Renan Revisited

Still reeling from the horrific terrorist attack perpetrated by a Muslim man in Orlando a few days ago, Americans are once again debating the extent to which such terrorism is either endemic to Islam or reflects a problem with American culture. In a timely review of a new book by French writer Jean Birnbaum, Dalrymple analyzes many of these same issues. The left in France, like everywhere else, is loathe to admit the Islamic source of terrorism, says Birnbaum, choosing to ignore the justifications given by the terrorists themselves and instead blaming poverty or oppression, even though most terrorists are neither poor nor oppressed. Such arguments discourage moderate Muslims from reforming their religion, says Birnbaum, for if terrorism in Islam’s name has nothing to do with the real Islam (a claim we Americans are all too accustomed to hearing from our leaders on the left), what need is there for reform? Says Dalrymple:

This may be right in the abstract, but it seems to me to miss an important point. The moderates want, in effect, to reduce Islam to a private confession whose ethical standards are more or less those of, say, a fairly liberal Canadian. In other words, they want to preserve Islam in the modern world by liberalising it and making it compatible with Twenty-First century values. From my personal standpoint, this is laudable and even brave in the circumstances; but there is one enormous flaw in the whole scheme. If the ethics of Islam become those of any reasonably decent person in a liberal democracy, what need of Islam at all? It will become merely a collection of rituals whose irrationality and therefore needlessness will soon become clear under the withering fire of rationalist criticism. Its holy book will be shown to be a literary artefact, a compilation, like any other such book (and by no means the best of the genre, either). Soon nothing of Islam will remain…

Moderate Moslems and moderate leftists share a similar problem. Both believe that their world outlook has something uniquely precious about it, but perceive that in fact the world can get on perfectly well without it. What, then, remains of the precious contribution of their worldview? It is not uncommon in France to see articles about the future of the left now that radically egalitarian transformation of society has been ruled out. What can it argue for now? Recognition of polygamy, incestuous marriage or the rights of necrophiliacs? Whatever it is, it will not be sufficient to justify or support a whole worldview; rather, the left will be reduced to a state of permanent querulousness about this or that supposed injustice, one succeeding another. For underlying the self-conceit of the left is a belief in oppositionism as such: and as it is more blessed to give than to receive, so it is more blessed to oppose what exists than to support or sustain it. The left starts out from a belief in original virtue, especially its own; therefore it must preserve itself and its world outlook, however difficult this may be.

You really should read the whole thing.

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