Saturday, September 15, 2007
Hitchens' authority on Ramadan's surreptitious bid to Caliphise Europe is none other than Caroline Fourest. Aside from encouraging racist paranoia about the Islamic Threat (oh, it's "Londonistan" and "Eurabia", the usual), and making a small career out of Tariq-hunting, Fourest is one of those dim young things who has made a career out of reproducing the worn bromides of Glucksmann, Levy, Bruckner and all of the 'antitotalitarian' anti-Tiermondiste crowd. Indeed, her most recent book is about The Obscurantist Temptation, which precisely characterises the anti-imperialist left as inferior to the 'antitotalitarian' one in every little way, and altogether too fond of the wretched of the earth and their attainment of political subjectivity (the wretched of the earth are fine, you understand, provided they are mute victims desperately seeking a Western superman). This isn't a coincidence, because Ramadan has made an enemy of the nouveau philosophes lot by attacking a number of these "French Jewish intellectuals" for abandoning universalism and becoming uncritical supporters of Israel, reversing the stereotype about Muslim tribalism. Glucksmann and Levy typically retorted that it was anti-Semitism, but then they are known for comical misuse of this form of obloquy. Fourest's belabouring of Ramadan is roughly as follows: he uses double-talk to conceal a sinister agenda, which includes slowly, subtly, twisting the definition of secularism so that Europe will become Islam and Islam will become Europe. He is part of an international project, a conspiracy of unequals, to affix a -stan to every European capital and an all-covering shroud to every European woman. Cassettes of his sermons supposedly reveal subtle discursive torsions that say one thing to Muslim audiences and another to European ones. Fortunately, Fourest has mastered The Muslim Mind, and can decipher it for us.
You want to believe that these depraved, illiterate tirades are the preserve of spiteful buffoons like Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye'Or and (bless her various sweaters) Melanie Phillips, but they no longer are. This horseshit is on the tip of a million wagging liberal tongues. I'm almost persuaded that it's a conspiracy to make Tariq Ramadan more interesting than he actually is. If you've read anything he's actually said (as opposed to what he is alleged to be plotting), you discover a relatively soft liberal with some criticism of neoliberalism (Buruma reckons he is something like an Islamosocialist - whatever). He is no reactionary, and in fact is probably somewhat to the left of Hitchens these days. I've read some of his articles and speeches, and even had a look through 'Western Muslims and the Future of Islam', which is published by that infamous den of dhimmitude, Oxford University Press. In what does Ramadan's message consist? It's bad to use Shari'a to impose repressive legislation; good for Muslim migrants to set aside sectoral distinctions that no longer matter; Islamic schools might be alright in some circumstances, but they aren't a panacea and leave out non-Muslim children; democracy is a good thing; there is no strict opposition between the West and Islam; there should be an Islamic Feminism, and all the excuses for putting up with discrimination against women dropped; the Islamic state is an illusion etc etc. The pretense that there is some mystery about this is childish, as is the hysterical demand that Ramadan become even more perfectly conformist and moderate than he already is. For example, one of Fourest's little moans is that Ramadan considers it acceptable to resist any law which compels him to foreswear his religion (that is, he insists on the same right to demur from opprobrious and ascriptively humiliating authority that everyone else claims). This, we are invited to think, could mean that he is about to strap dirty nukes to his chest and take out half of Europe in a fit of pique, ululating to his last breath, if someone takes away his prayer mat. So much of the plaintive commentary is like this: Ramadan thinks suicide bombings are "morally condemnable" but also "contextually explicable", and therefore is secretly contemplating a conflagration on a Tel Aviv schoolbus. If one isn't a native informer to liberal imperialism, one is expected to be ultra-conformist.
The strident paranoia about Tariq Ramadan is not fake, but the source of it is obviously not Tariq Ramadan. There is is indeed a sincere and utterly demented belief that something called 'the West' faces an existential challenge from something called 'Islam', but the cause of it is not Islam. The cause of it, dare I say the root cause of it, is not merely a rationalisation of the alliance with American imperialism. It is an awareness of how fragile the 'West' really is, how threatened it is by its inner tensions and recurring crises, and how incapable it is of dealing productively with its problems. The prickliness and belligerence of these commentators hardly suggests a great deal of confidence in 'the West', after all. And what is there to be afraid of? In its worst possible light, the actual military threat from various Islamist groups is puny. There is no economic threat to US dominance besides capitalism's own inherent tendency toward secular crisis. The EU isn't going to acquire cohesion overnight, and China has a long way to go yet. The Muslim countries are all handily under lock and key with guns, gaolers, torture equipment and bombers supplied by America, where they don't simply occupy. Culturally, America is becoming asinine and in some cases decidedly on the verge of Streicherism, but if the challenge is supposed to be low-tech video signals from Osama, I wouldn't sweat it. It isn't an external challenge that is producing this crisis, any more than decadent liberals lacking moral clarity caused it. It was there, brewing all along: the economic turmoil, the racist retrogression, the erosion of cultural hegemony, even the inability of mainstream ideology to handle the 'feminisation' of discourse (in which "political correctness" is seen as linguistically emasculating, thus restraining the necessarily "robust" response to the enemy of the month), all of it is entirely, er, indigenous. Still, as a totem is clearly necessary, by all means blame Osama. If you can't blame Osama, blame Tariq. Hell, fuck it, blame me. I killed Kennedy, wounded Reagan, had unsatisfying sex with John Leslie, and crashed Diana's car. I did it all, and now I'm behind the Islamic plot. Dialogue with me is utterly useless: I don't expect you to talk, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.