Just to gather them all in one place. Jonathan Derbyshire has a post about the vexed (especially around here – we vex the damn thing to death) matter of the, shall we say, tender-mindedness of some parts of the left toward Islamism.
There seems to me to be an essential continuity between the stance adopted towards radical Islam by the intellectual left broadly conceived (and not just the SWP), and certain of the attitudes that characterised the so-called ‘New Left’ in the 1960s, and which were brilliantly diagnosed by Irving Howe in a wonderful 1965 essay entitled ‘New Styles in “Leftism”‘…
Yes, I like Howe, and he looks better all the time. He nailed the anti-intellectual aspect of the New Left as soon as it stuck its head over the parapet. I only wish more people had paid attention. Jonathan lists some ‘characteristic attitudes’ (are they Anglo-Saxon attitudes? now cut that out! ed.) that Howe noted then and that are still with us.
Then Oliver Kamm picks up the discussion, quoting from correspondence from Jeffrey Ketland of Edinburgh University:
…it’s hard to say to what extent the anti-Enlightenment features of postmodernism and social constructivism animate the views of current far left groups, including SWP and Respect, and the occasional letter to Guardian. To some extent, there is an undercurrent of relativism and sneering towards allegedly Western notions of truth and objectivity. Alan Sokal described this undercurrent as a “weird zeitgeist” in modern academia and beyond. But I would argue that they are predominantly motivated by simple-minded hatred of the US, rather than direct sympathy for Islamic theocracy. For example, I’ve never seen political leftists directly defending Sharia law, stonings, beheadings, etc., but there’s sometimes a disturbing whiff of apologetics.
Hmm. Not Sharia law and stonings, no, but the hijab, yes. No, of course the hijab is not as bad as stonings, but it is part of the whole system of unequal laws and rules for women and men, so the passionate support for it seems – peculiar. Not to say worrying. Anyway the point about the undercurrent and the weird zeitgeist seems pretty unmistakable. If I’ve seen one sneer at alleged Western notions of objectivity, I’ve seen several. (Often in the same paragraph, actually – I’ve been reading Sandra Harding. She’s like a factory for the output of such sneers all by herself.)
In place of obviously crude biological racism, modern fascism (in the form Wolin calls ‘designer fascism’) has adopted a cultural racism that decries the achievements and principles of the Enlightenment. The astonishing spectacle of the far-Left around the Respect coalition defending the progressive character of – among other aspects of Muslim particularism – the hijab is the ‘left’ variant of the same phenomenon. I stress that we are not talking here of Muslims’ right to adopt the practices and observances of their faith, for religious liberty is an essential principle of the Enlightenment tradition. I mean instead the insistence that the character of those observances is itself a principle to be defended.
Yup. I have huge reservations about the stipulation about ‘Muslims’ right to adopt the practices and observances of their faith’ – because of course that instantly gets right back into ‘defending Sharia law, stonings and beheadings’ territory. Religious liberty covers a multitude of sins, unfortunately, so I just don’t think it’s helpful to give blanket exemptions like that. But that aside, I agree with the rest of it. The insistence that the hijab (and the attitude to women that prompts it) is actually a good thing, is…unfortunate.
And then there’s one at Crooked Timber. Chris takes issue with Ketland’s reading of Foucault:
Foucault was a difficult, obscure, contradictory and often infuriating figure. At his worst he wrote nonsense. At his best he can be profoundly unsettling to the lazier assumptions of the “Enlightenment” (with a capital E) view of the world, in a similar way to the manner in which Rousseau and Nietzsche also can disturb them. What he won’t do is provide an easy example for blogospheric divisions of the world into sheep and goats.
Me, I don’t know. As I’ve said before, I’ve read only a very little Foucault (I think the bit I read was part of the nonsense), so I don’t know if people are getting him wrong. But I don’t take the point about Foucault to have been central, and I do think Ketland is right about that undercurrent. Well obviously; what else are we about, after all.