have their religious sensibilities offended. According to Bayefsky, the Durban II draft outcome document calls on UN members to take firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols.
In other words, democratic principles of free speech would be circumscribed in order to prevent criticism of the Prophet or questioning of the Koran. This boils down to using the excuse of Islamophobia to undermine the essential principles of the liberal West and, thereby, foster the spread of Islam.
Its a neat trick: using concepts of human rights a solely western concept to suppress those who say things Muslims dont like. As sociologist Rael Jean Isaac observes, Any suggestion that Islam or Muslims have anything to do with terrorism is attacked as xenophobia.
Dont think such tactics would never be accepted in a liberal democracy. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has already succeeded in having the UNs Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly adopt resolutions combating defamation of religion.
The resolutions might be non-binding, but, as Isaac notes, countries tempted to adopt blasphemy laws to appease a Muslim minority now have a UN endorsement on their side. In Canada, we already have the examples of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, both of whom were persecuted for publishing material that some Muslims deemed offensive.
There is much irony in this situation. Muslim states, few with a tradition of human rights or free speech, draw on western ideals of rights and individual dignity to promote cultural practices that are, in many cases, contrary to liberal principles.
The reason western governments tolerate such incoherence can be found in what political theorist James Piereson has called punitive liberalism. Guilt and liberalism go hand-in-hand, Piereson says. Contemporary western liberals might be convinced of their moral superiority they know what is best for the world but they suffer a deep sense of guilt. Unlike previous generations of liberals, todays decadent liberals no longer believe in the primacy of freedom. Nor do they regard liberalism as a fighting creed.
Instead, they indulge in high-minded dreams for improving the world that ignore geopolitical realities. This dream is rooted in guilt, Piereson argues. Liberals look at the sad state of the non-western world, compare it to the affluent societies of Europe and North America, and, well, feel guilty.
According to the doctrine of punitive liberalism, the West is guilty of endless historical misdeeds slavery, imperialism, war, genocide, capitalism, environmental destruction, male aggressiveness, etc. and, therefore, deserves chastisement. For the effete liberal, this means apologizing for the actions of ancestors, making reparations for past conduct and endless abasement to historys perceived victims namely, anyone who isnt white or male or Christian.
No one denies the West has a dark side to its history, but perhaps we should remember that moral horrors are not limited to western civilization. Arab countries continued the slave trade long after it was outlawed in the British Empire in 1883. Even today Africans enslave other Africans as child soldiers.
Why doesnt the Muslim world condemn those Afghan men who stoned Afghan women during rally for womens rights? What about the killing in Darfur, the ethnic slaughter in the Congo or Robert Mugabes withholding of food from Zimbabweans who dont support his dictatorship? Did anyone raise these human rights violations at Durban II?
It is well to remember that it was western ideas about freedom and the sanctity of the individual that gave birth to concepts of rights and freedoms that the non-western world now pretends to adopt. By contrast, the writings of Islamist intellectuals Hasan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Ayatollah Khomeini, for example refer to a worldwide totalitarian theocratic order. It is these ideas that Ahmadinejad and his Islamist supporters feed on in their denunciations of Israel.
But Israel isnt the ultimate source of their hatred. Israel has nothing to do with Pakistani mullahs lashing a young girl for violating Shariah law. Israels existence has nothing to do with Afghan men throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls. Even if Israel didnt exist, the Islamists would still hate the West.
That so many western leaders remain unwilling to accept this reality, preferring to wallow in their western guilt syndrome, is dangerous. Political philosopher James Burnham explained why in his classic study, Suicide of the West: For Western civilization in the present condition of the world, the most important practical consequence of the guilt encysted in the liberal ideology and psyche is this: that the liberal, and the group, nation or civilization infected by liberal doctrines and values, are morally disarmed before those whom the liberal regards as less well off than himself.
Decadent liberals need to learn that when someone says they hate you, believe them. Tolerance of the intolerant is suicidal
Robert Sibley is a senior writer with the Citizen. His blog, Ideas & Consequences, can be read at ottawacitizen.com/blogs.