|These are not our only choices. Thank the Gods.
If it were to stand all on its own, the idea of a “liberal critique of Islam”, as described in a previous post in this blog, would have two major deficiencies.
First of all, defending basic civil liberties against the encroachments of Islam need not, indeed it must not, fall prey to knee-jerk left-right dichotomizing. There is no special role for either liberals or conservatives, however those terms are construed, when it comes to defending the rights of all. However, in the current political climate in the US and Europe (oh, alright, and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand …), those who are politically inclined to the left are often made to feel as if it is somehow impossible to be progressive and to oppose the regressive ideology of Islam.
Therefore it is justifiable to argue for a “liberal” critique of Islam in order to, if you will, create an intellectual space (or, to be more accurate, to shine light into an already existing space that has not so much been kept in the dark as it has been roped off with “Off Limits” signs posted around it) in which a progressive discourse of resistance to Islamization can develop and thrive.
But there is a second reason why (on its own) a simple call for a new “liberal critique of Islam” is off the mark. And that is because a genuine classical liberal critique of Islam is already being articulated, and that by no one other than the man who is arguably the world’s most famous opponent of Islam: Geert Wilders.
There is no question that Wilders is often allied with people and groups “of the right”. He and his PVV party hold many positions that are clearly right-leaning. But, and this is not news to most people any longer, there are significant variations in what ends up being lumped together under these labels “right”, “left”, “liberal” and “conservative”.
|PVV leader Geert Wilders & LeftGreen leader Femke Halsema
First and foremost, Wilders is a classical liberal. He espouses humanist values, and is reportedly an atheist (although he scrupulously avoids anything remotely anti-Christian or “anti-clerical” in his rhetoric). He makes support for women’s equality and gay rights central to his critique of Islam. And he aggressively supports the infrastructure of the Dutch welfare state.
In fact, Wilders proudly takes credit for successfully (1) blocking cuts to unemployment benefits, and (2) preventing any weakening of Dutch government regulations of hiring and firing. Both of these were accomplished in direct opposition to the wishes of Wilder’s right-wing partners in the new Dutch government.
But Wilders is also “tough on crime” in a way that is highly reminiscent of American Republican party rhetoric, including support for longer maximum prison sentences and mandatory minimum sentences. He also sounds far more “Republican” than “Libertarian” (in the sense that these terms are now used in American political discourse) when it comes to “soft” or “recreational” drugs. He is very strongly pro-Israel and an enthusiastic Zionist. He has been feted by Glenn Beck. And he has received sympathetic coverage in the conservative National Review magazine during the course of his trial, while the “mainstream” American media mostly ignores him, or grudgingly acknowledges his existence while labeling him a Islamophobic far-right extremist.
Wilders’ relationship with the American right is very far from being all sweetness and light, however. After fawning over him on his show (in Feb. ’09), Glenn Beck later turned on Wilders (in March ’10) and even called him a fascist! But Beck did not execute this bat-turn all by himself. Nearly simultaneously he was joined by other leading lights of the FAUX News punditocracy in a Geert Wilders Smearfest. Such sudden and drastic changes of tune at NewsCorp do not simply happen on their own, as is well known, and speculation is that not only was this ordered from on high, but, more specifically, that Uncle Rupert was doing this as a favor to his Saudi buddies.
In addition to FOX falling out of love with him, Wilders also called off a major US appearance in March at a premier for a new documentary film (about Wilders), when he discovered the homophobic tendencies of the documentary’s backers (and he made it clear that was why he was dissociating himself from the project).
And, just to make Wilders relationship with The Right even less predictable, he has consistently distanced himself from those elements of the political right that he finds incompatible with his own humanist values and classical liberal views. The British National Party and the Front National (of Jean-Marie Le Pen) are both frequently cited by Wilders as examples of genuinely racist movements with which he will have nothing whatsoever to do. (And these just happen to be the “far-right” groups and movements that leftists are eager to equate to any and all criticism of Islam.)
A newish group, the English Defense League, have been trying to associate themselves with Geert Wilders at least since March of this year, when Wilders delivered his much anticipated speech to the House of Lords. At that time, the EDL turned out in force to offer their unsolicited “support” to Wilders, but really they were hoping to polish their hooliganish public image. By loudly solidarizing with Wilders the EDL obviously sought to give the impression that their endorsement of him was reciprocated. Which it was not.
Then recently when the English Defense League announced another demonstrations, this time in Amsterdam, to once again declare their unsolicited and unwelcome “support” for Geert Wilders, Wilders told de Telegraaf: “I have no involvement with this demo, I’ve never been in touch with the EDL.” Concerning the EDL demonstration, he was also quoted by the DutchNews.nl website as saying: “This demonstration means nothing to me. It is nothing to do with me, nor is the EDL. I only know the group from the newspapers and I have never had any contact with them.”
Although Wilders, so far as I know, has stopped short of making any specific criticism of the EDL, it is not hard to see why he has no interest in their company. It’s not just that they are, and transparently so, just another xenophobic street-gang made up of disaffected youths infected with hatred of foreigners and anyone else whose looks they don’t like. And it’s also not just that there are persistent accusations that they are nothing but a front group for the BNP, or possibly for some faction of the BNP. Its also that with their Crusader’s Cross logo, accompanied by their “In this sign we conquer” motto, the EDL makes plain their proto-fascist vision of England as a “Christian nation.” (Not to mention the fact that the group is run by a bunch of thuggish knuckleheads who all apparently hate each other.)
Here is an excerpt from Wilders’ recent interview in Der Spiegel, in which he explains his views on “far right-wing parties” and “extremists”:
“[T]he main thing for me is that I want to have absolutely nothing to do with far right-wing parties like the German Republikaner, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France and the British National Party.
“We want to have nothing to do with these far right-wing parties. Indeed, following our success in the European Union elections, we have joined no faction in the European Parliament. Ask our political opponents in the Netherlands: They may not share our opinions, but they do not all maintain that Wilders and his people are extremists. Anyone who labels 2 million Dutch as extremists does not insult me, but rather the voters.”
I just want to reiterate that the idea of a “liberal” or “progressive” or “leftist” critique of Islam is still very important. It is necessary for people of different political views to be able to agree on basic issues such as freedom of speech, women’s rights, and religious freedom, all of which are threatened by the spread and increasing influence of Islam. Resistance to Islamization should not be part of a package deal in which one is automatically enlisted on Pat Buchanan’s side in the Culture Wars.
|“I have never had any contact with them [the EDL]” Geert Wilders