Jeffrey Herf (Professor of History, University of Maryland) recently suggested that President Obama apply the same standards to Christianity and Islam. This is a delightfully naive suggestion.
First, there seems to be a belief among various Western leaders that criticising any strain within Islam is somehow a criticism of all Muslims. This is, of course, pathetically condescending, but is an understandable result of the application of identity politics to Muslims as an undifferentiated group.
Second, the Obama Administration–whose utterances make sense if treated as the faculty lounge mutterings of a mediocre university Sociology department–is clearly pervaded by the use of such identity politics as a device for signalling virtue.
Third, considering strains within Islam as problematic leads naturally, and awkwardly, to critical analysis of the ideology of the Iranian regime. And that would not be helpful, to say the least, to the Administration’s (apparently increasingly desperate) desire to achieve some sort of over-arching deal with Iran. (That is, the Iranian regime which most Iranians have come to loathe.)
In the PC universe, as instanced by the rhetoric of the Obama Administration, there is no such thing as bad Muslims, because if you are really bad then you are not really Muslim–hence the Islamic State is “not Islamic“, it is a perversion of a great (un-named) religion. Conversely, Jews are not victims because they are Jews, they are unlucky victims of “random” attack. Yet, three Muslims are killed, and the President is all about folk not being targeted for their religion. This refusal to talk in terms of Islamic origins and Islamic motives is clearly considered and continuing policy.
This is part of a much wider pattern, where Western liberals, progressives and folk of the left (with a few honourable exceptions) refuse to talk seriously about (often even notice) Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism, much to the deep and abiding frustration of their confreres in the Islamic world. When individual Muslims do bad things, their Muslim identity is often downplayed or ignored.
Critics of political correctness delight in pointing out such absurdities and contradictions, but they do not understand: those contradictions and absurdities are not a bug, they are a feature.
First, the point of political correctness is to signal virtue (or, rather, Virtue with a very capital ‘V’). Precisely because the point is to signal Virtue, by adapting Xavier Marquez‘s theory of cults of personality as loyalty signalling, we can see how the willingness to embrace absurdities and contradictions just demonstrates how committed to being Virtuous you are.
Marquez’s theory of cults of personality is quite straightforward. How do you signal loyalty in a situation where loyalty is compulsory? You go completely over the top. You show yourself willing to engage in positively nauseating public displays of flattery and adulation.
So, how do you signal Virtue in a situation where moralised discourse is compulsory? You get really, really finicky about the use of language and commitment to various moral mascots (to use Thomas Sowell’s expression) or sacred victims (to use Jonathan Haidt’s analysis).
Thus, just as cults of personality have flattery inflation, political correctness has Virtue inflation. Leading to what has been rather nicely (if amusingly nastily) described as look-at-me-I’m-the-most-special-snowflake factionalism. As Patricia Arquette discovered, when she made a short, passionate speech at the Oscars for equal pay for women. And immediately the “I’m the more special snowflake” Virtue inflation erupted. The heterosexual white woman had failed to check her privilege and to get the moral ordering correct. Outraged denunciations thundered forth (all via).
All part of the PC universe, where there is a deep moral difference between “coloured people” and “people of colour”. For, by keeping up with the latest usage, one signals commitment to Virtue.
Open House is a safe space for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderf–k, Polyamourous, Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism (LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM) communities and for people of sexually or gender dissident communities.
Why not just say “queer”? Indeed, the more confronting the exoticism of a group (especially to previous moral and cultural usages), the better they function as differentiating markers of Virtue.
Which is where swallowing absurdity and self-contradiction comes in. Just as the adherent of a cult of personality goes over the top to signal loyalty to the ruler, so an adherent of the cult of Ostentatious Virtue accepts contradiction and absurdity to show their commitment to Virtue.
