Mirror Image Struggle in the Culture War


The Wall Street Journal continued its excellent run of Saturday interviews this weekend with Tunku Varadarajan writing on Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Ali must be under constant security because she speaks out so forcefully on the need for the West to stand up to Islamism.  In that regard, she notes something frustrating about Western liberals:

Her strategy to fight dawa evokes several parallels with the Western historical experience of radical Marxism and the Cold War. Islamism has the help of “useful idiots”—Lenin’s phrase—such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has denounced Ms. Hirsi Ali as an “extremist.” She sees that smear as a success for dawa: “They go to people like the SPLC and say, ‘Can we partner with you, because we also want to talk about what you guys talk about, which is civil rights. And Muslims are a minority, just like you.’ So, they play this victim card, and the SPLC swallows it. And it’s not just them, it’s also the ACLU. The Islamists are infiltrating all these institutions that were historic and fought for rights. It’s a liberal blind spot.”

It’s actually worse than she says.  The Left (and both the SPLC and ACLU are examples, here) is perfectly willing to disrupt, block, and silence the Right.  The blind spot, in other words, is not that liberals are actually liberal, but that they think these Islamists are on their side politically, and in that regard, they aren’t wrong.

This point (which I can’t help but feel has some relation to Ali’s atheism) leads to interesting inversions as one looks from the Islamists to the West’s conservative-versus-progressive wrestling match.  For example:

I ask Ms. Hirsi Ali what her solution might be, and she leans once more on Popper, who proposed a right not to tolerate the intolerant. “Congress must give the president—this year, because there’s no time to lose—the tools he needs to dismantle the infrastructure of dawa in the U.S.” Dawa has become an existential menace to the West, she adds, because its practitioners are “working overtime to prevent the assimilation of Muslims into Western societies. It is assimilation versus dawa. There is a notion of ‘cocooning,’ by which Islamists tell Muslim families to cocoon their children from Western society. This can’t be allowed to happen.”

The first notable problem with this paragraph is that one frequently hears those on the political Left cite Popper’s thinking as an excuse to silence conservative speakers (like Ali, incidentally).  We don’t have to give government new powers to silence Islamists’ vision of sharia if we allow other factions to promote their vision of freedom founded in traditional values.  But the Left has spent decades building institutional suppression of non-radical Western culture.

The second notable problem isn’t with Ali’s statements, but with recent trends.  While, as she says, Islamists encourage “cocoons” in which to insulate their potential supporters from Western influence, there has been a growing call among traditionalists to retrench, as described in Rod Dreher’s notion of the Benedict Option.

So, we have the Islamists working with the Left to silence opposition to their agenda, and we have traditionalists coming to the conclusion that the best way for them to fight back is to isolate themselves.  I’d suggest that the Islamists’ have the luxury of letting the Left do their culturally destructive work, allowing for the assertion of their radically different views when the time is right.  The question for those of us on the other side, if we see the allure of the Benedict Option, is whether there’s some trigger for those on our side to stand up, having been reinvigorated through separation, or we’re just preparing ourselves for a century of oppression.