Following recent events in Paris, huge crowds joined a rally in the French capital to…do what exactly? To pledge their support for free speech? To show solidarity with the Jewish people? Or simply to express their horror at such depravity? Are they calling for change, beyond an end to the killing? If so, how many of their cosy assumptions are they willing to sacrifice to put things right?
The murdered journalists and illustrators of Charlie Hebdo were not conventional victims, in the sense of being members of a designated identity group. Nor were they friends of the modern Left, in that they scorned liberal poseurs with a penchant for censorship. They could be rude and puerile, but they understood that the right to free speech trumps the ‘right’ not to be offended.
Freedom is a tricky concept for a people accustomed to thinking of it as a bully’s charter and trading it for the empty promise of security. In an age of clicktivism and Big Government, doing the right thing is not a question of exercising your autonomy; it’s about big, dumb public gestures that we can applaud or decry to register our moral worth.
In such a climate, freedom doesn’t count for much, because it’s irrelevant to conspicuous acts of compassion that everyone can get behind. Nowadays, there’s little kudos to be won from defending the right to disparage others, but there’s plenty to be had from calling for the disparagers to be silenced. The good guys are no longer those who defend your right to speak your mind, but those who want to stop you calling a spade a spade – even if it’s being used to bash your head in.
For the time being, the hashtag activists are behind the champions of free speech, but if you’re looking for long-term commitment, don’t hold your breath. After all, these are many of the same bozos who were tweeting their support for Gaza a few months back, so it’s hard to take their sudden concern for the Jews and liberty-lovers of Paris too seriously. As soon as they are asked to choose between freedom and their cherished worldview, they’ll revert to playing George to the racist mob’s dragon.
Contrary to what they may think, freedom is not a racket that lets the strong exploit the weak; it’s what enables people to learn the practices instrumental to a tolerable way of life. Without being at liberty to determine what works and what doesn’t, to thrash out ideas and discover new ways of doing things, we would be at the mercy of zealots. Which is increasingly the case today.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, either. The maniacs de jour are not rebels without a cause, they’re Islamists. Whether it’s Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, or any of those so-called lone wolves, they’re all killing in the name of Allah. It doesn’t matter if bien-pensants reckon these savages are not real Muslims. The bad guys think they are and can find enough inflammatory text in the Koran to pass themselves off as a holy crusaders.
The Islamic faith is not taken as a call to arms by all its followers, of course, but when anyone claims that it’s a religion of peace, they sound like those old communists who insisted the atrocities of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with Marx’s teachings. Just as the genial lefty next door was never the proper yardstick of communism, so moderate Muslims are not the measure of Islam. It’s the extremists that matter, and how easily their scriptures can be turned to evil.
Only moderate Muslims can prevent themselves from being tarred with the same brush as extremists, by speaking out against the horrors committed in the name of their religion and demonstrating their commitment to liberal democratic values. Because God knows that all the excuse-making and blind-eye-turning by non-Muslims hasn’t helped matters.
And don’t believe for a moment the argument that if we only kept our heads down and left these people alone, they’d stop trying to kill us. As long as we aren’t animated by their resentment, as long as we want to be free, and as long as our achievements make theirs look small by comparison, they will come looking for us.
Even if this is about a minority of crackpots staining the good name of Islam, it still demonstrates the effect of cultural values in the real world, and why we must be free to discriminate between them. Multiculturalism is abhorrent because it seeks to deny us this freedom and insists that we don’t take sides in a clash between incompatible cultures. It pretends that peace and security exist as facts of nature, so we can afford to tolerate a few colourful types cocking a snook at our way of life.
This philosophy persists as part of the dominant progressive ideology, which says that no set of qualities is more conducive to a better world than any other. But this is a lie. The truth is that you can either have a civilised society that upholds core Western values and denounces those opposed to them, or you can have a multicultural society, complete with censorship, creeping sharia law and Islamic terror on your doorstep.
If we’re serious about turning the tide, we have to recognise that the credo of the Left, with its contempt for Western values, its antipathy to freedom and its emphasis on non-judgmentalism, is hindering our response to terror. All cultures are not equal. One that murders non-believers, despises freedom of expression, and violently oppresses women and homosexuals is not equal to what we are striving for in the West.
We must ignore the malcontents and declare that our values, our achievements and our way of life are better than our enemies. Those who think otherwise shouldn’t be silenced or forced to join in with what they can reasonably opt out of; but neither should they be appeased. If they choose to put their faith first, they mustn’t expect society to bend to their will, to refrain from offending them, or to exempt them from the rule law.
The law can be an ass, of course, so this isn’t simply about everyone staying on its right side. Ideologues will always rewrite the statute book until it reads like their personal Bible, so laws should be limited to upholding the basic principles that have proved useful to maintaining civilised order.
That’s what freedom is about and is why it safeguards us against bad people and bad faith, even if it permits behaviour that leaves some people feeling hurt or humiliated. If it is no longer possible to speak out against our enemies or to oppose the delusions they hide behind, the battle is already lost.