Comment at end
19th May 2010
UPDATE: Melanie Phiilips says at The World Turned Upside Down that her new book – The World Turned Upside Down:The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power is in the top twenty on the Amazon non-fiction list. You can click here to buy it at Amazon.
Melanie Phillips: “Britain was first into the enlightenment, and is now the first out”
NICK COHEN Vs MELANIE PHILLIPS on STOPPING ISLAMIST FUNDAMENTALISM
In Standpoint Nick Cohen points to a video of an interview with Melanie Phillips. He has some bones to pick with her. (Read Cohen here.) His differences are over her thoughts on ‘left/right’ positioning along a political divide, and how she infers that political partisanship, and the lack of religious faith of many on the left, impact on our opinions as to who or what will triumph over religious (Islamist) fundamentalism.
Left/right labelling is beside the point, in my humble opinion. As is, counter-intuitively, religious faith.
Ms Phillips’s remarks on the opinions of Cohen, Oliver Kamm, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (‘Imagine’) on the relative merits of religion per se seem to me rather semantically self-indulgent. Suggesting that the above-mentioned individuals may not be “fully signed up to the cause of reason and morality” because they are not particularly religious is also a little facile, though she does row back on this in her answer to a question.
Trying my best not to sound too “relative” – it all depends on your definition of “reason” and “morality”, perhaps more than on whether one is of the identifiably British political right, left or the once-named “centre”. Mr Blair shunned such partisan labels and won three elections. He also did not proclaim aloud his religious faith, even if he’d have preferred to shout it out loud. That decision to keep his faith between himself and God was the right one. As prime minister of a secular country he was not a religious leader.
Ms Phillips is absolutely correct to identify as scoundrels the British “intelligentsia”. The literati has been amazingly reactionary in recent years, while they have believed that they have been progressive.
Rather than criticise the above-mentioned from the “left”, Ms Phillips might do better to wonder why she is one of the few from the political “right” to challenge Islamism in Britain. The right’s instincts should drive them towards such a challenge. For instance, where is Mr Cameron and his party on this? Or the atheist Mr Clegg? Any of our new leaders?
We never really knew where Mr Brown stood, although we should recall that, seemingly EU-directed, he didn’t want us to name, shame or blame anyone.
But we do know that Tony Blair was figuratively hanged, drawn and quartered over and over for telling us what HE thought (watch 2006 conference video – “this terrorism isn’t our fault … decades growing”.)
HEY LOOK! THIS TREE’S IN A WOOD!
Seeing the wood rather than identifying the trees is of more value.
Melanie Phillips does well in her observations on the ‘vacuum’ in Britain, and the Islamic opportunity deftly grabbed. Her observations on today’s Millenarianists make worthwhile reading. Their various mantras certainly seem to be held as religiously as, well… religious beliefs. I’d argue that there is some cross-fertilisation. The Green movement has many followers throughout the country and across the political divide. I’m not convinced either that it eschews religion. Its following is widespread today within the church-going community and in the Conservative party, late as that party was to the table compared to the Liberal Democrats and even Labour.
In the main I disagree with her that secularism opens the way to free-for-all relativism. Not unless we let it.
Nor is secularism necessarily the same as humanism. Again, not unless we allow it to be.
The next step in the dark wood? For people like Cohen, Hitchens, Phillips and Blair – yes, Tony Blair – it is to recognise that they are as one on one big issue, which is the threat to democracies from fundamentalist Islamism. Islam, even as she is wrote, eschews democracy, secular or otherwise. (See quotes from the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the Hadith.)
Ms Phillips and those she criticises seem to be united in their regard, despite its shortcomings, for (secular) democracy and its principled core of freedom. (I have insufficient knowledge of Dawkins on this or on any differentiation he makes between religions. I haven’t read his book. I always tend to be wary of fundamentalist views. They are not usually helpful in countering others’ fundamentalism.)
