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Liberals and Religion

Why aren’t liberals more critical of Islam?

By: Benjamin Wiker
4/25/2013 10:09 AM

We are now—like itor not—immersed in a real debate about the nature of Islam. The background ofdeceased Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev is forcing us into it. There is nodoubt Tamerlan, the elder brother of the two perpetrators, was transformed byhis relatively recent embrace of radical Islam.

And so, we have thevery difficult question facing us in regard to Islam: Is the propensity toterror and jihad radical in the deepest sense of word’s origin in Latin,radix, “root”? Is there something at the root of the Quran itselfand the essential history of Islam that all too frequently creates the Tsarnaevbrothers, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, the Muslim Brotherhood, andHamas, or is there some other source, quiet accidental to Islam?

That question mustbe taken seriously, very seriously.

I am not going toanswer that question, but rather pose another: Why do liberals have so muchdifficulty even allowing that very serious question to be raised?

The answer to thissecond question is important for the obvious reason that, if liberals won’tallow the first question to be asked, then it surely can’t be answered.

A lot hangs on notanswering it, in pretending it is not a legitimate question to raise. If Islamhas a significant tendency to breed domestic Islamism—not everywhere, not inevery case, but in a significant number of cases—then the currentadministration’s obsession with, say, Tea Party terror cells is woefullymisplaced.

So what is it aboutliberalism that makes it so difficult for it to take a clear, critical look atIslam, even while liberals have no problem excoriating Christians for everyimaginable historical evil?

I believe I cangive at least a partial answer, if we take a big step back from the presentscene and view the history of Western liberalism on a larger scale.

Liberalism is anessentially secular movement that began within Christian culture.(In Worshipping the State, I trace it all the wayback to Machiavelli in the early 1500s.) Note the two italicized aspects: secularand within.

As secular,liberalism understood itself as embracing this world as the highest good,advocating a self-conscious return to ancient pagan this-worldliness. But thisembrace took place within a Christianized culture. Consequentlyliberalism tended to define itself directly against that which it was (in itsown particular historical context) rejecting.

Modern liberalismthereby developed with a deep antagonism toward Christianity, rather thanreligion in general. It was culturally powerful Christianity that stood in theway of liberal secular progress in the West—not Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism,Shintoism, Druidism, etc.

And so, radical Enlightenmentthinkers like Voltaire rallied his fellow secular soldiers with what wouldbecome the battle cry of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment: écrasezl’infâme, “destroy the infamous thing.” It was a cry directed, not againstreligion in general, but (as historian Peter Gay rightly notes) “againstChristianity itself, against Christian dogma in all its forms, Christianinstitutions, Christian ethics, and the Christian view of man.”

Liberals thereforetended to approve of anything but Christianity. Deism was fine, or evenpantheism. The eminent liberal Rousseau praised Islam and declared Christianityincompatible with good government. Hinduism and Buddhism were exotic andtantalizing among the edge-cutting intelligentsia of the 19thcentury. Christianity, by contrast, was the religion against which actualliberal progress had to be made.

So, other religionswere whitewashed even while Christianity was continually tarred. The tarringwas part of the liberal strategy aimed at unseating Christianity from itsprivileged cultural-legal-moral position in the West. The whitewashing of otherreligions was part of the strategy too, since elevating them helped deflate theprivileged status of Christianity.

And so, forliberalism, nothing could be as bad as Christianity. If something goes wrong,blame Christianity first and all of Western culture that is based upon it.

This view remainsintegral to liberalism today, and it affects how liberals treat Islam.

That’s why liberalsare disposed to interpret the Crusades as the result of Christian aggression,rather than, as it actually was, a response to Islamic aggression. That’s whyChristian organizations are regularly maltreated on our liberal collegecampuses while Islamic student organizations and needs are graciously met. Andthe liberal media—ever wonder why you didn’t hear last February of the imam of the Arlington, VA mosque calling forMuslims to wage war against the enemies of Allah? Nor should we wonder why, forliberals, contemporary jihadist movements in Islam must be seen as justifiedreactions to Western policies—chickens coming home to roost. Or when a bombgoes off, that’s why a liberal must hope that it was perpetrated by somefundamentalist patriotic Christian group.

What liberals donot want to do is take a deep, critical look at Islam. To do so just mightquestion some of their most basic assumptions.

Author and speaker Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D. has publishedeleven books, his newest being Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our StateReligion. His website is