If You Don’t Want Murderers to Control you, Don’t Let Them Control You: Ross Douthat’s Insecure Liberalism.
“But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.”
I believe the liberal order is a good enough idea that it can function without its advocates taking to the ramparts every time some other idea threatens it, or even seriously threatens it. Yes radical Islam is real, and big, and deadly. In the last 13 years, despite all the West’s efforts to shout and force it down, it is realer, bigger, and deadlier than ever. Douthat seems to be calling for a doubling down on the overt, forceful anti-radical Islam strategy. If we really stand up and pound our chests, unfurling banners bearing the prophet’s image, they’ll know we won’t back down from our principles. Naturally, they’ll back down from theirs, right?
9/11 was purported to be retribution for American military adventurism. The Great Satan had defiled Muslim holy lands and spilled blood there. The response to 9/11? More defiling, more blood. The result? Radical Islam is more popular, powerful, and far-reaching than ever before. The Great Satan lived up to its reputation and behaved as advertised. Douthat gives examples of reasonable religious people taking offense at others’ exercise of free speech. Certainly, swathes of peaceful Muslims the world over aren’t happy to see or hear about cartoons mocking their prophet. The radicals who planned and carried out these attacks have undoubtedly touted the Western notion of free speech as one that cannot avoid insulting Islam. Douthat seems to be encouraging us to live up to that billing as well. If we take his advice, I expect to see a repeated strategy meet with repeated results.
Am I an advocate of appeasement then? Am I calling for censorship? Absolutely not, I’m calling for ignorance. The men who committed these murders in Paris should be seen as murderers and little else. The way we prevent murders from controlling society is to prosecute them as murderers rather than fanning the flames of their motivation. To do the latter would be to allow them their second (probably first) avenue of victory. When people commit ideological crimes, they have at least two definitions of success. One is to intimidate their opponents into conforming with their desires. The other is to become martyrs and highlight the vileness of their opposition. Douthat wants to make these men martyrs and he wants us to be the great enemies of Islam those men believe us to be.
I for one am utterly indifferent toward Islam in any and all of its strains. What I am not indifferent toward is murder. I want murderers to be subject to fair trials and, if convicted, punished in accordance with their actions alone with no consideration given to the political context in which those actions occurred.
To give that consideration would be a blow against freedom. It would be to punish an act of speech merely because it coincided with an act of violence. It would be to punish all those who peacefully protest images insulting Islam by dictating that they must lose because their position coincided with that of a violent minority.
If liberal society is the great thing we believe it to be, we must also believe that it can function without agitation and distortion on its behalf against those who wish to see it destroyed. Liberalism’s strength is in its ability to tolerate myriad points of view while at the same time maintaining peace and order. To demand, for the sake of liberalism, that an idea be utterly rebuffed because some of its proponents chose not to conduct themselves peacefully is to admit that liberalism shares with radical Islam an inability to withstand criticism.