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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 01-26-2007, 04:52 AM Thread Starter
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What you must think

Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?

"What to say to a man who tells you he prefers to obey God than to obey men, and who is consequently sure of entering the gates of Heaven by slitting your throat?" - Voltaire

"Colonisation and slavery have created a sentiment of culpability in the West that leads people to adulate foreign traditions. This is a lazy, even racist attitude." – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

There's no denying that the enemies of freedom come from free societies, from a slice of the enlightened elite who deny the benefits of democratic rights to the rest of humanity, and more specifically to their compatriots, if they're unfortunate enough to belong to another religion or ethnic group. To be convinced of this one need only glance through two recent texts: "Murder in Amsterdam" by the British-Dutch author Ian Buruma on the murder of Theo Van Gogh (1) and the review of this book by English journalist and academic Timothy Garton Ash in the New York Review of Books (2). Buruma's reportage, executed in the Anglo-Saxon style, is fascinating in that it gives voice to all of the protagonists of the drama, the murderer as well as his victim, with apparent impartiality. The author, nevertheless, cannot hide his annoyance at the former Dutch member of parliament of Somali origin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a friend of Van Gogh's and also the subject of death threats. Buruma is embarrassed by her critique of the Koran.





Ayaan Hirsi Ali. © Bettina Flitner

Garton Ash is even harder on her. For him, the apostle of multiculturalism, Hirsi Ali's attitude is both irresponsible and counter-productive. His verdict is implacable: "Ayaan Hirsi Ali is now a brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist." (3). He backs up his argument with the fact that this outspoken young woman belonged in her youth to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. For Garton Ash, she has merely exchanged one credo for another, fanaticism for the prophet for that of reason.

This argument of equivalence is not new. It was used throughout the 19th century by the Catholic Church to block reforms, and more recently in France at the time of the "Islamic Headscarf Affair" by those opposed to the law. In the case of Hirsi Ali, herself subject to female circumcision and forced marriage, who escaped Africa to the Netherlands, the accusation is simply false. The difference between her and Muhammad Bouyeri, the killer of Theo Van Gogh, is that she never advocated murder to further her ideas.

"The Koran is the work of man and not of God," she writes. "Consequently we should feel free to interpret and adapt it to modern times, rather than bending over backwards to live as the first believers did in a distant, terrible time." (4) One searches this sentence in vain for the least hint of sectarianism. Hirsi Ali's sole weapons are persuasion, refutation and discourse. Far from the pathology of proselytism, she never transgresses the domain of reason. Her hope of pushing back tyranny and superstition does not seem to result from unsound or unhealthy exaltation. But in the eyes of our genteel professors, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, like the dissenting Muslims Taslima Nasreen, Wafa Sultan, (see her interview on al Jazeera), Irshad Manji, Seyran Ates and Necla Kelek, has committed an unpardonable offence: she has taken democratic principles seriously.

It is well known that in the struggle of the weak against the strong, it is easier to attack the former. Those who resist will always be accused by the cowardly of exciting the hatred of the powerful.

Not without perfidy, Ian Buruma denies Ayaan Hirsi Ali the right to refer to Voltaire. Voltaire, he writes, confronted one of the most powerful institutions of his time, the Catholic Church, while Hirsi Ali contents herself with offending "a vulnerable minority in the heart of Europe." (5) However, this statement disregards the fact that Islam has no borders: the Muslim communities of the Old World are backed up by a billion faithful. Crisscrossed by diverse currents, they can either become the advance wing of a fundamentalist offensive or exemplify a type of religiosity more in harmony with reason. Far from being a negligible affair, this is one of the major challenges of the 21st century!

It's not enough that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has to live like a recluse, threatened with having her throat slit by radicals and surrounded by bodyguards. She - like the French philosophy professor Robert Redeker who has also been issued death threats on Islamicist websites - has to endure the ridicule of the high-minded idealists and armchair philosophers. She has even been called a Nazi in the Netherlands. (6) Thus the defenders of liberty are styled as fascists, while the fanatics are portrayed as victims!

This vicious mechanism is well known. Those who revolt against barbarism are themselves accused of being barbarians. In politics as in philosophy, the equals sign is always an abdication. If thinking involves weighing one's words to name the world well, drawing comparisons in other words, then levelling distinctions testifies to intellectual bankruptcy. Shouting CRS = SS as in May '68, making Bush = Bin Laden or equating Voltaire to Savonarola is giving cheap satisfaction to questionable approximations. Similarly, the Enlightenment is often depicted as nothing but another religion, as mad and intransigent as the Catholicism of the Inquisition or radical Islam. After Heidegger, a whole run of thinkers from Gadamer to Derrida have contested the claims of the Enlightenment to embody a new age of self-conscious history. On the contrary, they say, all the evils of our epoch were spawned by this philosophical and literary episode: capitalism, colonialism, totalitarianism. For them, criticism of prejudices is nothing but a prejudice itself, proving that humanity is incapable of self-reflection. For them, the chimeras of certain men of letters who were keen to make a clean slate of God and revelation, were responsible for plunging Europe into darkness. In an abominable dialectic, the dawn of reason gave birth to nothing but monsters (Horkheimer, Adorno).

The entire history of the 20th century attests to the fanaticism of modernity. And it's incontestable that the belief in progress has taken on the aspect of a faith, with its high priests from Saint Simon to August Comte, not forgetting Victor Hugo. The hideous secular religions of Nazism and communism, with their deadly rituals and mass massacres, were just as gruesome as the worst theocracies - of which they, at least as far as communism goes, considered themselves the radical negation. More people were killed in opposition to God in the 20th century than in the name of God. No matter that first Nazism and then communism were defeated by democratic regimes inspired by the Enlightenment, human rights, tolerance and pluralism. Luckily, Romanticism mitigated the abstraction of the Enlightenment and its claims to having created a new man, freed from religious sentiment and things of the flesh.

More at: http://print.signandsight.com/features/1146.html
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 01-26-2007, 05:34 AM
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 01-26-2007, 09:55 AM
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