“Liberals in Western politics,” wrote the feminist political activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her essay ‘Breaking Through the Islamic Curtain’, “have the strange habit of blaming themselves for the world’s ills, while seeing the rest of the world as victims. To them, victims are to be pitied, and they lump together all pitiable and suppressed people, including Muslims, and consider them good people who should be supported and cherished so that they can overcome their disadvantages.”
It would be difficult to imagine a better statement of the liberal/left-wing position in the last ten years than that. In short, left-wing explanations of the hijackers’ actions on September 11, 2001 stated that the United States “had it coming” on account of its “refusal to listen to what the ‘terrorists’ have to say.” Left-wing perspectives on the war in Iraq did not support the fascistic, sadistic Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein, but they certainly did not oppose it. Left-wing criticism of the conflict in Afghanistan, and left-wing support for Palestine, appear uncomfortable with the recognition that Islamist regimes, such as the Taliban and Hamas, show a murderous hatred not only for the West but also for their own populations. In his book The Second Plane, Martin Amis aptly described Islamist organisations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban as “anti-liberal, anti-individualist, anti-democratic, anti-rational… cults of death.” It must be asked: what could possibly be more of an insult to the left-wing than the abject failure to oppose ideologies which call for the conversion, or else the death, of non-believers?
Multiculturalism provides us with only a superficial degree of comfort. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out, “multiculturalists take no heed of the private lives of the cultures they are defending.” The assumption of the equal worth of, in this case, Islamist cultures must seem spurious to anyone of sound mind. Women are excluded from education after the age of eight, forbidden to show their face, forbidden to speak above a particular volume, forbidden from appearing in public without male accompaniment, forbidden from public gatherings, subjected to rape and violence - enshrined in law - and routinely executed even for minor disobedience. This, of course, has no justification more solid than faith.
Martin Amis addressed an audience in London two years ago. “Raise your hand,” he asked, “if you consider yourself morally superior to the Taliban.” Two thirds of his audience declined to do so, in a sweeping victory, it appeared, of cultural relativism over elementary principle.
The conditions described above are true of the recent Taliban rule in Afghanistan. In over thirty other countries, however, girls are also circumcised as a means of safeguarding their virginity. In case the word “circumcision” should fail to be entirely understood, I am compelled to include Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s own description of the process.
“[It] involves the cutting away of the girl’s clitoris, the outer and inner labia, as well as the scraping of the walls of her vagina with a sharp object - a fragment of glass, a razor blade, or a potato knife, and then the binding together of her legs, so that the walls of the vagina can grow together.” The results of this practise frequently include infections and severe childbirth complications later in life, not to mention deaths.
If you asked me to identify a movement which might encourage me not to oppose, but to understand, and even respect, cultures which inflict such horrific treatment upon thousands of women on a daily basis, I might expect it of the ultra-right fundamentalist imams within the countries in question. I would not expect it of the left-wing of our own society. I would certainly not expect it of one of our society’s most outspoken feminist thinkers, Germaine Greer. Yet Greer, in The Whole Woman, defended the mutilation of female genitalia, arguing for its status as an element of the cultural identity of many women in the Islamic world. The emptiness of cultural relativism is laid bare when the oppression of women finds little in the way of opposition, and Western feminists write in conciliatory terms of women in overtly patriarchal cultures tearing and sewing up other women’s genitals.
As Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated, the principle of blaming Western society for the world’s ills is ignorant. It can also exhibit a genuine bigotry. Nick Cohen asks a vital question in his book What’s Left? “Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal-left?”
The signs held aloft at various left-wing demonstrations around the United Kingdom will be recognised by many from London to Edinburgh, including Norwich: “Free Palestine” and “Boycott Israeli Goods”. It seems such a simple position. In taking the side of Palestine in a lengthy and bloody conflict, though, Cohen conducts a terse examination of what left-wing campaigners appear to ignore. He points out that Islamist ideologies which oppose the West, including that of Palestine’s Hamas organisation, are rooted in anti-Semitism. The idea of a Jewish plot to conquer the world has been around for two centuries now. Its most significant text, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was an enormous influence on the Nazis. It is now an enormous influence on Islamist ideologies. In Egypt, Iran and Syria, television documentaries on the Protocols have been broadcast, treating them as fact. In Saudi Arabia, the text is on the school syllabus. In Palestine itself, the constitution of Hamas states that:
“With their money [the Jews] were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonise many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.”
Anti-Semitism in the constitution of Hamas (who are also, by the bye, outspoken Holocaust deniers) goes beyond the natural distrust and disapproval of a settlement of Jewish refugees. It is fascism, direct from the Nazis who flooded the Middle East with propaganda in the 1940s. Left-wing refusal to condemn anti-Semitic fascism, and uncritical support for its causes, is ignorant at best and a scandalous insult to the left-wing at worst. We would do well to think in greater depth about the causes we support, and to be wary of the dismal pitfall of regarding the Muslim world as the oppressed, when they have been quite capable of acting as oppressors for generations. It would be lovely to have a left-wing that declared: “I am a left-winger, and I oppose misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying, murderous societies. It was wrong of me to support them.”
What’s Left? - Nick Cohen
The Caged Virgin - Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Second Plane - Martin Amis