Princeton University Press £20.95 (256pp) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Tyranny Of Guilt: An Essay On Western Masochism, By Pascal Bruckner, trans by Steven Rendall
Friday 23 April 2010
We all believed in multiculturalism. Didn't we? That was before Islamic fundamentalism was broadcast from British mosques and we got used to seeing a rise in burkhas and blacked- out women on our streets. And what were we to think when our feminist friends celebrated the veil as a symbol of anti-imperialism and a way of turning off predatory males? And how could we remain silent when the Left celebrated the sight of the planes flying into the Twin Towers ? At Ground Zero how could we listen when they dismissed the three thousand murdered office workers, police and fire fighters' deaths with, 'America had it coming!'? And where was their outrage at the Madrid and London bombings? Unable to recognise the war when it came, the Left continued to blame the innocent for being the victims of the jihadist. What if they, what if we, got it wrong?
Pascal Bruckner is a prize-winning novelist, philosopher and essayist and, although he writes from a French perspective, his analysis of the current intellectual zeitgeist questions both sides of the Channel.
The core of his argument is to accuse Europe of willing collaboration with Islamic fundamentalists seeking to destroy the liberal freedoms we have taken centuries to achieve. He argues that Europe has never recovered from its own barbarity and that now it seeks to cleanse its original sin with a new Eden; even if this Paradise has 70 waiting virgins. The Left has cynically used political Islam for its own ends but, in its naivity, has not realised what collaboration means.
Bruckner points out that now we have started to erode our individual rights, for example to satirise all religions, because we are so terrified of offending minority interests. He mentions the establishment of Women-Only swimming pools as the first step to a sexual apartheid. A true egalitarian he wants those born into minorities to have the same rights as the rest of Europe's citizens. And if that means the rights to eat pork, drink alcohol, dress as one wishes or be a homosexual, then so be it.
Bruckner doesn't see the problem as French-only, noting that Islamo-Leftism emanated from the British Socialist Workers Trotskyites and fanned out Europe-wide. They saw Islam as a process to "spearhead a new insurrection in the name of the oppressed". To the Left Wing intellectual, who no longer knows how to understand the world and whose Communist gods have all died, there is no more hope. Their current focus now is the devil incarnate – the US and its pariah Israel. There is a convergence of views between the European Left, and the Iranian mullahs. In their world the Jew has become the Nazi, the Palestinian the Jew and radical Islam is now the victim of Western democracy and not its executioner. But is his prognosis fatal? Bruckner condemns centuries of European persecutions of minorities but also points out that European enlightened thinking has also allowed for the admission of guilt, reparation and a desire to start anew. Europe engaged in slavery but it also stopped it. Where are the voices clamouring for the end of slavery today? he asks. And who dares reveal how much slavery was part of African and Arab world trade. Bruckner shows how selective we are about teaching history and how our media is obsessed with only one struggle (Israel/ Palestine) while ignoring others (Sudan/Dafur). The essay, translated into clear American English, is provocative, scholarly and accessible. His critique of the Politics of Identity is wide-ranging and convinces us that a return to the values of citizenship is the only way back to sanity. It's not that we have to diminish culpability but that all nations should look at their own past, learn from it and advance.
Bruckner urges readers to resist censorship, reminding us that any staging of Voltaire's 1741 play, Mohammed the Prophet, today , would need police protection.
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