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Of parasites and a truth not spoken

For myself, I have nothing significant to add to the thoughts and comments floating around the blogosphere on this day.  But Robert Sibley in the Ottawa Citizen does (via Small Dead Animals):

…With all these terror plots in the works, how can anyone not believe there is a war between radical Islam and the West?

But many, it seems, still do. Former Liberal party leadership candidate Sheila Copps, for example, was recently quoted as suggesting the terrorist roundup in Britain is a conspiracy. “Could it be that this whole thing was an orchestrated overreaction to steer public attention away from the difficulties facing the Bush-Tony Blair fight on terrorism?” she asked.
Lenin had a label for people who think in such an unreal fashion. He called them “useful idiots.” We heard a lot from such people during the Cold War. High-minded, well-intentioned they may have been, but in their naivete and ignorance they served as apologists for Soviet totalitarianism with their ill-thought criticism of all things western. A great many were academics and journalists. We’re hearing similar appeasement psychology regarding Islamism. I can think of no better example than the reaction to former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s remark that western civilization is superior to Islamic culture.

“We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion,” Mr. Berlusconi said in late September of 2001. “This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries. … We must be conscious of the strength and force of our civilization.”

Not surprisingly, Muslims denounced him. “I consider his remarks racist, and by such remarks he has crossed the limits of reason and decency,” said Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. In Turkey, the Islamist newspaper Akit described Berlusconi as “a new Mussolini.” But the denunciations of western politicians and commentators were equally vitriolic. Amos Luzzatto, spokesman for the Italian Jewish Organizations, told La Repubblica newspaper: “In my opinion, one can not speak of the superiority of one culture over another.” (You have to wonder what he would say about Nazi culture in Germany 70 years earlier.) The Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, thought Mr. Berlusconi’s remarks could have dangerous consequences. “I can hardly believe that the Italian prime minister made such statements.”

It was, indeed, a surprising thing to say, considering the climate of opinion that prevails in western societies, particularly among the intelligentsia. As historian Keith Windschuttle says, “The statement was extraordinary because, although western superiority in every major area of human endeavour, especially in political and individual liberty, is patently obvious to everyone, it has become a truth that must not be spoken.”

To say one civilization or culture is better than another is one of the Great Taboos nowadays, at least if you subscribe to the postmodern shibboleths of multiculturalism, multi-racialism, egalitarianism, relativism, post-structuralism, etc. There is one exception, of course. If the civilization you love to hate has its roots in European Christian culture, well, that’s all right, then. You can have a nice career as a professor or a newspaper columnist denouncing the traditions and values of western civilization, even as you enjoy the best that civilization has to offer.

Nevertheless, Berlusconi was right — assuming you think societies that allow religious freedom, free speech, human rights, etc. are “superior” to those that forbid the open practise of all religions, denounce non-believers as less that human and impose death sentences of those who dare criticize the faith. If you don’t assume the former is better than the latter — if you disagree with Berlusconi — then you really need to ask yourself why you live in the West. To partake of its material benefits while denouncing its fundamental values is the life of a parasite. This isn’t to say you’re obliged to worship all things western. To the contrary, one of the secrets of the West’s vitality is its openness to rational self-criticism (at least until recent decades). But to be “anti-western” while partaking of the benefits of western society is, to say the least, to live with a false and hypocritical consciousness. But that perhaps describes the zeitgeist for many contemporary intellectuals in these early years of the Age of Terror.

I don’t have anything else to say.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. howardNo Gravatar | September 12, 2006 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    If you don’t assume the former is better than the latter — if you disagree with Berlusconi — then you really need to ask yourself why you live in the West. To partake of its material benefits while denouncing its fundamental values is the life of a parasite.

    – that’s a loaded statement that sounds suspiciously like those who say, “America, love it or leave it.” By which most who say it are actually implying, “Agree with the government, or get out,” as if the ideals of western democracy are synonymous with whoever happens to be calling the shots.

    The founding fathers, quite deliberately, didn’t embrace the “love it or leave it” concept. They actually envisioned a citizenry with courage enough to remake the democratic model should it ever stop functioning. What we have instead is a nation where the “patriots” are more protective of partisan ideology than of democratic ideal, and therefore completely unwilling to do anything to shake the system up in any way that might threaten their side of the machine.

    It may not be what you read into this diatribe (it may not even be what the author intended), but depending on the speaker’s tone, couldn’t the whole “parasite” statement be about as un-American a sentiment as you could possibly find? – at least equal to the west-hating statements it criticizes?

  2. CziltangNo Gravatar | September 13, 2006 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Absolutely. I don’t really know what Burlusconi meant. I think, though, that Sibley isn’t really one of those “love it or leave it” fanatics, generally because of the tone of the whole article and specifically because of the bit right after the part I highlighted. Aside from that, I think it’s a legitimate question, and one that doesn’t have to be necessarily un-American. I think it is significant that Sibley didn’t say “… why don’t you leave?”

    I read a lot of stuff from people deriding the West in articles they’ve written from their air conditioned houses on their personal computers. They don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that they live in relative security with access to more material benefits than any generation ever as well as access to the accumulated knowledge of the species at a level that scholars in years gone by would have given an arm to have. Is it perfect? No. Can it be improved? Absolutely. But to me, the point is: if it is so horrible, show me something better, or better yet, put your money where your mouth is and move to this utopia you describe. You think Sharia Law is a good idea? There are places where it is the law of the land and no one is preventing you from moving there. In other words, “Why DO you live in the West?”

    If, on the other hand, there really are things here (be they material, political, philosophical, and especially the opportunity to work for change without the fear that the death squad or the religious police will come for you) that are worth having, maybe it is time to tone down the rhetoric and put some of that energy into remaking the democratic process.

    If one really is committed to destroying western civilization (and there are plenty who claim to be) then I don’t see how partaking in the benefits of that civilization can be anything other than parasitic.

    But, what do I know? Against all the evidence of TV soundbites and most of the internet, I’m still laboring under the delusion that there are a significant number of people out there who can and might be willing to engage in a civilized exchange of ideas without resorting to terms like “wingnut” and “moonbat”.

  3. howardNo Gravatar | September 14, 2006 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    I guess I get confused at the line between those who are truly anti-Western and those gratuitously referred to (often for political purposes) as being anti-Western or anti-American (substitute any of the many overuses of terms like “treasonous” or “unpatriotic”).

    The rhetoric might be easier to decipher if there were a lessening of the hyperbole to which so many of us have become accustomed. And on that note, I think I do understand where you’re coming from.

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