The Painful Paradoxes of the Left: Stupefaction, Round 242,469

December 07, 2012   Richard Landes 
I just recently attended a conference in London on Anti-Semitism (see here for the talk I gave). I spoke on a panel with Bat Ye’or, and we both talked about the role of anti-Semitism in global Jihad, she in terms of its place in the Jihadi discourse, me in terms of the way that European/Western tolerance if not encouragement of it among Muslims (they drink wine while keeping an open bar of high grain alcohol for the Islamists), is actually one of the West’s greatest vulnerabilities in the Jihad against them (Anti-Zionism as the soft underbelly of the West in Jihadi cognitive warfare).

The first question was posed by a young man from the CST (who later spoke), pointing out that in Hamden there are dozens (he actually ticked off specific numbers suggesting this was something of a shtick) of kosher butchers, Jewish stores, synagogues, etc., and no one is talking about Halacha zones and the Jewish take-over of London, so why talk about Sharia zones and the Muslim take-over. He more or less repeated verbatim the classic trope: “we didn’t like it when they said it about us (Protocols), so we shouldn’t say it about them,” as if it didn’t matter that we Jews had no intention of enslaving mankind, and the Islamists openly declare their desire. He also chided me and Bat-Ye’or for our “essentialising” Muslims.
I admit to a certain surprise. I didn’t expect to deal with people in such denial at such an event. But when a number of people murmured their assent to his challenge, I realized it was important to respond.
My answer to him was necessarily short, an abbreviation of the discussion here. But I’ll take advantage of this post to go farther. This is a really good example of how political correctness lands us on rekaB street. Numbers don’t matter; intent doesn’t matter; the impact on the sociability of the neighborhood (e.g., what happens to women who don’t cover their hair in Hamden vs. Tower Hamlets) doesn’t matter. I’ve got my parallels, no matter how superficial, to hell with the rest of the evidence. Any undergraduate in history making such an analogy about a (non-charged topic) would fail.
But because making this point feels good, because it makes it possible to dismiss uncomfortable warnings about nefarious doings, because it permits us to close the fairy tale book with the comforting thought that the monsters in the closet are just our imagination, it satisfies its speaker and (apparently) many of his listeners.
But this exchange was only warm-up for what happened subsequently. In the second panel, Manfred Gerstenfeld, a man who has no patience for what he terms “verbal vegetarians” spoke rather bluntly about the problem of Muslims in Europe. (Apparently one of the cardinal sins that Gerstenfeld, Bat-Ye’or and I committed was referring too often to Muslims, not Islamists. This is crucial, and as one of the group objecting made clear later on, the Islamists are a “tiny minority” and “the vast majority are moderate.” So even considering the two as part of the same population — as in “anti-Semitism among Muslims” — is an insult to Muslims despite polls indicating a majority of European Muslims share these prejudices against Jews.)
In any case, while having a PPP slide up that referred to Muslim criminality (i.e. the high percentage of violent crimes and rape among Muslims in European countries), Gerstenfeld stated that, around the world today, Islamic culture is “inferior” to Western culture. At this point, about six people got up and walked out, and one of them stated loudly that they were walking out as a protest. I went outside to find out what they were thinking, and heard the following remarks: “You can’t say that!” (referring to the inferiority of Muslim culture today around the world). And, of course, “essentialising” (British spelling) came up repeatedly.
“But,” I responded, “what if the generalizations that Gerstenfeld made are true?”
“No,” I was informed, ” they’re not true, and he repeatedly said he had no evidence.” (Actually he said, “I have no time to give the evidence.” I know Gerstenfeld too well to think he’d say anything without empirical evidence.) Again: “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!”
Now there is a depressing and pungent irony here that completely escaped those who walked out. In so doing, they illustrated Manfred’s point. As Manfred explained: by our standards, Islam is an inferior culture; were we to treat Muslims the way they treat infidels the world over, we would consider that our culture had failed to live up to its standards. Specifically on the issue of speech, these people were insisting that (even if it’s true) it’s just unacceptable to make negative generalizations about another group.
Now by that standard, the Muslim “public sphere” – newspapers, books, radio, TV, sermons in Mosques – resounds with the most horrendous demonization, not just of Jews (the subject of our symposium), but Christians, other infidels, heretics, apostates, even other Muslims. This isn’t to say that every Muslim, or even most Muslims are like this, but Gerstenfeld’s point was about culture, about the tone that’s set in a society. And while I tend to focus on the elites, the sad truth is that in matters of honor-killing and various other forms of violence designed to preserve or restore honor, current Arab culture is, by modern civic standards – a fortiori by progressive standards — woefully base.
So when the delegation of indignant liberals stormed out of the room and audibly sought to humiliate the speaker, they illustrated the speaker’s point. They have a very high standard. And it’s not something with much of a footprint in the culture whose honor they were protecting from the speaker’s blunt assessment of reality.
What’s interesting here is a further issue. Surely these folks have been to meetings with Muslim, even Islamists. Did they storm out when they heard others being maligned, as did Tony Avella from the podium of the Muslim Day parade in NYC? Or do they only speak truth to power when it’s fellow Jews? Do they tell Muslims (or Islamists), “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! You can’t essentialise Jews, or even Zionists? Are Islamic activists exposed to (much less dominated by) the “variegated” argument, in which (actually true) Jews are a very complex population with widely divergent views? Or are they another version of the Human Rights Complex, loudly indignant when white people behave badly, but when people of color do so, they are embarrassed into silence?
In any case, they’re very aggressive about their beliefs with Jews. My guess is they’re considerably less so with “Others.”
When one of the protestors summed up his objections with the comment, ”A minority of speakers said things about Britain, Europe and Muslims that we found to be incorrect, unacceptable and self-defeating,” he was confusing political correctness (“unacceptable”) and therapeutic truth (“self-defeating”) with empirical truth (“incorrect”).
Welcome to rekaB street, the place where you check your critical intelligence at the road block.

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