There is an interesting review-essay in Foreign Affairs about the rise of Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS led violence in Europe and, above all, in France. The author, Professor Jytte Klausen, reviews a recent French book, Terror in France, by Gilles Kepel; she says that “Kepel argues that France is particularly susceptible to online jihadist propaganda because of a breakdown of allegiance to the once fundamental French principles of secularism and colorblindness. On the political left and right alike, a defection from core French republican virtues has created “ruptures” within the nation and given rise to a new form of identity politics. On the left, multiculturalism and an insistence on respect for difference are usurping laïcité, the traditional French republican ideal of civic secularism. (Anti-Semitism, long present on the French right, now taints the left as well.) On the right, xenophobia and ultranationalism have pushed voters into the arms of the populist, anti-immigrant National Front, the party led by Marine Le Pen. Although their adherents consider themselves adversaries, Kepel sees “right-wing ethnic nationalism and Islamism as parallel conduits for expressing grievances.”“
First, I think Professor Kepel is on the right track. I agree that “extreme” voices, from more than just the traditional political right and left, are making it increasingly difficult to sustain a moderate, middle ground, social consensus.
Second, I think that Canada is flirting with the same sorts of divisions.
“Kepel,” the (linked above) New York Times profile says, “has argued that much of France’s left-leaning intelligentsia fails to understand the nature of the threat the country faces — not just from foreign terrorists but also from the Islamist provocateurs in its exurban ghettos, the banlieues. Unlike the Islam-bashing polemicists who haunt French opinion pages, Kepel brings a lifetime of scholarship to this argument. He has always been careful to distinguish mainstream Islam from the hard-line Islamist ideologues of the banlieues, who have no real equivalent in the United States. He has long been a man of the left; his wife’s family is from North Africa, and he has no sympathy for the xenophobia of the right-wing National Front. But he believes that radical Islamists are trying to shred France’s social fabric and foster a civil war, and that many leftists are unwittingly playing into their hands. This view has made him a target for almost everyone.” This is, in my opinion, the trap in to which too many Canadian progressives ~ encouraged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail in 2015 and in office, more recently ~ and conservatives ~ of the type a friend of mine calls Neandercons ~ have fallen. They have failed to recognize that while most (say 98% of) Muslims are just ordinary folks, like you and me, who want to make a better world for themselves and their children and grandchildren, a tiny slice are dangerous, irrational, religious zealots. The Neandercons focus all their attention on the 1% while the progressives refuse to admit that they even exist. The moderate middle has decided, pretty much en-masse, to ignore the shouts of both sides. But that’s a mistake because if Professor Kepel is right and if the leaders of various and sundry radical Islamist faction are, indeed, “trying to shred
France’s [the liberal, secular West’s] social fabric and foster a civil war” then reasonable, liberal moderates are the only defence.
I remain convinced that the Neandercons are driven, in the main, by an irrational fear of that which is different. Even those who are, essentially, irreligious, are afraid of customs that differ even slightly from their established norms. I know a man who worries that a public display of the lighting of a Hanukkah menorah (to celebrate the overthrow of a Greek tyrant over 2,000 years ago) will disrupt the fabric of “our” traditional Christmas celebrations which, since he is neither religious nor well informed, are, in his mind, based, largely, on a 1930s advertising campaign. Now, I, personally, would be happy to see all religious influences removed from the public sphere ~ no Easter and Christmas holidays, no Muslim prayer rooms, and no Hanukkah menorahs at City Hall, either, for example; but also no priests rabbis and and other assorted shamans saying prayers at the cenotaph on November 11th and no references in our laws to gods (or their rules, like the definition of marriage) but that position is just as extreme as the one held by my acquaintance. In fact most religious observations are private and only a tiny, misguided, handful of people want to impose their views on others. But the extremists are spreading and their positions are moving towards, even into the mainstream. Justin Trudeau, for example, decided to deny opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage (the small but active social-conservative wing of the Liberal Party) the right to offer themselves for election as Liberals. he was hailed, in some quarters, for being progressive, but, in fact, he is imposing one dogma on all ~ a position he is being accused of solidifying in the forced election of Karen Vecchio to a committee chair appointment she did not want. The Liberal progressives are insisting that their personal, deeply held, moral views must prevail over the free will of all others. … Brad Trost must be so proud of them, or, at least, so envious, because they are imposing their morality on everyone else. I suspect that the progressives really feel that they are “doing good” but, in fact, they are providing ammunition for those who want to “shred [Canada’s] social fabric and foster a civil war.” And I’m not being hyperbolic ~ that is, I believe, the avowed aim of a few zealots.
In fact we, the very large but also very largely politically disengaged, moderate middle are being shouted down from all sides. The voices of fear and anger and religion and socio-political dogma now have a technological megaphone, that began with radio broadcasting in the 1930s and now has the Internet as a tool, to amplify their screams or rage which they, very often, feel are messages of hope. or warnings that we must all change or ways or perish.
Prime Minister Trudeau has, in my opinion, strayed too far from the liberal path and is now marching to the quasi-totalitarian beat of the loud, strident ultra-progressive movement. But it is not enough for Andrew Scheer to just hide behind the bromides that the Party and/or Parliament and/or the Supreme Court have decided certain hot button issues, he needs to say, as Justin Trudeau should have, something like “while certain issues are settled in law that does not mean that all Canadians are happy with how society operates … some, on all sides, have strong opinion and believe that the law is wrong. They are, of course, free to believe that; they are free to run for parliament in order to try to change the laws; they are free to speak out against the existing laws and to introduce motions to change them … that’s how democracy works in a free society. But my government does accept the status quo as expressed by millions and millions of Canadians at the ballot boxes and by Parliament and by our Supreme Court, even as we respect the rights of Canadians to speak out, peacefully, against our position. Like Queen Elizabeth I, I do not seek a window into men’s souls, but I will insist that, regardless of their personal beliefs, every member of my cabinet will vote with the government to support the status quo when proposals for change do make it to the floors of Parliament.” That is a principled, responsible, democratic and liberal position, unlike the “my way or the highway” approach adopted by the Trudeau regime which, I suspect, strengthens the hand of the Neandercons. The same thing applies to issues like Islamophobia … of course we want to discourage discrimination against a person’s religious beliefs (most of them, anyway), but we must do so while recognizing, publicly, that there are dangerous lunatic fringes in many religious communities and when they pose dangers to Canadians lives and properties the full weight of the government’s force will be used to defeat them. Pussy-footing around terrorist, at it appears to me that Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberals want to do, just divides us more and more, and when we, the moderate middle, are divided we leave more room for those who want to “shred [Canada’s] social fabric and foster a civil war.” We need fewer and less deep divisions … not more and deeper ones.
Several polls now show that the Conservatives and Liberals are neck and neck in Canada; the prospect of a Conservative government in 2019 is real, not a pipe-dream. Canada, like all Western democracies, not just France, is divided and the nature of the 21st century divisions are different from the old left/right, rich/poor or even black/white divides of the 19th and 20th centuries. They are deeper and more dangerous because they seem immune to rational discourse. What is needed is for the moderate middle to rejoin the debate and, effectively, to swamp the extremist fringes with more and better arguments, sound, rational, moderate arguments, to make their silly notions irrelevant in the public marketplace of ideas, to regain the high ground which is in the moderate middle. It is not enough for Conservatives to just oppose Justin Trudeau’s mindless progressive agenda; they, the CPC, must offer something that is positively moderate while, at the same time, being respectful of the right of all Canadians to hold and propagate reasonable but contrary views. It is more than just a matter of good politics and good policy, it is also a matter of national security. The divisions are dangerous.