Which makes contemporary Islam (infected with Islamism) perfect as a marker of Virtue. To be truly Virtuous, one must understand when misogyny, queer-hatred, Jew-hatred and being anti-democratic count, and when they do not. One must understand when to See No Evil and when to see Only Evil. So, precisely because Islamism is so misogynist, so full of queer-hatred, Jew-hatred, hostility to democracy, so willing to engage in massacre, it makes “See No Evil” treatment of Muslims such a splendid marker of Virtue. Treating Islamism–with its misogyny, queer-hatred, Jew-hatred, hostility to democracy, recurring slaughter–as ideally as a non-Muslim event (or otherwise a non-morally-significant-event) becomes part of signalling Virtue.
As Jonathan Haidt notes, sacredness involves abandoning trade-offs. The sacred victims are not placed with other mere mortals within a web of trade-offs between moral principles, but elevated to a special moral purity. So, Islam (or at least Muslim identity) purifies and ennobles in a way that Christian belief and identity most emphatically do not. As we can see in President Obama’s selective silences.
Those irritating Jews
Jew-hatred, for example, becomes something of a non-issue for the Virtuous (unless specifically pressed on the subject), as it is nowadays overwhelmingly concentrated in the Muslim world, including Muslim communities in the West. Under the See No Muslim Evil approach, it becomes impossible to see that Israel is primarily not hated because of its treatment of the Palestinians; overwhelmingly it is hated because it is successful Jews–something Israel cannot do anything about, except to disappear. But to critically examine Muslim Jew-hatred would wildly get in the way of using Muslims as moral mascots and sacred victims, so such Jew-hatred (to the extent that it gets noticed at all) gets blamed on the Jews, using the fig-leaf of “anti-Zionism”. Thus, nothing bad is to be inferred about the security guards outside Jewish schools and synagogues–except about Jews (via the Jewish state).
Who thereby become the only hate-target group to be blamed for being hated, via the fig-leaf of “anti-Zionism”. (Which much of the European elite are happy to buy into, as they have never forgiven the Jews for the Holocaust, of which the Jewish state is a permanent reminder–the Holocaust does so get in the way of the European elite’s pretensions to be the moral elite and arbiters for the globe and Jews are such a small, and declining, percentage of Europe’s population.) To blame anyone but the Jew(ish state), would be to fatally undermine the See No Muslim Evil marker of Virtue.
Thus, to notice that Israel has (to put it mildly) a much better record on queer rights than its Arab neighbours, including its Palestinian neighbours, becomes “pinkwashng“. To quote a Hamas leader saying, for example:
You do not live like human beings. You do not (even) live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?
Is to be not playing the Ostentatious Virtue game.
Refusing to acknowledge that Islam is both a religion and a civilisation, Muslims are Virtuously defined by their religion (or some useful conception thereof), so that to criticise Islam is somehow to denigrate all Muslims. A principle not applied to, for example, Christians.
Lumping all Muslims together in a common identity does a great deal of the Islamists’ work for them, as the Islamists are so very much about Islam as a single, completely trumping, identity. But, as Ostentatious Virtue puts such huge moral weight on belief, that provides another convergence between Islamism and Ostentatious Virtue. As does a sufficiently anodyne notion of “anti-imperialism”–provided one is prepared to completely toss over any notion of anti-fascism–and a shared propensity to collective moral narcissism.
