Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Address by Rushdie et al.: Is the threat more perceived than real?

It may look very threatening, but perhaps the threat is more perceived than real. Behind the menace are reactionary traditional elite regimes, dinosaurs of the modern world. Therefore the address by the writers is more perceived than real:

After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.
We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.
The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.
Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.
We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatization of its believers.
We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.
We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism
. (Appeared in Charlie Hebdo. Signed by Rushdie et al.)

To begin with, the authors of this letter make a big mistake in comparing islamism with fascism, nazism and stalinism. They should not be compared in that way. Fascism and nazism were all encompassing ideologies for both secular and mythological leadership of society. Stalinism was a more leftist variant of the same. They developed in industrial societies that were at odds with hostile environments. By equating islamism with the other totalitarian ideologies in this way, it is so to speak "removed from the historical process" and made unchangeable. And that is not the case. When it is considered how the Muslim Brotherhood has evolved in Egypt, it must be concluded that there may be development in islamism. Before democracy was introduced in Europe, and in the early phases of democracy - there were also fundamentalist Christian movements. They developed to a position where they could exist alongside with basically secular societies.

There is no doubt that the "hate preachers" may be liberticidal, - and freedom of speech should be defended, as should other basic right, but they also react to a situation that has been imposed on them by the development of the modern world. That, of course, gives them no right to hijack islam from other muslims.

The writers of the address seem to presume that the resistance to the printing of the cartoons in the US and other places is an acceptance of cultural relativism. That is not the case. It is a clarification of what freedom of speech implies when it is applied in real life. All societies have laws that impose some limitations on freedom of speech, such as libel, racist utterances and blasphemy. It is up to the courts in those societies to interpret the limitations.

Islamism does contain a recipe for an islamist, theocratic state, but it is more a relic of traditional society. Islamists are standing with their backs to the wall in a world where development passes them by. Terrorism is the poor man's political protest. As a threat to the Western world it does not compare to what nazism or stalinism represented, - only if the Western countries start implementing new terror laws that restrict civil liberties.

The writers of the address make islamism more of a threat than it really is. They may exert the right of freedom of speech and have done so by publishing articles and books, but this right is very unevenly distributed in the West at the moment. The media is controlled by big capital interests that restrict the right to be heard by acting as gate-keepers. The common man in the street in a Western country does not have the same chance to be heard, as a Silvio Berlusconi og a Rupert Murdoch have.

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