A SPLIT OPPOSITION WILL FLOUNDER AND DIE
LET’S GET TOGETHER, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH
Those from any religious faith AND none, who share belief in democracy MUST combine forces. It is far too facile to dismiss secularism, as Ms Phillips does, as not being a tool around which people will cohere as a uniting force in opposition to religious (and political) fundamentalism. It can be, but that depends on the present and future meaning of secularism, as well as on our understanding of and belief in democracy. It also depends on limiting the most dangerous fallout from democracy – the freedom to actually dismiss democracy. In that direction lies anarchy.
For me, democratic secularism (there is no other type of secularism) is not synonymous with atheism or even necessarily anti-religion. That is to equate apples with oranges. They are both fruits, but fruits of different trees.
Secularism is a political description, not a religious one, or more to the point not an anti-religious one. It is a description of the attitudes of a nation-state existing within a democracy. The dots we all need to join, as Ms Phillips does so well in other ways in her videos but not in this way, is that secularism was born out of religious faith and its strictures and examples. They need each other. In today’s democracies we can have ONE and/or the other. They are not mutually exclusive.
BELIEVERS AND UNBELIEVERS MUST UNITE
Ms Phillips’ position – that religious belief is essential to counter the extremes of A N Other religious (political) faith is wrong-headed, in my humble opinion. For a start if one lacks faith it is not enforceable by another person or outside force. We cannot force non-believers to believe unquestioningly as many Muslims seem to do, in order that Christian-based states are as strong in our secular democracies as they are in their politicised religious ‘states’. Christianity has allowed too much freedom of thought for that. To coin a phrase, thank God.
But Phillips, Cohen and Hitchens have all seen secular states in action, representing ALL of us. That is secularism. France is constitutionally “secular”. Are we to believe that that Catholic country is NOT religious?
The smiling people below get it –
These scowlers don’t –
SECULARISM IS YOURS AND MINE
It’s the task of political democrats to ensure that secularism is not hijacked until it becomes interchangeable with “atheism.” We must protect secularism as the democratic right of both the faithful and the faithless. I write that as one who leans towards atheism or at the very least agnosticism.
Having said that, Ms Phillips joins some pertinent dots of her own in her talk. There is no doubt that we can see the anti-Jew/anti-Israel approach of many here in Britain, epitomised by the Guardian Cif-ers (See CifWatch). They also exemplify anti-west attitudes, as in their damning of Tony Blair and his decision over the Iraq war. And there is a fervour attached to the environmentally “aware”, which might make them blush in years to come. Their general lack of understanding as to how big business and energy and other trade needs interact is not a misunderstanding shared by all of those who consider themselves environmentally “caring”.
I have taken the time to transcribe one of the videos making up this talk, the second one. I think you’ll find Ms Phillips’s observations are cogent and coherent. I’d like to make one more point of differentiation –
Although I consider myself, like Mr Cohen, more sympathetic to the idea of secular democracy than to the concept of religion, I hold NO antipathetic feelings towards those who find religious belief central to their lives. If I did, would I have a website which has become a narrative in support of that most religious of politicians, Tony Blair?
I do not see that such variances of thought, opinion or belief are mutually incompatible, in fact quite the opposite. THAT, to me, is (democratic) secularism.
There is a large body of people here in Britain that Ms Phillips and perhaps even Mr Blair are overlooking. Those, like myself, who although aware of no Deific Being support strenuously our secular democracy BECAUSE it is based on Judeo-Christian principles. It is our common democratic heritage.
Still, I find I agree with Ms Phillips far more than I disagree.
[The video to which Mr Cohen refers is at the end of this post, part 7.]
Melanie Phillips: God, Truth & Power (2/8) (10:) [From here at YouTube]
“Now the fact that no dissent is allowed repudiates our cardinal enlightenment value of free expression and toleration of alternative points of view, which is the essence of an open society. And consequently one finds that the chief expositors of reason, the most high-minded, the most highly educated in the west actually espouse ideologies which have more in common with religious movements and indeed oppressive and coercive religious movements. They are not propositions to be debated in a rational way, they are a set of self-evident truths which have the infallibility of religious dogma.
Now, here one gets to the really odd thing. They are all ‘secular’ ideologies, they are ‘militantly secular’ ideologies in many respects and yet all share the characteristics o f religious belief such as evangelical fervour, dogmatism and intolerance.