To take the menace of Islamism seriously would fatally undermines the See No Muslim Evil marker of Virtue. So, Islamism’s ideology is ignored (or misrepresented). A useful instancing summary of said ideology is here:
In the Holy Quran, Allah (SWT) has promised the Muslim nation the authority to rule over the world based on only one condition. That condition is to follow His orders in absolute manner and not to associate any partners with Him. Because Allah (SWT) has said “Verily, Allah forgives not the partners should be set up with Him (in worship), but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases, and whoever sets up partners with Allah (in worship), he has indeed invented a tremendous sin.” …
Once the Jews and Christians have realized that it is no longer possible for them to make the Muslims worship idols, they have invented idols in the name of various ideologies (such as Democracy, Regional Nationalism etc.) to derail the Muslims from their Fundamental Belief. They have forced others to accept their ideologies through deceptive tricks, and even by applying military force where necessary. Apart from that they, have masked their Idols in the names of “Society”, “State Governance” etc, in such a manner that unless a Muslim is highly conscious, it is not possible for him to unveil these masks. In vain he unknowingly gets trapped in the web of conspiracies of Jews and Christians. …
A practical example is the most prevailing social order of this present world -DEMOCRACY- The fundamental guiding principle of Democracy (Stimulated by Former U.S.A. President Abraham Lincoln) is “Democracy for the people of the people by the people”. Thus, to accept Democracy is to believe that people are sovereign and the source of ALL power. Let us take a look at some statements given by majority of political scientists. From among them Austin has said “LAW IS THE WILL OF SOVEREIGN” and Jan Boda has said “IT IS THE DUTY OF THE SOVEREIGN TO MAKE LAW”. So we can understand from their statements that if the people are sovereign and the source of all power then the authority is in their hand to make law in a Democratic system. Whereas on the other hand, Allah (SWT) (the Creator of people and the Great Lord of the Cosmopolitan) has declared that “And to Allah belongs the sovereignty of the heaven and the earth, and to Allah is the return (of all).” …
But not many people realize the clear meaning of the above Verses that, Democracy and Islam directly contradict each other. Nevertheless few people are aware of the fact that they will lose their Imaan upon accepting the ideologies (such as Democracy) of the Jews and Christians.
It is sad to say, instead of awaring Muslims of this fact, a group of people from among the Muslims, some hypocrites in the disguise of preachers of Islam, are making every effort to make the Muslims believe that “Democracy” is in congruence with Islam and it is the best system in the present situation of the world. With their misguided speech and explanations, these hypocrites are ruining and diminishing the main pillar of Imaan and Aqeedah of Muslims (Tawheed). Due to this, people who claim to be Muslims cannot understand that these ideologies are rather double-faced and controversial the Islam and with one’s Imaan. They fail to understand that it is an outright act of shirk to involve oneself in the work of constitutions based on such ideologies!
To describe such for what it is–a totalitarian project of social and global domination–is to violently contradict the game of See No Muslim Evil as marker of Virtue. To notice the pervasive and vicious Othering involved is even more so.
Hence the antipathy to apostates such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali–by insisting on applying general moral principles to the lives of (in particular) women in Muslim communities, she utterly gets in the way of treating Muslims as a group as moral mascots and sacred victims. Thereby ignoring real victims; the oppression and misery hidden away in God-locked communities, themselves full of intense Othering.
Which means that the See No Muslim Evil as marker of Virtue becomes an exercise in systematic denial of realty, of the facts of the matter. Said denial being not just a river in Egypt, but a basic underpinning of the Obama Administration’s Middle Eastern policy.
This is not at all likely to end well.
But it manifests elsewhere. Thus Ayaan Hirsi Ali found that the Dutch government–which collected all sorts of statistics on violence–did not statistically identify (dis)honour killings because, in the words of civil servants in the Ministry of Justice:
We don’t register murders based on a category of motivation. It would stigmatise one group in society. (p.296).
Just contemplate the moral calculus involved in that decision for a moment.
But the same concern over status as Virtuous versus actual lived lives and real (rather than “sacred”) victims manifested in the Rotherham scandal, where racism (correctly understood as concern for one’s status as Virtuous) seriously got in the way of doing anything about real victims.
It really is about a Virtual morality substituting for an elementary decency one.
Oh, and just to be clear. Yes, I am saying that the self-righteous adherents of the cult of Ostentatious Virtue in the West care more about their own sense of warm inner glow, moral vanity and collective sense of Virtue than the brutal realities of massacre and oppression that Islamists has been engaged in for decades now, because they give those deaths and oppressions so little practical significance.
Worse, they passively or actively collaborate in the Islamist hijacking of Muslim identity (such as completely failing to put the Charlie Hebdo attack in the context of a decades-long campaign of murder and assassination against Muslim, and Muslim heritage, writers and journalists), burbling on about–utterly undifferentiated–“Muslim” sensibilities: a pattern that goes back to responses to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Given the manifold victims of Islamism, we can see that Muslim lives do not count if they get in the way of the game of Ostentatious Virtue; a game of never-mind-the-lived-reality-of-others, feel one’s Virtue.
[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]