There is a lot to chew on in this latest rant from Pat Condell on the need for the tolerant to be more intolerant of intolerant religions than they are intolerant of denouncers of intolerant religions. While Condell’s attack on multiculturalism is too broad and at times his rhetoric is cringe-inducingly counter-productive, I do share his essential worries that a significant and powerful portion of the liberal left is dangerously accommodating of Islamism out of an inflated fear of chauvinism.
But I also suspect he overlooks the degree to which the left is playing a shrewder strategy of not antagonizing the religious moderates who are the most essential allies in any long term, effective strategy for defusing the power of extremism. I share Condell’s fear that constant placating and accommodation of intolerant religion lets its influence spread. The recent outlawing of blasphemy in Ireland, the disgusting accommodation of the Muslims who protested Danish cartoons several years ago, and the outrageous UN resolution protecting religious people from perceived insults and blasphemy are dangerous signs that the attempt to suppress counter-religious rhetoric has only emboldened and legitimized aspects of the extremist, theocratic dimension of religion, rather than helped tug the moderates further to the left. It’s backfiring and in part legitimating religiously right wing lines of thought to moderates, even as it may have kept those same moderates away from the farthest right wing extreme.
So, while I think the left is less genuinely supportive of religion as a whole and is more strategic and pragmatic in its sometimes obsequious deference to religion which demonstrates a desperation not to offend, nonetheless, the consequences of giving credence to the gripes of theocrats is often to legitimize them and backfire attempts to liberalize the moderates through appeasement.
In sum, while I don’t agree with every jot and tittle of Condell’s argument or how he makes it, he’s an important counter-correcting voice worth airing, so here goes:
For indications of what I think of these issues of multiculturalism, relativism, and the current European debates over how and whether to accommodate Islamic customs, see these posts:
And for a calmer, more balanced, but nonetheless in its own way equally vigorous debate, check out this superb TV show from the BBC.
Finally, I leave you for now with these thoughts against the ban from Emily at Feminist Looking Glass:
This isn’t an unfair comparison. Eating disorders in the West occur at higher rates than in Middle Eastern countries, due to images of women in skin-tight clothing. Women in the US are literally dying to be thin. I say this not to prove that somehow burqa is the answer to this problem– but that each society has dangerous standards it holds women to, and that in some instances, there are far greater societal ills than body coverings.
Will a burqa ban make a strongly religious woman less religious? Will a burqa ban fix potential domestic abuse in the home? Will it somehow change fundamentalist men who use Islam to oppress their sisters or wives? Of course not. ‘The West’ is obsessed with Muslim veiling– whether it be hijab or the burqa– because it symbolizes something we which we cannot understand. Though when it comes to real issues that these women experience, I don’t think we follow through.
What concerns me about this is not just the restriction of a woman’s choice to don the burqa. Laws like this allow people in the West to pat themselves on the back, so to speak, in regards to “saving women”– without really asking the women themselves– and without questioning or understand what prejudices have lead to this ban. Prejudices that surface in violent and tragic ways– such as for Marwa al-Sherbini. Al-Sherbini, a pregnant Muslim woman in Germany, went to court to protect herself from a xenophobic neighbor, who called her “slut,” “terrorist,” and “Islamist.” She was fatally stabbed 18 times in front of her son in a German courtroom. Her husband is hospitalized, because when the police came to the scene, they automatically assumed the brown man was the attacker– and shot him.
What will a burqa ban do to protect women like Marwa al-Sherbini?