In a previous blog Dubious Words I presented several words and expressions which should be used with caution, or never used at all, and which should be met with suspicion when used by others, the worst being “Islamophobia.” In this blog I present several more expressions whose meaning has been corrupted by bad usage, usually by what has become known as the “regressive left.”
Sommaire en français
Dans un blogue précédent Dubious Words j’ai présenté plusieurs expressions douteuses, qu’il faudrait éviter ou utiliser avec précaution, et qui devraient inspirer de la méfiance si utilisées par les autres, la pire étant la soi-disant « islamophobie ». Dans le présent blogue je présente encore plusieurs termes dont le sens a été corrompu par une surutilisation et par le galvaudage, surtout par ce que l’on appelle courramment la « gauche régressive ».
Clash of Civilizations
The origin of this expression is the title of a 1993 article in the magazine Foreign Affairs and a subsequent book, both by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington who hypothesized that “people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.” (See the Wikipedia article Clash of Civilizations or in French Le Choc des civilisations.)
This expression has come to be used—typically by regressive leftists and Islamophiliacs—to denigrate anyone who sees Islam or Islamism (a subset of Islam) as threats. In other words, it is used by those who, through intellectual sloth or political cowardice or whatever reason, refuse to criticize political Islam, in order to bully and dismiss those who do dare to criticize it. It has become another weapon in the arsenal of the regressive left, along with “Islamophobia,” “xenophobia,” “racism” and similar terms. To say that someone is a proponent of the clash of civilizations is basically a euphemism for calling them a racist or a xenophobe.
It is interesting to note the role which essentialism plays here. To say that someone has a “clash of civilizations” mentality is akin to accusing them of seeing Muslims as essentially dangerous and backward, unable to adapt to modernity. And yet regressive leftists themselves display a similar essentialist attitude, but they draw the opposite conclusion: Muslims (which they conflate with Islamists) cannot adapt; therefore we must accommodate them (for example by allowing the veil everywhere).
In recent years, this term has been used in an increasingly pejorative sense, identifying it with right-wing or extreme right-wing movements, likes hordes of angry degenerates enthralled by dangerous and manipulative demagogues. This demonizes people in general. Demonization is rarely if ever appropriate because it stifles reflexion and debate about the causes of the behaviour being demonized.
In and of itself, populism is neither good nor bad, neither left nor right politically. It simply means appealing to the interests or perceived interests of the common people. That appeal may be either left-wing or right-wing or neither. Populism may appeal to the best in people—a desire for justice and equality, for example—or it may exploit baser instincts, or it may be somewhere between these two poles.
Populism, like diversity, like tolerance, is neither virtue nor vice. It can only be judged in context.
This word is vastly overused. Accusing one’s political adversaries of being fascists or, worse, nazis (i.e. extreme fascists) is an all-too-frequent form of abuse. Regressive leftists exploit this term in order to target anyone who does not share their uncritical attitude towards Islamism and Islam. According to historian Roger Griffin who has specialized in this area, fascism is a modern political ideology which favours an ultranationalist revolution in order to restore the nation to some (probably imaginary) glorious past. Although Donald Trump’s program meets these criteria partially, he is nevertheless NOT a fascist because the revolutionary aspect is missing.
This raises the question of radical, political Islam. Is the term “Islamofascism” reasonable? The late Christopher Hitchens certainly thought so in his 2007 article Defending Islamofascism. It’s a valid term. Here’s why. So does Hamed Abdel-samad, author of the book Islamic Fascism. However Griffin prefers a stricter definition: in his opinion, the term “Islamofascism” is inaccurate for two reasons: (1) it refers to Islam while it should refer to Islamism; and (2) fascism refers to a modern movement based on nationalism more than religion whereas Islamism is an early medieval religious ideology unrelated to nationalism. The first point is indisputable, whereas the second leaves room for debate.
Despite its shortcomings, the use of “Islamofascism” has at least one major advantage: it defies the regressive left’s attempts to monopolize the term “fascism” for its own tendentious purposes!
Values (or lack thereof)
The question of values was raised during the 2013-2014 debate over the Charter of Secularism proposed by the previous Quebec government. The preliminary name of that legislation, before the final text was released, was the Charter of Quebec Values and the use of the word “values” was denounced by critics of the Charter, as if there could be something wrong with having societal values. Indeed, some opponents of the Charter continue to refer to it by its preliminary name, rather than its official name “Charter affirming the values of secularism and religious neutrality of the state and equality between women and men and governing accommodation requests” for the obvious reason that they want to continue to bash the concept of Quebec values.
More recently, Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has attracted a lot of flack for her proposal to screen would-be immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values.” Leitch was soundly criticized for what many saw as a repeat of her promotion, during the 2015 election campaign, of a Conservative proposal to establish a tip line for so-called “barbaric cultural practices.” Both Leitch’s Canadian values and the Quebec values of the Charter of Secularism were criticized as right-wing measures, whereas in reality the Quebec Charter was motivated by Enlightenment values traditionally defended by the left (but currently abandoned by parts of the left). In both cases, criticism came mainly from Islamophiliacs, i.e. those who impose a taboo on criticism of Islam or Islamism.
Finally, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s most famous bimbo and, coincidentally, its Prime Minister, added his own particularly vapid point of view to this debate when, in a December 2015 New York Times article Trudeau’s Canada, Again he opined that “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada” and that Canada is “the first postnational state.” Canada, the uncountry.
Cutting through the bullshit, we need to get real. There is nothing wrong with having societal values. There is nothing wrong with having a core identity. The question is: What values? What identity? Where do those values come from and how are they manifested? When the mere mention of the question of values leads to passionate opposition and knee-jerk vilification, then reasoned debate becomes impossible. In my opinion, a lack of values or a lack of core identity is no vision for a country.
Next blog: Fools Against “Islamophobia”