Monday, 30 July 2012

The Cult of Free-Choice.

Liberals have a lot of sacred cows worth taking to the abattoir. The fetish of free choice, the cult of progress and its place at the shrine to individualism. Fortunately not all of this has to be served for dinner after the slaughter. The battle for secularisation is the last mission of liberalism. This has taken the form of going after everything from 'In God we trust' on the dollar bill and the availability of funds for Christmas trees to Muslim headscarves and veils. The liberal values of secular pluralism, progress and freedom are often the lynchpin for these campaigns. Similarly the advent of political correctness and the collapse of competing political systems to liberal democracy (don't mention the c-word!) has led the old forces of reaction to try and undermine the few protections for minorities on the grounds of 'sameness'. There is only the liberal framework of rights and liberties, anything beyond that is illiberal. No one is special and no difference can be acknowledged.

Infamously the French have banned the Islamic veil, known as a 'burqa' though it's actually a niqab, out of the secular principles of republicanism. Out of the French Muslim population (estimated at 5 million people) only 2,000 women wear the veil. The opposition to the veil is supposedly derived from a concern for women's rights and the secular values of French society. Even though it could be argued that the bill is unconstitutional. There is no such legislation on the veils worn by nuns, but that could be because the majority of the masses are Catholic. It's not necessary for France to have a Christian state precisely because it is predominantly Catholic. This is the sales pitch of secularists in the Middle East incidentally. Thankfully the use of legislation against a religious minority to soak up the racist vote couldn't save the Rat Man from electoral oblivion. Yet the West remains enthusiastic with chatter of criminalising Muslim life.

The Swiss have banned any further construction of minarets. It would seem that the notion of secularism as conceived by St Augustine has been lost. There is no room at all for religious influence or institutions in a secular society under the new conception. It has gone further now to ban male circumcision in Cologne and there are now calls to impose the ban over the rest of Germany. The case was not made along the lines of secularism this time. Instead it was the rights of the child, who could not give their consent to be circumcised. These are not calls from brownshirts, but from the liberal guardians of the Enlightenment legacy. This particular ban has brought greater controversy (and rightly so) because it strikes at a fundamental tradition of Jews. Once the secular line to ban minarets and veils runs dry then the accusation of child abuse can be hurled at Muslims. Not content with limiting the choices open in society the Right can stress free choice opens a new front of persecution.

The target is not Judaism, but Islam. It is a slant against Jews too because it would be too crude to stipulate that Muslims be barred from practicing their religion. Giles Fraser has written a defence of circumcision in relation to Jewish identity. It was the Holocaust survivor and philosopher Emil Fackenheim who added the 614th commandment: thou must not grant Hitler posthumous victories. This mitzvah insists that the abandonment of one's Jewish identity was to do Hitler's work for him. Fraser adds "Jews are commanded to survive as Jews by the martyrs of the Holocaust." It's not really about the harm principle, the liberal framework only has room for an individual and not for an identity that reaches beyond its confines. The condition of consent functions to break apart a community into individuals who each must choose from a set of lifestyle options. The liberal society doesn't really know how to deal with categories beyond atomised individuals.

Similarly, there are calls from reactionaries to ban halal and kosher meat because it's cruel to animals. This agenda has led to French proto-fascists have been setting up soup kitchens that only sell pork-based slop to drive away homeless Muslims. As Mehdi Hasan has pointed out that 80-90% of halal meat sold in Britain comes from animals that were stunned before being slaughtered. So much for the claim that it's really about the harm inflicted on the animals. The gutter press continues to pursue this campaign against the savagery with which Muslim (and Jewish) customs are practiced. Of course, there isn't a word about animal rights in other spheres. The media loves to stir up moral panics about the "foreign" menace eating away at our society. Now they're looking to get people worried about the meat in their fridge. Throw out the cruelty argument and you're left with the free choice argument. The real point is that halal meat should be labeled so that an informed choice can be made.

In his polemic against liberal individualism Giles Fraser writes "Informed consent lies at the heart of choice and choice lies at the heart of the liberal society. Without informed consent, circumcision is regarded as a form of violence and a violation of the fundamental rights of the child. Which is why I regard the liberal mindset as a diminished form of the moral imagination. There is more to right and wrong than mere choice." The idea of a cohesive community which is more than an arrangement of self-interest and bound by more than consent has no place in the liberal society. Fraser is correct in his assertion that the religious threatens liberalism because it suggests that it's not all about the individual. Any doctrine which makes such a suggestion could be a totalitarian in the liberal mind. And the moralists are just prudes clinging on in the permissive society, a clogged pipe to flushed clear.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I seriously love your site.. Very nice colors & theme.
Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I'm wanting to create my own site and would love to know where you got this from or what the theme is called. Kudos!
Feel free to visit my weblog ; lease info