For years, illiberal liberals in the West”leftists, feminists, students, politicians”had been chipping away at tolerance and freedom of speech, passing vast swathes of hate-speech legislation, which in Europe has been used to criminalize preachers who don”t love homosexuality, actresses who aren”t huge fans of Islam, and Tweeters who badmouth footballers.
For years, the multiculturalism industry in the West promoted the idea that no culture is superior to any other and thus all must be celebrated and none ridiculed.
Thus were the Enlightenment values of knowledge, reason, liberty, and universalism pounded and weakened, not by weird men in robes but by well-educated Westerners in chinos and maxi dresses.
And it is out of this mush made by us that al-Qaeda emerges. Or at least, it’s this mush that al-Qaeda exploits, to great effect. Just read these people’s statements. Osama bin Laden slammed the West for “destroy[ing] nature with your industrial waste and gasses,” sounding like an especially angry Greenpeace person. He railed against the “greed and avarice of … major corporations.” He said the West must institute a “check on the freedom of your words,” echoing every “no-platforming” student and word-policing feminist of the Western world.
Or listen to some of the youths who”ve run off to join the Islamic State. They holler about the stuff-ism of Western consumer society, asking: “Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you”ve got, the big car you”ve got?”
Al-Qaeda, IS, or whatever this strain of weirdly modern antimodernism is calling itself these days, is the residue of the Enlightenment’s death, not the cause of it. The embodiment of the West’s destruction of its own values is turning our own relativism, our non-judgmentalism, our illiberalism, and our fear of modernity against us, with violence this time. It’s Occupy with guns, environmentalism with bombs, multiculturalism with murderous intent.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre summed this up amazingly. What was the true sentiment behind this massacre of cartoonists? That no one has the right to judge other cultures and everyone must check “the freedom of his words.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has been the organizing principle of the post-Enlightenment West for decades, a central plank of the relativistic cult of multiculturalism and the speech-policing scourge of political correctness. Those killers did not poison the modern West; they made real, in flesh and blood”so much blood”the modern West’s own warped and illiberal outlook.
This is why so many Western liberals desperately cling to the narrative of a new world war being launched by Islamists against our liberal universe; why they become so animated by talk of Islamist plots; why they devote so much energy to talking about a cancer from afar that has infected the West. Because it’s easier by far to fantasize that foreign bodies destroyed the Enlightenment than to face up to the terrifying, unpalatable reality: that the Enlightenment was in fact done in by your colleagues, your associates, your friends, you.
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