Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Monday, July 15, 2002
I just got another email in response to my translation of Fallaci's Anger and Pride:
The article by O. Fallaci must be read by all who want to stay alive and who think about future of their children and grandchildren. What is coming is maybe worse than Nazism plus rats plus cockroaches plus cancer. It took about 150 years to get rid of high-sea pirates, the rats are still in our cities after thousand years of attempt to get rid of them.

The Western world is in a mortal danger.. and 9/11 is just a beginning. Immigration policies must be reconsidered. Mosques in Western countries in which they teach hatred must be closed and preachers must be deported. Any attempts by a Muslim to do any harm to societies must lead to immediate deportation.

Here's what I responded:

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that there is a serious threat that must be taken seriously. The difficult thing is how to do so without abrogating the very values and rights that we wish to defend, the ones that make our society superior. We don't prosecute people for simply "teaching hatred," nor can we and remain consistent with our principles. We think people must be allowed to hate and to speak their hatred. Not because we think hate is salutary—it's not. We can, do, and should expose, criticize, and seek to marginalize groups that teach hatred. But we don't prosecute them for that alone. And there's a good reason why not. It's very easy for a government to define any dissent it doesn't like as "hate speech." In fact, that is one of the gravest charges against the phenomenon loosely called "political correctness"—that it seeks to define certain judgments as "hate speech" and thereby to justify banning them. This is precisely what is being done to Fallaci in France and Switzerland. Employing such tactics at all, even against evil, only strengthens their potency against truth. And in any case, hatred that is preached openly is far easier to keep an eye on.

Similarly, I find your statement "Any attempts by a Muslim to do any harm to societies must lead to immediate deportation" to be too broad to be useful. Many Muslims are fellow citizens who cannot be deported and who are entitled to a presumption of loyalty and innocence just like any other citizen. As with any other group of citizens, we can and should still pay close attention to what they preach and treat with appropriate suspicion and vigilance those who espouse violence. But we cannot regard them all as presumptive enemies. Indeed, to do so would likely be self-fulfilling. Ultimately this threat will dissipate only when Islam evolves worldwide, as Christianity did, into a religion that recognizes the distinction between religious and temporal authority and that can be reconciled with the individual liberty that forms the basis of liberal society. The best way to help the forces within Islam that want to prevent this evolution is to send the message that we regard Muslims as inherently unworthy of acceptance and participation in our society.

This doesn't mean that we should blind ourselves to the fact that there is a destructive pathology infecting much of the Islamic world, one that locks people in poverty and directs their talent and energy into murder and destruction. We have to identify that pathology unflinchingly wherever it exists and draws sustenance (including "friendly" places like Saudi Arabia) and respond with unapologetic ruthlessness to whoever seeks to act on it. Certainly visitors to our country from states where this pathology is prevalent should be treated with heightened scrutiny and expelled if there is reason to believe they are seeking to organize or engage in terrorism. Perhaps that is all you meant. All I'm saying is that in fighting the new Nazism we must walk a difficult line. We must not allow our tolerance, our self-criticism, our liberal virtues, to blind us to threats and enervate our responses to them. But nor must we wind up emulating what we fight against. As Nietzche pointed out, the abyss gazes also into us.

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