Tolerating Intolerance

Yesterday I wrote about the liberal approach to sex ed to be found in The Netherlands and how this has resulted in world-record low rates of pregnancy and STDs in young people. The Netherlands also often is cited as having close to the lowest rate of abortion among all nations — I think Iceland edges it out by a decimal point — while allowing liberal, legal access to abortion.

Today we read in the International Herald Tribune that the problems caused by Muslim immigration into The Netherlands is causing the Dutch to re-think their liberal ideals of tolerance.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Netherlands had lived through something akin to a populist revolt against accommodating Islamic immigrants led by Pim Fortuyn, who was later murdered; the assassination of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, accused of blasphemy by a homegrown Muslim killer; and the bitter departure from the Netherlands of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who became a member of Parliament before being marked for death for her criticism of radical Islam.

Now something fairly remarkable is happening again.

Two weeks ago, the country’s biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch “tolerance.”

Naturally, this story is being celebrated by The Usual Mouth Breathers on the Right as a sign that Europeans are wising up to the evils of allowing brown people with funny accents to live among them. One goes so far as to predict this position paper is the beginning of the end of the European Union.

A genuinely liberal culture is a rare thing. The default position of human civilization seems to be some form of authoritarianism. The challenge to any liberal society is to maintain liberal ideals even while factions within that society are undermining them (e.g., Freepers). Is that possible? Is there a middle ground between using authoritarian government to enforce cultural “norms” and standing by smiling while one’s country is taken over by thugs? Does being liberal mean having to be a patsy?

To me, the absolute foundation of liberalism is the value of human equality and all its permutations — civil liberty, social justice, equal protection under the law. For this reason, liberalism can accommodate cultural differences, but it cannot tolerate intolerance. Historically, genuine liberalism has not flinched from using the power and authority of government to protect civil liberties from whatever thuggish forces violate it.

This is where liberalism and libertarianism part company. In its passion for “small government,” libertarianism is perfectly happy to chuck civil liberties out the window. It is no coincidence that probably the most purely libertarian political document America ever created was the Confederate Constitution, the ultimate purpose of which was to ensure protection of the institution of slavery.

And I still believe much libertarian antipathy toward “big government” was kick-started by the showdown between federal troops and segregationists in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957. But a liberal nation cannot tolerate racial discrimination.

We should be clear that multiculturalism is not the problem. The United States always has been a multicultural nation, right-wing revisionist history to the contrary. Conservatives cherish a mythical past in which all America (except for a few fringes, of course) was populated by English-speaking Anglo Saxons. This was never true. In the 19th century, English was rarely heard in large regions of the country. I’m not talking about city neighborhoods; I’m talking about vast stretches of territory across many states. In big chunks of the upper Midwest, for example, German was far more commonly spoken than English. During the Civil War, some Union volunteer regiments were German speaking, and Lincoln had to appoint German-speaking officers to lead them.

Much of what is distinctive in American culture — music, food, language — in large part comes from African American influence. The Southwest had a thriving Latino culture before the first Anglos showed up. There have been ethnic Chinese in the West for more than 150 years. And, of course, native Americans were here first.

Human history can be seen as one vast multicultural dance. Various cultures are forever moving, mingling, changing. Sometimes a culture can be isolated for a time, but never forever. Cultures that are isolated too long become stagnant. On the other hand, expose some European Crusaders to Middle Eastern arts and sciences, and the eventual result is the Renaissance.

Although Islam seems to encourage authoritarianism, Islam is not necessarily the problem. An article in today’s Christian Science Monitor describes Muslims and non-Muslims living harmoniously together for generations in Cambodia. The articles describes a society in which Muslims are thoroughly integrated, even though the nation is more than 90 percent Buddhist.

“Integration” is the key word, I think. In other Buddhist nations, such as Thailand, Muslims are not integrated, and there is perpetual violence.

But let’s go back to The Netherlands. What happens when people with an authoritarian cultural orientation move into a non-authoritarian, liberal society? Messy and ugly things happen, that’s what. The Dutch are going to have to find their own way through this problem, but the issue before them is how to protect liberal values without violating liberal values.

The message, seems to me, is We don’t care how you worship, and we don’t care how you dress, but you may not oppress or forcibly coerce other people, including those in your own communities. And if you can’t live with that, you will go away and live somewhere else.

The other half of a liberal counter-offensive against illiberalism is to encourage integration and, to be sure those Muslims who are trying to fit into Dutch culture are given help if they need it.

The mistake made in many European countries — France in particular comes to mind — is that they’ve adopted a policy that discrimination against the ethnic newcomers doesn’t exist, even though it does, and they’ve taken no pro-active measures to enable integration and fairness. As a result, Muslims in France are ghettoized, alienated, and have little hope they can work within the system to better their lives.

It’s nearly always the case that there is conflict and enmity when cultures collide. However, the only constant in human civilization is change. Human societies cannot be frozen in amber, nor can they remain healthy walled off from other human societies.

At the same time, the cultural strife being experienced in The Netherlands is not a sign the liberalism has failed, so we must give up on it and revert to authoritarianism. I think it’s a sign that liberal societies are rare, that they are constantly under threat from authoritarianism, and that it takes work to maintain a liberal society. But the work does pay off in the long run.

C’est un Riot!

