Politeness is not saying certain things lest there be violence; civility is being able to say those certain things and there won’t be violence.
Honor-shame and Islamism:
In an honor culture, it is legitimate, expected, even required to shed blood for the sake of honor. A man is not a real man until he has killed another. The need to save face, and to avenge a blackened face, justifies both quotidian lying and occasional violence. People in such cultures are, as a result, careful to be “polite”; and a genuinely free press is impossible, no matter what the laws proclaim. Public criticism is an assault on the very “face” of the person criticized.
Thus, modernity is a crucible of humiliation: alpha males have to allow others to criticize them publicly, and modern media (newspapers, pamphlets, radio and TV news, blogs) are the vast public venue of that criticism (public sphere). Similarly, modern scholarship depends on this shift from the use of violence (and other forms of imposing consensus) to settle arguments, to one that gives priority to principled dispute (public mutual contradiction) and a commitment to “tell the truth.” Modernity is based on civil, not polite discourse.
Modern, (self-)critical historiography, for example, has repeatedly challenged its own culture’s self-serving (and face-saving) narratives of the past (our side is right). They have shown particular vigor and success in “documenting” sacred texts and thereby desacralizing the religions that claimed them as divinely inspired/dictated.
Modernity represents a very painful experience for any culture (France in the Dreyfus Affair), but the benefits of this public self-criticism – sharp learning curves – make that pain worthwhile. For those who resist this aspect of modernity, however, today’s globalizing world makes it especially painful because in “saving face,” they also relegate themselves to a significantly inferior place among the (productive and powerful) nations.
This is particularly true for Islamic religious culture. In Dar al Islam, a Muslim’s contradiction/criticism of Islam was punishable by death, a fortiori did this hold true for infidels. A (relatively free) public discussion depended entirely on the good will of Muslims not to exercise their prerogative to punish those who criticized Islam. “Fundamentalist” episodes (e.g., the Almoravids in 11th century Spain) represent a vigorous reassertion of this kind of honor-shame Islam.
Modernity has been a Nakba (psychological catastrophe) for Islam, starting with Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798, and Islam in all its variegated currents has yet to successfully negotiate these demands of modernity. Few if any of the major currents of a currently highly innovative Islam have found a form of that religion that a) genuinely renounces the dreams of dominion and b) has success propagating in the Muslim world.
On the contrary, the loudest and most vigorous voices in contemporary Islam reject vehemently the kind of self-criticism modernity requires. Muslims the world over often resort to violence at (perceived) insult, and many others excuse these deeds as perhaps deplorable, but certainly understandable. Such comments are unbearable assaults on the manhood of Muslims. Butcher those who mock Islam.
Indeed, global Jihad and the apocalyptic prophets who nourish it with their rhetoric of hatred and massacre, represent a particularly virulent form of abreactive modernity, in which the powers of modern society (especially technology) are turned to the task of destroying a modern culture of public, free debate about what is fair. For these religious zealots, Christianity has already been castrated by modernity (the Jews), and they are defending their religion/culture from annihilation.
Thus the Jewish slap on the faces of the Christians continues, who apparently enjoy and allow this sort of humiliation and attack, and give them their other cheek so that the Jew can continue to slap the Christians—just as we see—ruling them in Europe through the Masons who dig the grave of Western civilization through corruption and promiscuity. The Crusader West continues like a whore who is screwed sadistically, and does not derive any pleasure from the act until after she is struck and humiliated, even by her pimps—the Jews in Christian Europe. Soon they will be under the rubble as a result of the Jewish conspiracy. (Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic, 210).
These men have already reached the most dangerous dimension of apocalyptic thought: “exterminate the other or be exterminated.”
Secularism demands more maturity, it requires that religions be civil, that they not use force (the state) to impose their beliefs on others. The open market of religious discourse (and the demands of a diverse and peaceful global community), means that religious communities have to give up their need to be visibly superior as a sign of being right/true, that they renounce religious libido dominandi. According to rules by which all may live in peace, one may not resort to violence (and other forms of vengeance) in order to save the face of one’s God(s). This involves high levels of tolerance for public contradiction.
Secularism is not by definition, hostile to religion. On the contrary, while it opposes coercive religion, it favors voluntaristic religion. On the most profound level, secularism is the best friend of a religion of freely chosen commitment.
