Sunday, December 05, 2004

Western Tolerance--And Resistance to Change

At the counter of my local bookstore in a trendy D.C. neighborhood this weekend, I noted the absence of anti-war posters that had been a fixture for nearly two years. The cash-register operator replied: "And it didn't do any good; we still got the damn war." Which was a great set up for an idea I've discussed before: "Sure it did!," I said. "It allowed me to confirm liberals hate America more than they love freedom and human rights." No response, of course, other than a disgusted glare.

It's hardly an isolated incident. Dedicated secularists to a fault, Democrats fear the faithful--but despite the murder of 3000 Americans, many won't condemn radical Islam. Anti-Americanism apparently trumps any other value:
At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine. Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States.
Originally I thought Pim Fortuyn might save Europe. Then I hoped the horror prompted by his assassination, days before he would have been elected Prime Minister of the Netherlands, would be a wake-up call. And more recently, the brutal public slaying of Dutch filmmaker Leo Van Gogh should remove any doubt about the threat of global terrorism.

Thus far, the silence is deafening. Still, maybe it's not too late. In addition to the Pryce-Jones and Hanson articles, mentioned earlier, the Times of London reported encouraging signs liberals are recognizing their pursuit of diversity may have limits, especially where tolerance promotes intolerant Islamic radicals:
From Norway to Sicily, governments, politicians and the media are laying aside their doctrines of diversity and insisting that “Islamism”, as the French call the fundamentalist form that pervades the housing estates, is incompatible with Europe’s liberal values.

The shift is not just a reaction to exceptional violence such as the Madrid train bombings, or the murder of Theo van Gogh, the anti-Islamic Dutch film-maker, by a Dutch-Moroccan. It stems from a belief that more muscular methods are needed to integrate Europe’s 13-million strong Muslim community and to combat creeds that breed extremists and ultimately, terrorism. With mixed results, governments are trying to quell the scourge by co- opting Muslim leaders to promote a moderate European Islam.

In Germany, with its three million — mainly Turkish — Muslims, and France, with its five million of mainly North African descent, television viewers were shocked when local young Muslims approved of Van Gogh’s murder. "If you insult Islam, you have to pay," was a typical response.
If "tolerance" is to endure, it must mean something other than "anti-Americanism." If the left has a future, it must be able to identify, then condemn, tyranny. And if the Democratic Party is to survive, it needs to rethink its priorities, as Peter Beinart suggested in The New Republic:
[T]hree years after September 11 brought the United States face-to-face with a new totalitarian threat, liberalism has still not "been fundamentally reshaped" by the experience. On the right, a "historical re-education" has indeed occurred--replacing the isolationism of the Gingrich Congress with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might. But American liberalism, as defined by its activist organizations, remains largely what it was in the 1990s--a collection of domestic interests and concerns. On health care, gay rights, and the environment, there is a positive vision, articulated with passion. But there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda--even though totalitarian Islam has killed thousands of Americans and aims to kill millions; and even though, if it gained power, its efforts to force every aspect of life into conformity with a barbaric interpretation of Islam would reign terror upon women, religious minorities, and anyone in the Muslim world with a thirst for modernity or freedom.

When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world. In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world. As a result, the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage. Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not [changed]. And the hour is getting late.
It might be too late to save Europe. But, surely, conserving America is a goal of both the right and the left. I look forward to working with Democrats in the Scoop Jackson mold--a Senator who often said "I'm a liberal but not a damn fool"--serious about preserving the United States.

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