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Should We Talk Down to Muslims? Of Course Not.

If Nick Cohen sounds like he's on autopilot in this recent Comment is Free piece, it might be because the forces he's railing against are too. If your adversary repeatedly swings at you from the left, it's best to keep … Read More

By / December 5, 2007

If Nick Cohen sounds like he's on autopilot in this recent Comment is Free piece, it might be because the forces he's railing against are too. If your adversary repeatedly swings at you from the left, it's best to keep repeatedly blocking from the left. You'd think more liberals would welcome him after having witnessed so many of the disastrous consequences of the George W. right hook against radical Islam. But that's Cohen's point–he's speaking to and about those who don't intone any desire for a leftist ally against reactionaries, since they don't feel any troubling disparity between their notions of social justice and those of jihadis. The aesthetic appeal of radical sounding arguments and their simulacra of intrigue can be dangerous and it takes somebody like Cohen to keep reminding us, every time a Garton Ash has an exchange with a Hirsi Ali, or an Amis with an Eagleton, we need to keep our ears open because these encounters will tell us where we stand in our ongoing quest for enlightenment, truth, justice and all the other things you aren't supposed to say without a wink of irony or a couched disposition. And if every single time these exchanges go down, some decorated posterchild for liberalism again reveals their lack of distaste for reactionary, violent extremist religious cults, somebody must keep saying so. The issue Cohen raises here is of interest in particular because of the question regarding over whom, how much, and whether Hirsi Ali has any influence given what some perceive to be her brashness, disrespect, and inflexibility.

"…he stuck to the argument that there was no point in liberals treating her as a heroine because her abandonment of Islam and embrace of atheism meant her arguments carried no weight with Muslims. Instead he told us to encourage those Muslims who reject the stoning of women because they dispute its scriptural authority. Religious debates about whether the Prophet Muhammad really approved of stoning may be 'gobbledegook', but, he cried, 'We must support gobbledegook that is compatible with liberal democracy."

Ash sounds like he knows his Enlightenment history well, the story of how God was removed from politics in the language of Christian scripture. But to listen to him you'd gather that nobody needs a Voltaire just as long as there are Lockes and Rousseaus. I'd beg to differ. Do the multiculturalists really want to say that Muslims only understand the language of religious doublespeak (sometimes referred to a liberal theology)? Have folks like Ash forgotten what religious inculcation is for children? A rigorous program of deflecting and redirecting their rational questions about the belief system into which they are being initiated. In other words, most kids know its silly from the get-go. "Enlightenment fundamentalists" are forcefully reasserting something almost all religious people knew as children and still intuit deep down–that it really is a big scam. For some, this loud affirmation of their doubts will be precisely what is needed to free them from the superstitions that enslave them. Of course there is a link between Hirsi Ali's courage and her transformation. It requires more guts to reject outright the cherished illusions of your culture and family. One can expect those who do so to be equally as courageous when enter the public sphere, equally demanding of the recognition of truth and the rejection of ' gobbledegook' at whatever cost.

In a perfect world, more tongues than you could count would be angrily flapping upon hearing that a respected man of avowed liberal persuasion spoke out in defense of gobbledegook. Kids know better. If anybody deserves condescension at this point in the game, it's precisely those who are currently doling it out.

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