If you follow Memeorandum or other blog aggregator sites you’ve noticed that for the past several days the entire Right Blogosphere has been wallowing in the French riots. Truly, I have never before witnessed such undiluted Schadenfreude. Most people have at least a little twinge of guilt about rejoicing in the misfortune of others, but not our righties. They are rollicking in every fire, every shooting, every broken window. Righties haven’t had this much fun since the Dan Rather smackdown.

The French riots apparently feed into several of their collective detestations–of France, of Muslims, and of socialism. A trifecta! And they can’t let go of it. I thought that when they caught a sniff of Cindy Sheehan in Argentina they’d change course and go howling in that direction. But Sheehan in Argentina barely caused a ripple.

Of course, the truth is that the riots in France were not caused by a failure of “socialism.” Conservatives, not socialists, are in charge of France right now, and awhile back they adopted a hard-right immigration policy that any rightie would love. No multiculturalism allowed; if you live in France, you had better assimilate right now or get bounced. No affirmative action–employers can discriminate against Muslims without penalty. And French schools do not treat all religions equally, but give preferential treatment to Christians.

Today they’ve hit a new low; rightie bloggers are gleefully linking to an article written by an Israeli college professor titled “Got That ‘Ooo La La, Intifada’ Feeling?

Well, there are very few things as amusing these days as watching the French grapple with their backyard intifada. The suburbs of Paris are now more dangerous than Jenin, and the French are getting their comeuppance for decades of snootiness, for anti-American and anti-Israel agitprop, for decades of cowardice, and especially for the repulsive French love of old Jerry Lewis movies.

That’s sick. Je ne suis pas amusé.

Finally the Left weighs in–Jonathan Miller of Blogoland writes,

I’m struck by the unrestrained glee emanating from righty bloggers over the rioting in France this past week.

For instance, this is just one of many, but InstaPundit links to a blogger who bizarrely declares: “The current intifada in France has stripped the American Left of its second Utopia in a generation. The Left lost its earlier worldly utopia when the Soviet Union fell apart.”

Are they kidding?

As the NYT points out today
(and a passage that InstaPundit curiously omits in his linking to the same article) France’s policy towards immigrants is every hard-right, total-assimilationist’s wet dream:

    The government has been embarrassed by its inability to quell the disturbances, which have called into question its unique integration model, which discourages recognizing ethnic, religious or cultural differences in favor of French unity. There is no affirmative action, for example, and religious symbols, like the Muslim veil, are banned in schools.

What’s not to love? National unity, denial of heritage, no affirmative action, subjugating ethnicity to the larger state, a “French Identity.” Paging Patrick Buchanan!

Exactly. It isn’t “multiculturalism” that started the riots in France. It was “assimilationism.” Immigrants to France are required to sign a bleeping integration contract that stipulates instruction in the French language and French values. No multiculturalism allowed.

Over at the Peking Duck, we read:

Nothing is more depressing than seeing those on the right jump for joy over the Muslim youths rioting in Paris. They’re thrilled because it confirms how dysfunctional and bad France is, and confirms that Muslims are animals. (For a fine example, head over to this monstrous site — a real “hate site,” and one linked to enthusiastically by InstaPuppy and Michelle Malkin.) It’s depressing because their joy is ill-founded and based on two lies: 1.) that this is part of a worldwide Islamofascist “intifada,” and 2.) that the rioting is due to France’s liberal, multicultural, Muslim-loving tendencies.

Actually, France takes a rather right-wing, Charles Johnsonesque approach to Muslims, isolating them from mainstream society, ghettoizing them and enforcing a unicultural policy. …

…And returing to No. 1, this isn’t about Muslim terrorism. It’s about poor disaffected youth on the fringes of society, warehoused in project housing with no hope and no future. The rioting may be totally wrong and inexcusable, but at least see it for what it is. It is not a 911-like attack, but the result of many years of stigmatization and poverty. First try to understand it, then criticize it. Is that too much to ask?

Yes, it is too much to ask of righties. It would require them to think and learn stuff and all. Too much work. They’d rather fall back on their comfortable old fears, prejudices, and hatreds.

Echidne adds

The best short reading of these riots is that they are like the 1960’s race riots in the U.S., as Atrios suggested. The main cause for the riots is in unemployment, poverty and marginalization of the French immigrants and their descendants. The religious angle complicates things, naturally, and makes the chasms in the French society (as well as in the societies of quite a few other European countries) more dangerous to navigate. And as usual, the actual violence also has other elements, from accusations that the police are egging it on to hints that some of the arson is manufactured by drug overlords.

For these reasons I wouldn’t read the events as a clash of religions or civilizations as so many right-wing bloggers do. I think that they are plugging into their own fears and add to that a lot of ignorance about the French political system. For example, it’s the conservatives who are in power in France right now, not some socialists as I have read on the wingnut net.

In short, the French are making most of the same mistakes with immigrant populations that white Americans did with African American populations, and with many of the same results–ghettoization, poverty, and now violence. Same old, same old. France isn’t experiencing “l’intifada.” It’s experiencing “Les Watts.”

Update: Steve Gilliard writes,

Any African American who doesn’t find this familiar would be lying. The death of the two kids was a charge on long simmering feelings of anger at the police, which is mostly white and French. Sarkozy should put down the Giuliani bio and listen. Order has to be restored, but this will happen again unless real change takes place.

You shouldn’t have to lose your culture to be French. That was the same crap the French did in the colonies: be French, but get treated like niggers.

When people who play within the system still aren’t treated fairly, eventually someone will strike back at the system.