Feeling solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks — and with the culture that has given us everything from Baudelaire to Monet — in the aftermath a large number of people changed their Facebook profile photo to one with the French flag superimposed on it. It was a small gesture by a lot of people who couldn’t do much else. Yet, predictably, it provoked the usual gripers to complain that “we” had not shown solidarity with the victims of Islamist terror attacks in Nigeria or Lebanon.
Leave aside the fact that such whiners never seem to show any such solidarity, and perhaps see themselves as the real victims of the world, we should make two points here:
Firstly, over the last fifteen years, a small number of people have shown solidarity with the victims of such attacks, and these people have been — and still are — denounced as “Islamophobes” and “racists” by precisely the same sort of people who whine about people having sympathy for the victims (of whichever ethnicity, color, and religion) of the attacks in France.
Secondly, we can easily flip this around. While there was a campaign — endorsed by such prominent figures as Michelle Obama [video] — to “bring back our girls” when 270 girls were abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2015, the raping, gang raping, drugging, and pimping of girls in Britain by “Muslim” or “Asian gangs” was ignored — one might almost say facilitated — by police and social workers for a decade or more. When the fact that there were no less than 1,400 victims was exposed there was little more than hand wringing. No “bring back our girls” campaign for them.
Nor, we must admit, has there been much notice taken of the kidnapping, raping, and selling into sexual slavery of Yazidi and Christian women and girls in Iraq, or the raping and forced marrying of Hindu girls in Pakistan. No campaign for them either. When I did a search on the issue of the victimization of Hindus, ignored by the Western media, I nevertheless found a report by al-Jazeera. Think about that.
You see, we can all pick sides, but, since it doesn’t favor one side or the other, the truth is always much harder to choose. But choose it we must.
The West: A Political Civilization?
Let’s take a step back. After the 9/11 2001 attacks, the response by those concerned about Islamism — al-Qaeda, etc. — was to insist that Islam conform to Western political — not spiritual — norms. This meant both progressive values such as women’s right and gay rights, and conservative ones, especially patriotism.
It must be mentioned that no matter how implausible the claim, protesting for women’s rights and gay rights, etc., in relation to Islam or Islamism was quickly presented by most on the Left as the actions of the Right, far-Right, or perhaps even Nazis. Even recently when the popular and liberal TV personality Bill Maher worried about the religion, not least of all in relation to women’s and gay rights, The Huffington Post immediately proclaimed him “unusually conservative on Islam.”
The treating of Islam as a political entity, has had two effects.
One: Ironically, it opened the dialogue to Islamists themselves, since they were concerned with Islam as a political program, not as spirituality.
Two: Potentially longer lasting, however, the response has framed the West — perhaps especially Western Europe — as a political civilization, whose values are rooted in the Enlightenment and rational thought, and expressed through various “rights.”
Yet, in its clumsy defense against Islamist ideology, while at the same time championing them, it has been forced to retreat from those values it claims characterize its civilization. Hence, if free speech is a bedrock value of the West, it has to be limited to stop the spread of Islamist ideology, and of course, anti-Islamic or anti-immigrant “hate speech,” etc. Gay rights or women’s rights also sometimes clash with religious rights, and are at least sometimes on the losing side, it turns out. It’s quite a conundrum, really, isn’t it?
A New Anti-Liberalism
In many European countries in particular, a new anti-liberalism is emerging. From France’s Front National to Hungary’s Jobbik party — both very controversial and highly popular — numerous parties have sprung up, winning votes. The issues range from immigration and Islam to women’s rights and the welfare state, and as such is itself a kind of fusion of the older Left and Right.
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, has even suggested that, “the most popular topic in thinking today is trying to understand how systems that are not western, not liberal, not liberal democracies and perhaps not even democracies, can nevertheless make their nations successful.”
A part of the reason why there is a shift away from liberalism is that it stopped being liberal minded some time ago. Love for humanity, though extremely selective, is nevertheless ruthlessly enforced with slurs, denunciations, threats, new legislation, and the ruining of careers (especially for professors or high-profile individuals). Rational debate is a rarity. Respect and compassion for opponents is rarer still.
Where the Higher Man?
I happened to be watching an interview with Mike Tyson recently. The man is, let’s just acknowledge, widely regarded as a thug and a rapist, whose boxing was mere brutality devoid of skill. I’ve re-evaluated much of my preconceptions about him, but what struck me more than anything was his thoughtfulness, his insights into himself, and his compassion for other people, including for those he did not especially like. Look at politics and we find absolutely none of these qualities.
In regard to Islam, critics have been so keen to show how opposite they are, that they have reacted negatively and against even its healthiest qualities: a sense of the sacred, spirituality, self-control (e.g., fasting for Ramadan), loyalty, physical discipline (e.g., the self-flagellation by Shi’ite men during Ashura) and family, etc.
Yet, these are the qualities that have secured civilizations and made individual great accomplishments possible, and the qualities that Europe needs to rediscover. Christianity has declined to such a degree that it is unlikely that all of these attributes could be found in it, in most European countries, though some spiritual sense remains in the West, connected to through neo-paganism, New Age spirituality, or the adoption of other religions or aspects of other religions, most notably Buddhism.
We are told to embrace non-Western cultures today, but, in reality, what we are offered by the mainstream is sanitized, Westernized, and politicized (i.e., liberal or anti-Western) versions of other cultures. Generally, what is selected for exhibition is the one potentially liberal aspect of the other culture (e.g., it is sometimes claimed that Islam invented women’s rights), which is then transformed into a kind of spiritual or historical proof of the authenticity of the modern value. We, in contrast, should get to know other cultures authentically, unfiltered through the lens of the modern, progressive West, learning about their beliefs (including differences of belief among various sects or regions, etc.), spirituality, practices, etc., and discovering what is good and what, also, we may have in common, as well as where there may be differences.
There are other things that we can do to rediscover our higher selves, even in relation to the political — which is habitually debasing. We can respect our opponents. This is not just for the “other.” It is so that we can cultivate in ourselves the good qualities he exhibits, while refusing to make his mistakes. To respect our opponent, in politics, in life, in boxing, etc., is to respect ourselves.
We should look up, not down. Take the example I gave at the beginning, of those who complained about people showing solidarity with France and the victims of the recent attacks on Paris. We should not seek to debase others, but build ourselves up through adopting timeless values — in this case the chivalrous desire to side with the victims and a culture that has given us much.
We should not see ourselves as victims. It seems that the modern world is keen for us all to see ourselves primarily as victims, and, as such, we must realize, primarily as political constituents. Unsurprisingly, today we find White middle class people adopting witchcraft or even Satanism, apparently so that they can claim victim status, i.e., in relation to Christianity. Victims need to be looked after. The higher man needs to strive toward ever greater independence, self-reliance, and self-overcoming.
We should emphasize the noble — e.g., we should exercise our bodies, not so that we don’t get sick, but so that we look the best we can; so that we learn discipline and overcoming of pain; and so that we can become, in a sense, more spiritual, through the process.
We must also speak the truth. Weighing up the beliefs and experiences of the different sides, and being compassionate prevents self-defeating fanaticism. It also means one will be forced to behave in line with the truth, not ideology. Lastly, the individual who can comprehend the different sides can come up with actual solutions.
Pointing out problems has its place, especially when it comes to the actions of political leaders. However, what is most important is to respond positively to such challenging situations, creating positive impressions in literature, art, discussion, and so on, encouraging others to lift themselves up, and creating communities of those who do.