A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

When the Left gets it wrong

For years I've been hearing scorn from conservatives about the liberal fetish for multiculturalism and how the Left goes out of its way to make excuses for Islamic extremism. I've always been puzzled by this criticism because I haven't heard anyone make such excuses. Even on the Left we don't see the point in making excuses for misogyny and violence. Finally someone linked me to an article explaining where the criticism comes from. Apparently, it mostly originates from the far left outside the US. It helps to remember that "far left" inside the US is mostly limited to the not-quite socialist Green party and environmentalists. We don't have the liberal extremists that Europe does.

Nevertheless, I suspended my knee-jerk reaction to deny and disavow and read through the accusations. Some of them deserve criticism. Some of them don't. Most of them invite response. So I have two thoughts here.

First, dehumanizing the opposition doesn't solve anything. Meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and declaring "We are all Hezbollah" struck me as a declaration that Iranians are also people and that we need to remember that even as we disagree with them and oppose their actions. Their demand for the genocide of all Jews and the forcible conversion of the entire planet to Islam is inhuman, but it doesn't disqualify them as members of humanity. Remember that respect for people does not necessarily require respect for what they believe.

Second, the Left can get it wrong, too. When we fail to oppose oppression and bigotry on the grounds of multiculturalism and other high-minded ideals we ignore the point of tolerance. It is possible to be too tolerant when we permit intolerance to go unopposed. Absolute tolerance is ultimately self-defeating when we give license to authoritarians to quell dissent and silence opposition.

I am solidly on the Left. I abandoned my right-wing political opinions in the same process that led me to abandon my religious beliefs. I believe in equality for all regardless of nationality, heritage, orientation or creed. I believe that human dignity requires basic needs to be met such as food, shelter, education and medicine without consideration for the ability to pay for them. I believe in freedom of expression for all views, including ones that I disagree with. But I don't believe that freedom extends to the right to oppress others or protect the right to impose institutional discrimination. If your beliefs demand that people of a certain skin color, sexual orientation or gender be treated as anything but equals, I stand in opposition. You have the right to believe what you wish, but you have no right to impose your beliefs on those who don't share them.

The Left has made some grievous mistakes and it's up to us to own up to them and make corrections. So here I am. I wasn't part of that alliance and I don't agree with what they've done. But that doesn't abrogate my responsibility to speak up against what they've supported. Muslims deserve the same right to pursue their culture and beliefs that everyone else enjoys. But the line must be drawn when their culture and beliefs create unwelcome impositions on others.

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