Notes on the Regressive Left, Part I

…or perhaps it should be called the “fake left”…

2017-05-06, modified 2017-05-07

This blog was also published in the Q2 2017 issue of Secular World, magazine of Atheist Alliance International, pages 19-22.

Some thoughts about the so-called “regressive left” and how its infatuation with communitarianism and its complacency towards Islamism enable and strengthen right-wing political parties.

Sommaire en français Quelques réflexions au sujet de la soi-disant « gauche régressive » et comment son engouement pour le communautarisme et sa complaisance envers l’islamisme confortent et renforcent les partis politiques de droite.

The “regressive left” is a recently invented term, apparently coined by British anti-Islamism activist Maajid Nawaz in 2012. Wikipedia defines the term as:

a political epithet, used as a pejorative to describe a section of left-wing politics who are accused of paradoxically holding reactionary views by their tolerance of illiberal principles and ideologies, particularly tolerance of Islamism, for the sake of multiculturalism and cultural relativism.

Wikipedia entry Regressive Left

The expression “regressive left” is imperfect for a variety of reasons:

  • Perhaps a more appropriate term would be the “multicultural left” or even better the “communitarian left,” keeping in mind that the word “multiculturalism” sounds much too positive for what it really means, i.e. an ideology which assigns a higher priority to ethno-religious affiliation (hence the near-synonym “communitarianism”) than it does to individual rights or citizenship. Or how about the “Islamophilic left” or the “Islamolatric left”?
  • The use of the word “left” is confusing to say the least. The regressive “left” betrays classic left-wing values, and, by doing so, discredits the left and indirectly enables and strengthens the political right.
  • This expression is of recent invention, as if the left only recently began making mistakes. But all movements, even the most progressive, are capable of error and there are plenty of examples from the annals of left-wing politics. Just consider all the various derivatives of Marxism having totalitarian tendencies, in particular Stalinism and its variants. There is no shortage of examples of “regressive” policies in that tortuous history.
  • The Wikipedia definition given above is perhaps too narrow. There are, for example, some political tendencies which reject multiculturalism but adopt nevertheless an overly indulgent attitude towards Islamism. Furthermore, the Wikipedia definition omits the fact that some regressive leftists—in particular self-styled “anti-fascists”—regularly misuse and overuse the epithet “fascism” by using it to demonize almost anyone they dislike or disagree with.

So let’s call it the regressive left for now, but with the understanding that the search for a better term should probably continue. (I have a similar attitude towards the word “Islamofascism”—it is not perfect, i.e. probably too modern a term to describe totalitarian political Islam which is in reality more medieval than fascist—but will do for now. At least it has the merit of defying the regressive left’s attempts to monopolize use of the epithet “fascism.”)

The regressive left is not a well-circumscribed sub-movement within left-wing movements in general. Rather it is a mentality, a collection of attitudes which infects left-wing thought and distorts it in the direction of cultural relativism and tolerance of Islamism.

Whatever term you prefer, it describes a very real phenonemon which regrettably is all too commonplace. Any time a person who criticizes Islam or Islamism (the religion and political ideology) is accused of “Islamophobia” or “xenophobia” or “racism” then the accuser, if not an Islamist himself or herself, is clearly behaving in a regressive leftist manner and as a dupe of Islamofascism. The recent (2015) niqab issue here in Canada is an obvious example. Anyone who supported a ban on face-coverings at citizenship hearings was accused of racism even by leaders of the supposedly left-wing NDP (New Democratic Party). There are plenty of examples from other countries. Any ostensible leftist who celebrates the wearing of the hijab in the name of so-called “diversity” is a mouthpiece for the regressive left.

Canada is a very easy target for regressive-left ideas, a total pushover in fact. The reason is obvious: Canada is ground-zero for the ideology of multiculturalism, …

Canada is a very easy target for regressive-left ideas, a total pushover in fact. The reason is obvious: Canada is ground-zero for the ideology of multiculturalism, promoted by Pierre-Elliott Trudeau in his heyday and continuing to be very influential, indeed totally dominant, to the point that the federal government even has a Canadian Multiculturalism Act, enacted under one of Trudeau’s successors, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and giving that ideology force of law. This gives the regressive left a stranglehold over politics in Canada and greatly hampers efforts to secularize.

