22 December 2007

Should I Believe in My Ideology?

I am a liberal person and I support universal human rights and global ethics. In my opinion, what is considered wrong in my culture should be considered wrong in every culture. I think humans are pretty much the same everywhere and what feels bad here feels bad everywhere. Naturally, because of this, I also support individual liberties, like freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I am an ardent supporter of the freedom of speech. Refusing to discuss nearly always leads to conflict and hatred. Offending with words is much less harmful than offending with physical violence. Only with the help of an open discussion with certain rules of rational argumentation can we win without a fight. To implement this discussion we need democracy, an open society.

Fundamentalists don’t want to discuss, because they have blind faith in their dogma. Dogmatism doesn’t accept any criticism and it hates democracy. Dogma is above discussion. That’s why dogmatism is dangerous. Dogmatism is inherently violent and virulently intolerant.

Some would say that my support for universal human rights is colonialism, imperialism or cultural racism. They would perhaps argue that it is right and just to let people hold on to their cultural or religious traditions – their dogmas – even in the cases where they are clearly at odds with our Western humanistic values. The ideology of multiculturalism is a case in point.

I am a secular humanist and scientific rationalist. I don’t believe in anything supernatural, be it gods, unicorns or fairies. I demand evidence. But I do believe in certain humanistic principles and some values are very important to me. I can’t deny any individual her or his belief in supernatural things or beings, so I am willing to tolerate it. People have a right, a need, to believe. Sad to say, to many secular individuals political ideology like nationalism, Marxism, capitalism or feminism often becomes a pseudo-religion that in their minds is above criticism. So, it becomes a dogma.

Also multiculturalism can be a dogma and indeed many times this seems to be the case. Even mentioning the problems of multiculturalism usually leads to accusations of racism and “Islamophobia”. Dogma is impervious to criticism – hence the negative labels for those who refuse to believe in that dogma. Labelling, however, is just a way of ignoring the arguments.

I believe in many values that are not scientifically falsifiable. In this respect, I certainly have a need to believe. But at the same time, I don’t believe in racism, war, oppression, cruelty and injustice. I of course see evidence of these scourges nearly everyday in the news of the world, so they are obviously real, but I don’t claim them to be good or right in the moral sense. But I can’t wish them away, so I have to fight them with all my might. This is why I joined the Green League and that’s why I write.

Evil, nasty and wrong things must be fought against. They don’t disappear without a fight. Only in fairytales the good guys always win in the end. We may indeed ask ourselves: who are the good guys?

More to the point, as I’ve said, I am a member of the Green League, a political party that, when I joined, I thought stood for nature conservancy and support of universal human rights. The Greens also support immigration, mostly from Africa and Muslim countries. Now here comes the problem: I’ve noticed that it is a taboo to criticise Islam among the Greens. It seems mandatory for a member of this political organisation to overlook the grave injustices done in the name of Islam, lest we hurt the feelings of moderate Muslims who we, by definition, should tolerate and support, since we want them to immigrate to Finland. This, of course, is a much larger problem, since it indeed seems to be the unwritten law of the land to remain silent in the face of human rights violations committed in the name of Islam. So it’s not just the Greens who are afraid to criticise Islamist practises that go against our sense of justice, but most of the other political parties as well. These people just don’t want to admit that along with being a religion, Islam is a political belief-system – an ideology. And as we can see and read from the news very often these days, in many cases it is a totalitarian ideology of the worst kind.

So I’m not sure at all if this hushing atmosphere is good for the moderate Muslims and their human rights here, there or anywhere. Remaining silent when something morally wrong is done is equal to approving it. And silencing the voices of critics, either in the party’s weekly paper or within the party discussions, is not a sign of democracy, quite the contrary. It’s a sign of dogmatism. It is also de facto supporting of totalitarian versions of political Islam.

In my opinion, the leaders and members of the Green League and other parties who bury their heads in the sand should think about their double standard, since multiculturalism doesn’t imply moral relativism. We can respect the traditions and religions of other people and yet we shouldn’t tolerate evil aspects in them. Tolerating them is in fact racism. Inherent in this pseudo-tolerant attitude is the thought-pattern according to which we, as individuals, are above individuals representing these cultural traditions and that they are somehow too unintelligent or sensitive to accept any kinds of criticism and to engage in open discussion and rational thinking. Now think about that!

