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Nick Cohen on Ian Buruma’s “Murder in Amsterdam”

Buruma shows that Muslim immigration pushed the fantastically vituperative van Gogh and at least a part of the Dutch left into the appalled realisation that they were going to have to fight the old battles for free speech and the emancipation of women and homosexuals all over again. Interestingly, given his anti-fascist pedigree, Buruma won’t go along with them. He doesn’t quite say it, but he implies that it is one thing to make a stand against the ayatollahs’ Iran or al-Qaeda in the Middle East, and quite another to take on the same ideas at home when they are found in a minority community that is already vulnerable and often powerless.

This insight gets to the heart of our current dilemma. Suppose there had been one million Germans in Britain in the 1930s, most of them at the bottom of the heap and all of them the potential victims of racism. Suppose only a few were actual Nazis, but many others either sympathised vaguely with Hitler’s demands that the punitive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles be lifted or were pushed back into a German identity by the constant harping of the rest of society on the Nazi menace. The liberal left of the day would have feared inciting racism if they joined the chorus, and found it far harder to oppose Hitler consistently.

Anxiety about causing offence, however, brings with it the danger of creating an imaginary, communalist bloc – the Muslims, in our case – and betraying the very people who have most right to expect your support.

For all his subtlety and seriousness, Buruma falls into the trap and is uncomfortable with brown-skinned people who take ideas of human freedom too literally.

Read the rest here.

I don’t think that any particular religion gives rise to any particular politics. That is, the texts are capable of inspiring, and being co-opted, by a variety of different types of political and social movements: flavoured but not directed by the content of those religious texts. We’re guilty of spectacular backwards reasoning, when we look at jihadism and Islamist politics, and assume that this is the only, and inevitable product of Islam. The mere fact that an absolutist movement takes on certain features of a religion doesn’t mean that the religion can only ever produce absolutism.

That is not to say, of course, that there isn’t an extremely close organisational and philosophical link between theologians from the salafist, Madwudist and Qutb-Bannaist traditions, and Islamist politics. Its just that it isn’t inevitable.

The SWP strand of left thinking recognises this, and thinks that it will co-opt Islamism to its own project. But it won’t:

– in part because it is competing, ideologically, for the same turf, but because it refuses to challenge Islamism explicitly;

– and in part, because the SWP’s brand of revolutionary socialism is a busted flush, with no appeal to it. It exists as a parasitic party, feasting on the anger of its falangist allies.

The challenge for the progressive left – and indeed the progressive right – is to develop a proud and self confident alternative to Islamism, which will do two things. First, we need to wins the argument for pluralism, mutual interdepence, and liberty. Secondly, we need to have a little pride in ourselves: after all, why would you want to join the side which hates itself?

This should not be an impossible task. We have intellectual, moral and material wealth. It is good to be British, to live in the West, to be free. We should not be shy of preaching these virtues.

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