Jocelyne Cesari, the director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University, is holding forth on, well – you’ll guess…
Today, Islam as “the internal and external enemy” is a staple of European political discourse. In the last six months, Angela Merkel, Nicola Sarkozy and David Cameron have condemned multiculturalism as a failed model for “integrating immigrants” — meaning assimilating Islam — into their respective countries. The attacks in Norway are the first violent translation of that narrative.
…the distinction between legitimate ideas and illegitimate violence is naïve and politically dangerous. All anti-Islamic rhetoric harms both Muslims and non-Muslims by reinforcing the “us vs. them” mentality in European societies — an attitude that can, and will, lead to violence.
So, Cameron’s milquetoast sideswipes multiculturalism were, somehow, proposing that Islam is “the enemy” and thus, somehow, were liable to provoke violence. Really? By this logic any sceptical commentary on Islam in the West is dangerous provocation and thus, I guess, in Cesari’s opinion, illegitimate. This would make her job much easier – for the moment, anyway – but is also rankly disingenuous.
The New York Times discussion to which Cesari’s contributing – and which, just to affirm those notions of tribal liberalism, contains no writers who aren’t keen on defending “modernity” from its “anxious“, “uneasy” and “suspicious” critics – also has this from a bloke called Joerg Forbrig…
Finally, Oslo is certain to be a wake-up call to the political establishment in Europe. Leaders must reassert the values of openness, diversity and tolerance, which Europe needs to function and thrive. It must take its citizens and their concerns seriously, and honestly address widespread uncertainties, be they about migration or the economy.
So, they must take their citizens’ concerns seriously but they can’t imagine that they’re serious.
Cesari’s line about an “us vs. them” mentality, and Forbig and others’ notion of the modern and the masses, help crystallise two thoughts that have assaulted me of late. Firstly, that there are “us and them” scenarios. There are, in other words, beliefs and patterns of behaviour that have distinct cultural or biological determinants and can’t be thought of – in an honest way, at least – without reference to them.
Of course, the trick is to establish whether a division is a sad of fact of life or whether it’s the rhetoric that’s the divisive element. And here’s the second thought: this split between the modern, tolerant cosmopolitans and anxious, uneasy and suspicious citizens is itself an “us v. them” dichotomy. And one that’s going to stretch if its believers maintain the idea that they have a monopoly on reason.