For Islam this is a particularly difficult challenge, because for most of Islam’s formative period (including the formation of its legal schools), it was if not a majoritarian, nonetheless always the dominating political presence. The laws of the Dhimma spelled out the principles: infidels were “protected” from violence and death at the hands of Muslims as long as they accepted a visibly, indeed specifically humiliating, inferiority. Like medieval Christianity, it sought to assert its supersessionism over its monotheistic predecessors, Jews and Christians, by constructing an elaborate “public transcript” of superiority. And among the key demands made on dhimmis, was that they not challenge, criticize, or in any way “insult” Islam or Muslims.
Contemporary manifestations of Islamic revival tend to handle the infidel “other” poorly. Whether religiously motivated (Islamist locales like Gaza), or culturally (tribal/religious locales like Iraq), minorities are physically imperiled throughout the world where Muslims are the majority. This includes expanding enclaves in Europe, the famous zones urbaines sensibles, where the state’s writ no longer runs.
Thus, Islam’s – Muslims – relationship with the “other” (kufr, infidel, lit. one who covers [the truth]), is the great problem to resolve in this coming generation, and at the heart of that problem lies the ability of Muslims to tolerate criticism from outsiders.
We in the modern (and post-modern) West, who first forged these remarkable rules of self-restraint and created so rich, so variegated, so tolerant a culture, have a right to demand that Islam renounce these principles of coercion, certainly those who live in and benefit from the civil polities we have created. Indeed, if we treasure these values of tolerance, and freedom, and generosity towards the “other,” we owe it to ourselves and to the Muslims in our midst, to make this demand. Anything else, including the fantasy that this is not a problem, is cultural suicide.
And yet, so far, we are doing very badly. The West has not figured out how to deal with this problem. In part this is because we avoid it. The proverbial “thin skin” of Muslims to any kind of criticism is proverbial – especially Arab Muslims, to whom modernity has dealt the most painful Nakba, that of Zionism. Much diplomacy, and much public and even academic discourse tacitly acknowledges and tries to find ways to accommodate that cultural reality, to avoid confrontation. When Western positive-sum principles meets Arab zero-sum principles – we do everything we can to “get to yes,” win-win, while they have no problem playing by rules in which they can only win, if we lose – we most often lose (Oslo “Peace” Process).
In the last decade (the aughts, ‘00s) this has gotten much worse: the Muslim public voice has become far more, indeed aggressively, demanding in ways that even in the ‘90s would have been considered unthinkable; and the Western response has become increasingly dedicated to placating these demands for “respect.” In the bruising encounter of Islam with modern demands for public tolerance and public self-criticism, the behavior of the self-identified “progressive” “left” – traditionally the bastion of stinging public criticism of abuse of power, misogyny and belligerence – has been overwhelmingly placatory. Repeatedly they step in – sometimes very aggressively – to prevent anyone (fellow infidels) from saying something that might bruise Muslims feelings. Indeed, they seem more worried about “us” provoking Muslim violence than about exploring the sources Muslim violence. And often they attack those defending democratic principles with a shrill and contemptuous tone that they would never dream of using with Muslims.
The case of Pope Benedict quoting Emperor Manuel II (ca. 1400) claiming Islam was inherently violent illustrates the situation in (what should have been) its most absurd dimensions. In response, Muslims rioted around the world, killing dozens (mostly Muslim), screaming, in effect: “how dare you call us violent.” And the response of the Western public sphere was to pressure the pope to apologize for provoking them.
The code word here has been Islamophobia, a widely used term designating those so identified with racism, xenophobia and paranoia. While I have no doubt that this kind of Islamophobia exists and deserves condemnation, it is often applied to people with legitimate criticisms not only of Islamism, but of Islam. Ironically, for critics who have no hesitation calling Zionists who object to demonizing Israel the “Israel right or wrong” crowd who want to shut down any criticism of Israel, they do not hesitate to use Islamophobia as a way of preventing legitimate criticism of Islam. Indeed, they use their definition of Islamophobia as racism far more often than the other meaning of the word, itself a far more widespread phenomenon, the fear of criticizing Islam.
If paranoia/xenophobia is an irrational fear of someone or something, then what term do we use for the irrational lack of fear of something genuinely menacing. We don’t have a word for it yet, but if free and democratic culture is to survive in this troubled century, we will have to find a term and identify those afflicted with this irrationality.