Thursday, October 11, 2007

Conservatives Are More Tolerant Than Lefties

I have a little bit of a libertarian streak in me, and I occasionally like to visit Reason Magazine and read about freedom of speech and civil liberties etc. My libertarian streak is grounded in a principle that civility is a necessary ingredient with respect to free expression. In other words I only respect another persons freedoms of expression when they are not combined with violence. Some people think that other peoples freedom of expression must be respected even if they are violent. I read an interview between Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is libertarian like myself, and a Reason staff interviewer who is not like me. There was some interesting tricks the interviewer used to trip up Ayaan, and she smacked him down every time.

It started out with a question of how she came to the US and AEI. She told him that the US ambassador to Holland had offered to show her around the think tanks in the US. She went to Brookings, John Hopkins, RAND, and she balked at going to that religious and conservative AEI.

Reason: Why the initial aversion?

Hirsi Ali: Because I thought they would be religious, and I had become an atheist. And I don’t consider myself a conservative. I consider myself a classical liberal.

Anyway, the Brookings Institution did not react. Johns Hopkins said they didn’t have enough money. The RAND Corporation wants its people to spend their days and nights in libraries figuring out statistics, and I’m very bad at statistics. But at AEI they were enthusiastic. It turns out that I have complete freedom of thought, freedom of expression. No one here imposed their religion on me, and I don’t impose my atheism on them.

Reason: Do you see eye to eye with high-profile AEI hawks such as former Bush speechwriter David Frum and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton?

Hirsi Ali: Most of the time I do. For instance, I completely and utterly agree with John Bolton that talking to Iran is a sheer waste of time.

This is at the beginning of the interview, and I am already warming up to her answers, but the very best part of the interview was at the end when the interviewer started asking her questions about tolerance.
Reason: Tolerance is probably the most powerful word there is in the Netherlands. No other word encapsulates better what the Dutch believe really defines them. That makes it very easy for people to say that when they’re being criticized, they’re not being tolerated—and from there it’s only a small step to saying they’re being discriminated against or they’re the victims of Islamophobia or racism or what have you.

Hirsi Ali: We have to revert to the original meaning of the term tolerance. It meant you agreed to disagree without violence. It meant critical self-reflection. It meant not tolerating the intolerant. It also came to mean a very high level of personal freedom.

Then the Muslims arrived, and they hadn’t grown up with that understanding of tolerance. In short order, tolerance was now defined by multiculturalism, the idea that all cultures and religions are equal. Expectations were created among the Muslim population. They were told they could preserve their own culture, their own religion. The vocabulary was quickly established that if you criticize someone of color, you’re a racist, and if you criticize Islam, you’re an Islamophobe.

Reason: The international corollary to the word tolerance is probably respect. The alleged lack of respect has become a perennial sore spot in relations between the West and Islam. Salman Rushdie receiving a British knighthood supposedly signified such a lack of respect, as did the Danish cartoons last year, and many other things. Do you believe this is what Muslims genuinely crave—respect?

Hirsi Ali: It’s not about respect. It’s about power, and Islam is a political movement.

Reason: Uniquely so?

Hirsi Ali: Well, it hasn’t been tamed like Christianity. See, the Christian powers have accepted the separation of the worldly and the divine. We don’t interfere with their religion, and they don’t interfere with the state. That hasn’t happened in Islam.

But I don’t even think that the trouble is Islam. The trouble is the West, because in the West there’s this notion that we are invincible and that everyone will modernize anyway, and that what we are seeing now in Muslim countries is a craving for respect. Or it’s poverty, or it’s caused by colonization.

The Western mind-set—that if we respect them, they’re going to respect us, that if we indulge and appease and condone and so on, the problem will go away—is delusional. The problem is not going to go away. Confront it, or it’s only going to get bigger.

Today especially I have seen a lot of criticism directed at conservatives because of some critical articles about Ann Coulter. It was a refreshing breath of fresh air for me to read this interview with Ayaan, and take some comfort in this Somali lady's insightful remarks about her religious conservative colleagues at AEI.

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