This reminds me of George Orwell’s essay “Notes On Nationalism” (The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: Volume 3 – As I Please 1943-1945; Penguin 1970, pp. 410-431). In this piece, Orwell writes about what he calls “transferred nationalism”:

“Among the intelligentsia, colour feeling only occurs in the transposed form, that is, as a belief in the innate superiority of the coloured races (…) Even among those who do not feel strongly on the colour question, snobbery and imitation have a powerful influence. Almost any English intellectual would be scandalized by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it” (p. 424).

So, maybe, this “transferred nationalism” plays a part here. While the modern intellectual “elite” holds its own values pretty much universal and beyond reasonable doubt, inherent in its ideology of “tolerant” multiculturalism is the Western history of colonialism and especially the Nazi racial theories and atrocities (though in this context we should always remember the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem). It’s like we should somehow still pay for the sins of our European fathers by compensating these evil deeds by welcoming the immigrants of African and Mid-Eastern origin. But seemingly “universalism” only holds for the original Westerners themselves and other cultures can have a free ride as far as human rights are concerned. I would say there’s something very condescending, if not outright rotten, in this attitude; exotic and strange need not be superior and needless to say, if we treat people as individuals, not members of groups, this entails equality between individuals, not equality between groups. Indeed there are clear signs of the fact that some members of the “intelligentsia” and political elite are willing to relinquish equality between individuals and instead support quotas and other “positive discrimination” methods to “help” the members of “oppressed” groups.

At the same time, we are lucky to have many valiant individuals who don’t need our condescending help and who refuse to remain silent. They just don’t accept the a priori role of the “other” who we should by definition “tolerate” inherent in multiculturalism. We have Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji, for instance. But guess what? We don’t hear their voices among the Greens. We never read their wise words in the Green League’s weekly paper. Instead, they are a problem: but why? Because they in fact show that cultural and moral relativism isn’t a valid position. Hirsi Ali and Manji are living examples of the Enlightenment and the power of reason and open discussion; they both support universal human rights; Hirsi Ali relinquished her faith, whereas Manji is a devout Muslim who just wants a radical reform in Islam. These brave individuals have more than enough guts to engage in rational, open discussion about the grave injustices committed in the name of Islam. And yet they are a problem among the “tolerant” Westerners. Even supporting their ideas is considered dubious. And yet , what they speak and write for is exactly the bedrock of Enlightenment itself and hence, multiculturalism: the universal human rights.

What we have here is a clear example of hypocrisy of the worst kind. All Western intellectuals (well, so-called intellectuals), politicians and human rights activists who ignore Hirsi Ali and Manji should think about it for a minute. These individuals and many others like them who come from Muslim cultures and yet are not afraid to acknowledge the violations of human rights done in the name of Islam are the clearest possible evidence proving that multiculturalism and peaceful co-existence of different religions is possible. But it is only possible if we, instead of patronising and pseudo-tolerating the “others” with their exotic and sometimes brutal cultural traditions, treat them as equals and demand the same things from them that we demand from each other. We should not remain silent in the face of evil; we need to fight it all the time. We can be different, but not that different. You see; we share our humanity and humanness. We should not tolerate evil.

And what is most important: we need to engage in open discussion, rational argumentation and let the voice of reason to be heard. So, should I believe in my ideology? Should I believe that people from different cultural backgrounds and religions could live peacefully together? Is there any reason for me to think that multiculturalism actually works? I think there is. But right now the gravest threat for multiculturalism comes from the ardent supporters of multiculturalism themselves, since as long as they refuse to acknowledge the full humanity – equality – of those who come from different cultural and religious background, multiculturalism only remains a dogma that we should blindly believe in. Now, in the West we are used to criticism of our own position and outlook. So why on earth shouldn’t we expect this from those who we welcome here to be an integral part of the West? Cultures change, people change. Look at the history of Europe!

To conclude, I think I should believe in my ideology, but I want to emphasise that my faith is not and never will be blind. Equality doesn’t imply identity, but what it does imply is respect for human rights and open, rational discussion. Multiculturalism without critical discourse and listening to the voice of courageous dissidents is a travesty of my ideology. In fact, it is a crime against humanity.