Since the death of Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen is the closest thing we have to a latter-day Orwell. It’s refreshing to read him amidst the flatulent apologetics of Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, and other blame-the-Westers who argue that every terrorist act, every malevolent deed of ISIS and Al Qaeda, is the fault of colonialism, and those deeds include the repression of women and the murder of gays, Yazidis, apostates, and Shia Muslims. (The latter acts can also be excused as aspects of Muslim “culture”.)
In a new and longish piece in Standpoint, “Shame on the liberals who rationalize terror” (access free), Cohen tells it like it is, heaping scorn on those Leftists who cower before Islam while refusing to cower before Catholicism or any other faith. I’m still under the weather, but that’s convenient because Cohen’s piece speaks for itself, rife with his usual eloquence and clear thinking. I’ll give just one excerpt. The piece takes off from some mealymouth remarks uttered by John Kerry after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, more or less implying that the writers and cartoonists brought it on themselves.
Instead of encouraging Muslims to break with extremism, we left liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims isolated. We adopted the language of the extremists, and censored the very arguments they needed to use against fundamentalism. Instead of damning religious totalitarianism, we invented rationales that obscured rather than enlightened.
As John Kerry showed, anyone can play the game. You can say the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon were a rational response to American support for Saudi Arabia and Israel. If America wanted to be safe, it should stop supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel. The British Left claimed that the 7/7 attacks on London were a rational response to British involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t true: Mohammad Sidique Khan, the terrorist cell’s leader, was training in Islamist camps long before the Iraq war. Nevertheless, the point still held: you can suppose that Western foreign policy provides a “rationale” for Muslims who become terrorists. You can say, as John Kerry implied, that if Charlie Hebdo had steered clear of Islam, it would never have been bombed. You can say that Jews would not be targets if they renounced Judaism. You can say that Islamic State would not have attacked Paris if the French had stayed out of Syria. You can say that the existence of Israel explains Hamas. You can say that IS would not treat Yazidi women as sex slaves if they had embraced its version of Sunni Islam. You can say there is a rationale for the Iranian subjugation of its Sunni minority and the Saudi subjugation of its Shia minority, for both are potentially dangerous to their respective states. You can say that Muslim countries would not persecute homosexuals if they went straight, or order the death of apostates if they remained good Muslims. There is no limit to the number of reasons you can find. Every time you rationalise, however, you miss the obvious and ignore an often openly fascistic ideology whose appeal lies in its supernatural certainties and totalitarian promise of a new heaven on earth.
Every step you take in explaining radical Islam away is apparently rational and liberal. Each takes you further from rationalism and liberalism. In your determination to see the other side’s point of view and to avoid making it “really angry about this or that”, you end up altering your behaviour so much that you can no longer challenge the prejudices of violent religious reactionaries. As you seek rationales for the irrational and excuses for the inexcusable, you become a propagandist for the men you once opposed.
Indeed. Read the whole piece; you’ll like it—that is, if you’re not an Aslanophile or Greenwaldian.