The White House’s decision to avoid the Paris rally against last week’s jihadist killings conforms to its relaxed attitude toward radical Islam. Candidate Obama in 2008 had argued that George W. Bush lost the world’s esteem by overreacting to the jihadists. Obama promised to regain that respect by approaching the problem with more calm. He in effect pledged to treat the problem as manageable and marginal. With a little more “dialogue” and “understanding,” it would go away.
This remains Obama’s attitude, which must have contributed to the White House’s view of the Paris rally as insignificant. Eric Holder, who was in Paris at the time, didn’t even show up for it, which is also fitting, since he has never been able to bring himself to consider radical Islam a motive for terrorism.
The West is clearly not marching as one against the jihadists. Its “values” are as confused as ever. Contrary to their defiant rhetoric in the wake of the attacks, many Western leaders are willing to compromise free speech in order to appease radical Islam. The same pols who now identify with the editors of Charlie Hebdo have long favored suppressing criticism of Islam far tamer than anything found in its pages.
“The future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Obama famously said, and he and his progressive allies have been working to accomplish that goal by banning critics of Islam from graduation ceremonies, the pages of “respectable” journals, and government jobs. They have even resorted to fines and, in Obama’s case, a trumped-up jailing (for the maker of the YouTube video who supposedly instigated the Benghazi attack).
Last week’s killings won’t change their ambivalence toward free speech. They will continue to let the jihadists dictate its limits. Even as they praised the slain editors, progressive leaders made it clear they didn’t want their work seen. Criticism of a flawed person doesn’t constitute “blasphemy,” but progressives treat any criticism of Mohammed as such, even as they chuckle at real blasphemy toward God. Around Christmas, they said nothing as the popular American cartoonist Seth Macfarlane mocked Jesus Christ as the “2,000-Year-Old Virgin” and depicted him as an aspiring adulterer.
The divided West reserves its protective feelings not for its own historic religion but for that of its traditional adversary. The mark of enlightenment is to forbid truth-telling about Islam while celebrating fashionable lies about Christianity. Many of the leaders who showed up at the Paris rally have no hesitation in calling for the “reform” of “fundamentalist” Christianity but wouldn’t dare make a similar call for reforming Islam. That would imply it contains serious problems, and that is something progressives, who normally regard all religion as illiberal, simply won’t allow. Islam is the one religion they don’t seek to modernize. Jihadism, they contend as they desperately try to present Islam as irreproachable, is just one big misunderstanding.
For all their talk of standing with moderates, Western progressives show no interest in helping reformers of Islam. They view them as Islamophobes too. The religion is fine just as it is. When Muslim leaders call for reforms, as the Egyptian president recently did, their words disappear without a trace. The Western media for the most part isn’t interested.
The total silence from the Western intellectual class about Islam’s obvious dangers explains why its jihadists are targeting cartoonists. They are the only ones left still telling the truth about those dangers. The slain editor of Charlie Hebdo said that he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees. His sudden champions quote this line approvingly but have no intention of following it. They won’t fall to their knees before Jesus Christ but they will fall to them before the jihadists of Islam. Out of a fear they rename enlightenment, they are determined to practice self-censorship, thereby delaying any hope of real change in the Islamic world.
Criticism of Islam, whether high or low, will be tacitly forbidden. Jihadists kill in the hope of vindicating their religion, to give it a dominance beyond criticism, and they succeed with the help of the leaders of the very people whom they terrorize. The more the jihadists attack the West, the more its frightened leaders honor Islam. Usually reluctant to call any religion “great,” they call Islam one and shun anyone who disagrees. The resolutions at the Paris rally won’t last long and soon enough Western leaders will resume the sapping self-criticisms they never demand of Islam.
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