Anti-Jihad Manifesto Misses the Point
By Paul Belien
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Today twelve international authors, most of them (former) Muslims, such as Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but also a couple of "French philosophers," published a manifesto in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. An English version of the manifesto "Together facing the new totalitarianism" was posted yesterday evening on the website of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The manifesto states that
"After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism. We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.
The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats."
The above paragraphs clearly display the manifesto's defects. While Islamism can be considered the perversion of religion, the three scourges of the 20th century-- Fascism, Nazism (National-Socialism) and Stalinism-- were secular ideologies. Neither Adolf Hitler nor Joseph Stalin were theocrats. It takes "French intellectuals" to use mankind's experience with National-Socialism and Stalinism as motivation for a rallying cry to oppose "religious totalitarianism" and a call for "secular values," which they hold to be "universal values."
There is no doubt that Islamism is a threat to freedom and human dignity. However, as we have warned before, some people-- undoubtedly brave, but nevertheless mistaken-- are prepared to destroy certain basic freedoms, such as freedom of education, in their fight against Islam and religion in general. The question has already been put here:
Is Islam dangerous because it is a religion? Do Muslim values differ from European values because the latter are rooted in Christianity or because they are secular? These questions are at the heart of the debate in Europe today.
In our opinion, man is a religious being. Secularism destroyed the Christian roots of Europe and, in doing so, created the religious vacuum that is now being filled by Islam. The manifesto warns against
"battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. We must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people."
History in the past century, however, has clearly indicated that those fighting for an "egalitarian" world were the most "liberticidal" of all. Freedom is the right to live "unegalitarianly." This is why The Brussels Journal defends the right of individuals-- though not of the state-- to "discriminate" (which, by the way, contrary to what the manifesto implies, is not the same as "oppress"). Indeed, it is no coincidence that the manifesto avoids referring to "Socialism" (and even "Communism") among the scourges of the past century and prefers to speak of "Nazism" and Stalinism" instead. Half the manifesto's signatories are probably Socialists, which explains why the manifesto obfuscates the secular, Socialist roots of these scourges.
While in America a cultural war is going on between "blue" (liberal) and "red" (conservative), the cultural war in Europe is a three-way war between the European equivalent of the American "blue" (socialist), the European equivalent of the American "red" (conservative, though Europeans often use the term "liberal") and Muslims. I prefer to refer to the first group as "secularist" (although I realise this is a generalization and many Christians belong to these "secularists," including-- unfortunately-- most of our bishops and priests) and to the second group as "Christian" (although many agnostics belong to it). The reason why I make this distinction is because the second group is prepared to acknowledge the importance of the cultural traditions of the West, rooted in the Judeo-Christian values without which classical-liberalism could never have evolved.
I cannot state this any better than Dr. Jos Verhulst, in his contribution to our Dutch-language section yesterday:
The great public secret behind the whole issue of the Danish cartoons is the following. Nowhere does the core text of the New Testament argue for censorship. There is not a single instance where the New Testament states that a non-Christian should be persecuted for his convictions or statements. With regard to those with whom it is not possible for Christians to co-exist, Christ simply preached secession: "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet." (Matthew, 10:14). On the other hand, Christ did not allow himself to be censored: He said what He had to say, He "insulted" and "offended" the pharisees, and for this He was persecuted and finally murdered. The core text of Islam is different. It explicitly calls for the persecution and submission through violence of all who hold other beliefs.
It is true that throughout history there have been Christians and Christian churches who, in contradiction with the Christian core text, have engaged in persecution and censorship, and that there have been Muslims who have pleaded for freedom of expression and thought. Even today there are instances where the Vatican calls for censorship (see the Osservatore Romano of 5 February) while Dyab Abu Jahjah calls for freedom. But the dynamics of the core texts that have shaped both civilisations through the centuries, are diametrically opposed. Freedom lovers had the support of the one core text but not of the other.
In the West the general development, against all the authorities, through all the turmoil and in spite of all the regressions, has continued to be towards increasing individualism, freedom of thought, development of science, abolition of slavery and the blossoming of the ideals of equal rights, democracy and radically free speech. The world of Islam, on the contrary, developed into a "close society" where the individual submits to the community.
And now he stands at the dawn of the 21st century: the maligned individual, unsteady on his own feet after executing the inner breach with every form of imposed authority, uncertain, blinking in the brightness of the only god he is willing to recognise-- Truth itself, stretching out before him unfathomably deep-- full of doubt but aware that he, called to non-submission, must seek the road to the transcendent, carrying as his only property, his most valuable heirloom from his turbulent past, that one gold piece that means the utmost to him, his precious ideal of complete freedom of thought, of speech and of scientific inquiry. That is the unique advance that he received to help him in his long and difficult quest.
Meanwhile he is being beleaguered and threatened on all sides; from out of the darkness voices call him to submit and retreat; they shout that the gold in his hands is worthless, while the brightness ahead of him still makes it almost impossible for him te see what lies in store. In short: what this contemporary individual needs most of all is courage, great courage. And the will to be free and to see, which is tantamount to the will to live.
This, in our humble opinion, is a far more appropriate "manifesto" than the one published in Charlie Hebdo today. The battle that is being waged today is a battle between those who defend the right of individuals against the right of collectivities.
The Islamists and the secularists (including the priests and bishops among them) have more in common than the Islamists and the Christians (including the agnostics among them), because the latter acknowledge that at the heart of Christianity is the individual with his individual responsibility before God. Without Christianity, individual responsibility would not have become the centre of European civilization. It was the French Revolution that jeopardized this tradition and that became the root of collectivism, with its socialist, fascist, national-socialist and communist excesses. From this perspective even Jihadism is more a child of secularism than of religion.
Paul Belien is the editor of the Flemish quarterly Secessie and the editor-in-chief of The Brussels Journal. He is a columnist at the Flemish weekly Pallieterke and at the Flemish monthly Doorbraak and a regular contributor to the Flemish conservative monthly Nucleus, which he co-founded in 1990. Paul can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles by Paul Belien, Brussels Journal