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Many “leftists” have taken the position that the cartoons published in the Danish paper and elsewhere are primarily a representation of Western racism and should be condemned. Nonsense.
As a leftist I thought that our goal was liberation through thorough and robust debate and confronting irrational ideas and superstition in particular? This means that if someone is offended because we say that the world is round then too bad. The truth hurts. If we are constantly weary of offending, then truth, yes I believe in such a thing, will never over come the backward state of affairs today that allows gays to be treated like second class citizens, intelligent design to be taught in schools and people in the US and Britain to believe that the war in Iraq is being prosecuted for humanitarian ends.
Much of the sentiment not to offend and to side with reactionaries at times comes from a sincere desire to defend oppressed people and expose the hypocrisy of Western imperialism that consistently speaks of democracy and tolerance and practices support for dictatorship and racist laws at home and abroad. In Europe and the United States it also comes from a desire to side with people of color who have traditionally not assimilated into our societies as well as people from other European countries. And this gets to the crux of the matter, assimilation. If a society is going to function a certain set of ideas must be widely accepted otherwise sectarian conflict will ensue. This is not to say that Vietnamese or Algerians that move to France should all have to become Christians or cook fancy entrees but they should accept that women’s equality before the law or universal suffrage need to be accepted.
In the Western tradition, where today’s Left traces its roots, the American and French revolutions put into practice universal values that have allowed us to create political systems that now allow universal suffrage and equal protection before the law. This is not the end of our program, nay it is just the beginning, but it is a start that puts us, those who embrace universal values, ahead of those who choose a chosen group or a sacred text as the basis for society. Anticipating the counter-argument, that the West at times uses these values to enforce intolerance and is just as exclusive as alternative systems, I would agree to a degree, but this does not negate the fact that the Rights of Man or the Bill of Rights allows ALL people to be accepted and treated as equals not just a specific ethnic group or a divinely anointed. We should then embrace liberal ideas when freedom will be advanced by such a defense. Not as Confederates did to defend slavery but as Northerners did to liberate.
The Left then should defend the oppressed, but not blindly. Multi-culturalists in particular have had a hard time with this idea seemingly supporting every movement from the Nation of Islam to the Tamil Tigers. Just because people are discriminated against doesn’t mean that the movement that they found to over come this discrimination is worthy of support. If the movement that would come to power as a result of victory would be worse for the women or workers of said movement, then it is not worthy of unconditional support.
Another way of looking at the issue is through the lens of immigration. Let’s say there is a small Scandinavian country with a functioning social democratic system and you want to do your internationalist duty and allow millions of people to come into your country from all over the world where people are fleeing economic and political despotism. If said immigrants bring with them backward ideas, like sexism, religious superstition, belief in inequality, etc… what will be the result for your good deed? It could transform the place into a backward place not because said immigrants are inferior human beings but because their cultural traditions have been respected. Should we thus sacrifice equality and social democracy on the alter of tolerance for oppressed groups?
To the cartoons. They may have been published by racists to inflame. So what? Chill out Jihadis; fly a kite, smoke a joint and flip through the pages of Playboy if you are so uptight.