But there’s something even odder than the fact they all are religiously characterised movements. They all display specifically Christian motifs of sin, guilt and redemption and even more strange they all exhibit features of the Millenarian apocalyptic beliefs associated with medieval Christianity, the pre-modern world and Islam through the ages.
Now Millenarianism as you know is the religious belief in the perfectability of mankind and life on earth by the collective redemption of sin. Contemporary secular ideologies identify the sins committed by humanity, the oppression of third world peoples by the west, the despoliation of nature by the human race, bigotry, poverty, war and they offer redemption and salvation by a return to the path of righteousness.
So, the Greens believe they will save the planet. Leftists believe they will create the brotherhood of man. Anti-Zionists they believe will turn suicide bomb-belts into cucumber frames. Atheists believe they will create the garden of reason, and the Islamists believe they will create the kingdom of God on earth. They are all Millenarian utopian creeds.
And because they aspire to create the perfect world as I’ve said they’re synonymous with virtue and therefore brook no opposition. Dissenters are therefore the enemies, not just people with an opposing point of view, dissenters become the enemies of humanity. And for the west those enemies of humanity, those people who set themselves against ‘virtue’, those people – for the Greens are western capitalists, for militant atheists all people who believe in religious faith and for the left, America and Israel. These dissenters who must be silenced are contemporary heretics forming diabolic conspiracies against the one revealed truth, whatever that truth may be.
Thus the decision to invade Iraq, Israel’s military operations, scepticism of manmade global warming and the persistence of religious faith cannot possibly have any ‘reasonable’ basis according to this point of view because they deny the absolutely unchallengeable truths of anti-imperialism, environmentalism and scientific materialism, the creed that says everything in the universe is explained by materialist factors.
The explanations must therefore lie in conspiracies by the neo-cons or the Jews, big oil or the creationists whose hidden hands are detected everywhere.
Now all these ideologies as I’ve said are aspirations towards secular utopias and we know that when utopias fail as they invariably do, the people espousing those utopias, promoting those utopias turn on scapegoats to express anger and shame. Just like their medieval forebears these modern millenarians persecute dissenters from the faith. So, academics teaching that there are evidence problems with evolutionary theory that explains the origin of everything are fired. Scientists expressing scepticism of manmade global warning theory find they can’t get grant funding, scientific research journals are closed to them, they’re subjected to attacks.
Racism – you may recall in 2006 three white members of the Duke University Lacrosse team accused of raping a black stripper – for a year they were destroyed – the career of their coach was ruined before their ‘victim’ was unmasked as a pathological liar. They could not have been telling the truth because they were white and their victim or their alleged victim was black.
Minority rights 2009, you will recall this also, the beauty queen […] was deprived of her title of Miss USA because when asked by a gay judge in the contest whether America should allow same-sex marriage she replied that although it was good that Americans could vote in different states for the rules they wanted, in her view a marriage should be between a man and a woman. That of course is an unsayable truth in certain circles.
Defenders of national identity and traditional morality are vilified routinely as racists, homophobes, Islamophobes or xenophobes. Jews expressing outrage at the lies and libels being used to de-legitimise Israel are denounced for dual loyalty, demonised as part of a global conspiracy to harm the world and ostracised socially and professionally. Now each of these ideologies manipulates and distorts evidence to support and prove its governing idea which is axiomatically true. The ideology cannot permit any challenge to itself and has to uphold at all costs the pretence of this truth, so challenges have to be resisted through coercive means. Knowledge is forced to give way to power by which I mean reason is replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate. And that makes these ideologies which are, let us remind ourselves, all of these ideologies I’m talking about, are in the very ‘vanguard’ of the most ‘progressive’ thought in the west but this makes all these ideologies actually deeply regressive movements because they corrode the most fundamental concept of western modernity which is freedom of thought and expression and the ability to express dissent.
Now the next bizarre thing is that these things that I’m describing are very, very similar to contemporary Islamism. Islamism or militant Islam is Millenarian. It believes that it is all about producing the kingdom of God on earth, it posits this utopia, it inverts the truth because it embodies perfection and therefore it cannot do wrong and so any wrong that is done must be done by others, i.e. its victims – so one has this ‘mad’ inversion of victim and victimiser in Islamist discourse, and all who are not part of this Islamic perfected state of being are the forces of the devil.
