In their writings on the War on Terrorism, lots of left-wing public intellectuals esteem erroneous on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand arguments. You know the sort we mean: After weakly criticizing some Islamist atrocity or other, the chi-chi lefty will then pretend that a given Western action is equally reprehensible.
Evil acts of terrorism or the American refusal to engage in diplomacy with Syria–who’s to say which is worse? According to our self-righteous academics and journalists, that’s a very difficult question to answer.
For some reason, our fancy-pants pundits believe that this dubious argumentative strategy is pure genius. And hence we get the pleasure of reading books like neo-Marxist Tariq Ali’s The Clash of Fundamentalisms, a screed that portrays Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush as equally unhinged dangers.
They’re both, you see, fundamentalists. And neither is a subscriber to New Left Review. In Mr. Ali’s mind, that makes them indistinguishable.
We had reason to reflect on this sort of fatuousness when we took in an op-ed in London’s Guardian by Karen Armstrong. For those of you unaware of Ms. Armstrong, allow us to inform you that she is among the most prominent apologists for all things Islamic. Like, say, Juan Cole in this country, she uses her academic credentials as a means to whitewash the Muslim faith and support an anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Israel line.
According to a delightful demolition of Ms. Armstrong in the New English Review by Hugh Fitzgerald, she has even gone as far as describing Mohammed as the consummate “peacemaker.” As a result, we were unsurprised to detect a particularly pathetic example of the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other argument in Ms. Armstrong’s aforementioned Guardian column, titled “An Inability to Tolerate Islam Contradicts Western Values.”
Here’s the (most) offending passage:
For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists’ depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.
But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others.
Ah, yes: Those Danish cartoonists and their publishers are “equally” culpable for the Mohammed cartoons fiasco, “since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others.” Well, perhaps not as culpable, you might think, since the cartoonists never killed anyone or destroyed any property. But such niggling distinctions don’t seem to have occurred to Ms. Armstrong.
Naturally, her overall argument is arrant nonsense. If she’s so dead-set on believing that “free speech implies respect for the opinions of others,” she ought to have protested vehemently against, say, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ and Chris Ofili’s depiction of the Virgin Mary bedecked in pornographic photos and elephant dung.
These artistic examples of “free speech,” after all, demonstrated that their creators are “impervious to” Christian “sensibilities.” According to Ms. Armstrong’s (il)logic, then, such insensitive work ought never be produced. Why hasn’t she written sanctimonious pieces in the Guardian berating “progressive” artists for their controversial political art? Does she believe that only Muslims are entitled to “respect” for their opinions?
Actually, Ms. Armstrong’s obtuse column seems impervious to our sensibilities. If she had any respect for our opinions, she wouldn’t have written it–and the Guardian wouldn’t have published it. Clearly, she’s “equally” culpable as the enraged Islamists threatening another 7/7.
(Note: The crack young staff normally “weblog” over at “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” where they are demonstrating great regard for “Muslim sensibilities” by failing to note Arab countries’ esteem for Lionel Richie.)