By virtue of its subservience to communitarianism and cultural relativism, the regressive left is resolutely anti-secular and that is clear from the sorry state of Canadian politics. Here are three major examples:

  1. During the debate over the Quebec Charter of Secularism in 2013-2014, the major opposition came from a de facto alliance between multiculturalists (principally of the Quebec Liberal Party and of Québec Solidaire) and Islamists or fundamentalist Muslims, while the Charter was supported by practically all secularists in Quebec (including many secular Muslims). However, several so-called “secular” organizations in Canada outside Quebec—obviously in thrall to regressive left ideas—issued public statements against the Charter. Fortunately, there were also a few who were more sympathetic to the Charter.
  2. During the 2015 niqab debate (mentioned above), the Conservative Party government’s response to the court decision allowing Zunera Ishaq to wear the niqab at her citizenship ceremony was inadequate, merely appealing the court’s decision, whereas that government should have made legislative changes (such as repealing article 17.1.b of the Citizenship Regulations). On the other hand, the “left” NDP and centrist Liberal Party took an even worse position, a position to the right of the government, a position which facilitated the Islamist agenda, praising the court’s decision and celebrating the wearing of the niqab, even at a citizenship ceremony!
  3. In early 2017, opposition to Motion M-103 condemning so-called “Islamophobia” came mainly from the Conservative Party, while the NDP and Liberal party supported it.

Since the regressive left is “left” more in name than in reality, adopting as it does a foolishly complacent attitude towards an ideology that is far to the right of even the more far-right parties in most countries, it creates confusion between left-wing and right-wing politics, thus strengthening the right and the far-right. For example, in the current French presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron has declared (2016-10-05) that there is no religion which is problematic in France. No problem!? Such complacency can only strengthen his rival Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

This left-right political confusion can be readily observed in Canada in cases (2) and (3) described above. The right-wing Conservative Party offered some resistance to Islamofascist proselytism (the niqab and M-103), while the left-wing NDP and centrist Liberal Party took very regressive positions, to the right of the right-wing Conservatives on this issue, by enthusiastically supporting Islamofascism. This does not imply that we should support the Conservative Party! We must instead advance a principled critique of the very regressive position adopted by the other two parties.

Probably the worst blunder of all, the error frequently committed by Canadian pseudo-secularists, an error which is typical of the regressive left, is to oppose a measure because it has become associated with a particular unpopular political tendency, without regard to the merit or demerit of that measure: for example, celebrating the niqab because the Conservatives opposed it, or supporting M-103 because the Conservatives criticize it. This error is just a variant of the ad hominem logical fallacy or the guilt by association fallacy.

“My country right or wrong” is clearly a bad idea; just replace “country” by “left-wing buddies” and you have a recipe for blunders.

Just because you dislike or oppose the Conservative Party does not mean that everything they say or do is always wrong or that their opponents are always right. If Donald Trump says that an object is black, does that guarantee that it is white? (If that is how your mind works, then you are as stupid as Trump.) Exaggerated loyalty to one’s “tribe” can be very dangerous; if that tribe is one’s race or ethnic group, then we have the basis for racism and ethnic bigotry. If that “tribe” is the political left, then such loyalty can easily promote regressive left memes. “My country right or wrong” is clearly a bad idea; just replace “country” by “left-wing buddies” and you have a recipe for blunders.

To summarize, to criticize the regressive left (or centre) and recognize that it sometimes takes a position even more retrograde, more right-wing than even the parties of the political right does not mean that we should support the latter. Rather, it implies that we must resolutely criticize the regressive left whose foolish actions discredit and weaken the left and ultimately strengthen the right wing. It is only by refuting erroneous ideas and actions on the political left that we can make the left truly progressive.

Next blog: Notes on Racism, Part I

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