Now here’s the next strange thing – all these secular ideologies that I’ve been talking about as well as Islam have at heart a real hatred of Jewish peoplehood or the Jewish religion.
And this may sound rather strange because these are all very disparate ideologies. But let me suggest these things to you. For example take moral relativism – the idea there is no moral authority, we can all do our own thing, it’s all lifestyle choice. Well, it’s Judaism that laid down the moral law which lays down the very foundation of western morality and that moral law is what is under attack from moral and cultural relativism, multiculturalism and all of that.
Take the Green movement – take environmentalism. It is actually Genesis that draws their deepest wrath because they interpret the biblical dominion of mankind over the earth as an example of divine imperialism or colonialism.
If you look at Richard Dawkins – his great best-seller “The God Delusion” – it is the God of the Hebrew bible singled out in his great diatribe, against religion in general, it is the God of the Hebrew bible who he singles out as the fountainhead of violence, brutality and bigotry in the world. In the Dawkins’ environment it would appear – in the Dawkins’ utopia – if the God of the Hebrew bible was got rid of then the brotherhood of man and the reign, the age of perfect reason would have no impediment whatsoever. And it is Jews who are the principle attacks – target of the attacks by anti-Americans and anti-imperialists on the ‘neo conservatives’ – the euphemism for those who were alleged to have formed the conspiracy, the global conspiracy to subvert American foreign policy in the interests of Israel – and it’s that issue of Israel which is now the greatest symbol of all of western irrationality, particularly in Britain where there is a sustained and relentless campaign of lies and libels about Israel and openly expressed irrational, Jewish conspiracy theories and demonisation of those who object.
So the result of all this is that the west cannot deal with Islamism which itself is driven by a theologically inspired desire to eradicate the Jews and which turns truth and lies, victim and victimiser inside out because the west itself has dispensed with the idea of objective truth. The west itself inverts in all these other ideologies, inverts truth and lies, victim and victimiser, and so on.
Now these ideologies all play in different countries differently. Britain is, I would suggest, the global leader in this. Britain was first into the enlightenment, and is now the first out. But these ideas have traction across the whole of the west and even …”
[Continued in part 3 here at Youtube]
Below is the part of Ms Phillips’ talk that Nick Cohen took exception to.
She says that Islamists saw a vacuum after the Iraq war. I think she is right on this. But their aim was to replace SECULAR DEMOCRACY, not just non-Muslim religions. They saw the chance to do this by destroying the reputations of western leaders in the eyes of their own countries – Bush and Blair. With the help of a ‘feral’ western press they more or less succeeded.
But that destruction was only STEP 1.
Melanie Phillips: God, Truth & Power (7/8) [Q&A]
In her latest work, Melanie Phillips, repudiates the view that faith and reason are incompatible, demonstrating that in many cases the opposite is true. Her central thesis is that the trivialization of religious belief, rejection of the Judeo-Christian heritage, and postmodernism all combine to erode the foundations upon which Western civilization is based. Ms. Phillips explains that this vacuum has resulted in the emergence of a host of irrational cults and preposterous conspiracy theories-a world in which verifiably false statements are continuously reiterated, while truth and lies, right and wrong, victim and aggressor are reversed; a world which may lead Western civilization to a new antirational dark age.
- Welcome to the age of irrationality:
- Blind ideology is dancing on the grave of reason:
- How the West took leave of its senses:
- Infidel Bloggers Alliance Exclusive: UK: INTERFAITH GROUP PROPOSES SHARI’A LAW FOR ALL WOMEN
- Morocco bans Unislamic Names in the Netherlands (in the NETHERLANDS? How far does Morocco’s hand reach?)
- Pew Research Center Project (June 2006). This 13-nations study – The Great Divide – is a 62 page report with comparison tables on how Muslims and non-Muslims view one another. (pdf file)
- Muslims outraged at “Facebook profanity” – May 20th is “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”
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