Thursday, August 19, 2004

Our Fanatics and Theirs

Marc Cooper of LA Weekly and the Nation, translator for Salvador Allendae has some interesting comments about the strange relunctance of American leftists to criticize Islamic fundamentalists.

I was watching, by accident, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night and was struck by the language used by the NBC network anchors. As the U.S. delegation came onto the field and was met with a thunderous ovation, the NBC guy said (paraphrasing closely): “The Greeks clearly distinguish between the American people and the American government – most of them oppose U.S. foreign policy but they love and admire individual Americans.”

Fabulous! Is this the historic vindication of the New Left? For this is precisely the same language we old SDSers used back in the Sixties to describe how the Vietnamese felt about the Yankees who were napalming their fields (and sons).

Now, I wonder if we are allowed the same latitude in describing Islamic terrorism. Some of my friends on the Left are still having some trouble admitting such a thing exists – at least as some form of agency independent of U.S. imperialism.

And those who do, still have tons of trouble criticizing Islam itself. This is awful strange given the supposedly overwhelming secular nature of the American Left. The same people who can publicly, and rightfully, slap around the Pope and the institutionality of the entire international Catholic con game all of a sudden go mum when someone suggests that Islamic terrorism might – to some degree, just maybe, perhaps, sorta-kinda- have its roots in Islam itself!

Oh, heavens no. A thousand curses on your 72 virgins! To criticize Islam itself is ipso facto racist.

But are you sure? Why can’t we apply our Vietnam/U.S. Olympic Team standard to this question? Something like: we clearly distinguish between individual Moslems some of whom we love and admire on the one hand and on the other the obscurantist traditions of a major religion which refuses a modernizing reformation and which conspires to keep hundreds of millions (especially women) in spiritual and even physical bondage?

Cooper recommends this interview with Bahram Soroush, an Iranian leftist civil rights activist living in the U.K. He was interviewed for satellite TV on a program produced by the Iranian Communist Workers Communist Party.

Polly Toynbee raised some similar issues in a recent Guardian column.

It is bizarre how the left has espoused the extreme Islamist cause: as "my enemy's enemy", Muslims are the best America-haters around. The hard left relishes terrorism: a fondness for explosions and the smell of martyrs' blood excites their revolutionary zeal, without sharing a jot of religious belief.

More alarming is the softening of the brain of liberals and progressives. They increasingly find it easier to go with the flow that wants to mollify Muslim sentiment, for fear of joining the anti-immigration thugs who want to drive them from the land.

The liberal dilemma over Islam is not unlike the prevarications of some over communism in the cold war. To attack the atrocities of the reds put you in bed with the anti-socialist Thatcher/Reagan red-baiters. What would George Orwell write about Islam now? He would probably ignore what others said about the company he kept, shrug off those claiming him for their own ends and plough his own furrow, speaking out against both the danger of religious fanaticism and the Muslim-hating racists - the polite ones in Times immigration panic articles or those with steel-toed boots on the streets of northern towns.

Irving Howe had developed the concept of "substitute proletariat" to analyze some of the strange and strangely attractive diversions of the New Left of the 60s and 70s. I think that something very similar is going on today.

Post a Comment