Skip to content

Where have the Liberals gone?

|Written By Ezra Levant
Where have the Liberals gone?

It is an honour to write for Canadian Lawyer, and follow someone as thoughtful and principled as Karen Selick.
Unlike Karen, however, I describe myself as a liberal feminist. This is a new development, and I did not disclose it until after I accepted the offer to write.
I have chosen this appellation because no one else seems to be a liberal feminist these days — or a secular humanist, or a gay rights advocate. At least not when it counts.

It is an honour to write for Canadian Lawyer, and follow someone as thoughtful and principled as Karen Selick.
Unlike Karen, however, I describe myself as a liberal feminist. This is a new development, and I did not disclose it until after I accepted the offer to write.
I have chosen this appellation because no one else seems to be a liberal feminist these days - or a secular humanist, or a gay rights advocate. At least not when it counts.

I refer to the recent cartoon kerfuffle, in which the Canadian media discovered a newfound respect for religion - or at least a fear that masquerades as respect. The cultural arbiters who turned the junk theology thriller The DaVinci Code into a bestseller, toasted The Last Temptation of Christ and called Piss Christ (a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own urine) daring art, lost their courage when it came to comparatively innocuous caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. The Western Standard, the magazine that I publish, reprinted the cartoons, and was subjected to much scorn by those media that did not.

It is not easy to be a liberal arguing for the separation of mosque and state. Take the most socially liberal country of all, Holland. Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker and descendant of the great painter, was murdered for producing a film criticizing Islam’s restrictions on women. Pim Fortuyn, a showily gay Dutch politician who warned against Islam’s restrictions on sexuality, was also assassinated. If Holland isn’t safe, is Canada? Murder - and in the case of the Danish cartoons, murder and mass riots - are a different media relations strategy than Billy Graham or Pope Benedict take when Christianity is lampooned. And it has certainly been more effective.

PEN Canada and Amnesty International, which normally jump at the opportunity to defend transgressive art, issued statements calling on publishers to restrict themselves. At least the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression stood in ashamed silence on the matter. That was disappointing, but less vulgar than Chapters Indigo and McNally Robinson, bookstores that banned the cartoons during their Freedom to Read Week celebrations.

How odd that it was left to a conservative, Western-based magazine to argue for secularism, pluralism and civil liberties. Radical Islam of the variety that seeks to ban even complimentary images of Mohammed (and several of the cartoons are fairly described as such) is the same strain that takes a reactionary position towards liberalism’s key issues of feminism, abortion and gay rights. The national media and a hundred advocacy groups were apoplectic at the prospect of Stephen Harper as prime minister - a man who said he would never introduce abortion legislation. Why were they so brave in January, in the face of a socially moderate conservative, but so silent in February, in the face of those who would roll back the entire sexual revolution of the 1960s, and perhaps even the suffrage movement of the 1920s? Judy Rebick, call your office.

All of which is why I now call myself a liberal feminist. Not in the radical sense of those words, fighting pretend battles for infinitesimally small gains in already liberal and feminist institutions, like law schools. But in the literal sense of those words, and against true threats like Shariah law.

That is what the challenge of radical Islam is about: a test to see if liberals mean it when they use words like tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism, or even the Liberal Party’s campaign catch-phrases, “Charter values” and Canadian values.”

True tolerance and multiculturalism mean that everyone’s faith traditions are allowed in Canada - but that none of us has to submit to the edicts of another. Liberals are keenly aware of this when it is a Christian morality that seeks dominance. Where were they when the secular press was bullied into following a fatwa that most Muslims themselves ignore?

True liberalism means freedom to dissent and the right to argue vigorously, even offensively, in the name of truth. That is the liberal, Western way - the noisy clash of ideas, the dialectic of the cut and thrust from which progress comes. But the whole political spectrum is under attack; the very concept of left and right, the concept of disagreement - hat enlightenment might emerge from questioning sacred cows.

The most appalling moment of the cartoon flap was when a lesbian lawyer and gay marriage activist e-mailed me to cancel her subscription, out of solidarity with the imams. It was a leftist flourish - standing with the Third World, standing against the powerful Christians and with the downtrodden minorities, etc., etc. My activist friend shows her bravery suing the Catholic Knights of Columbus to force them to celebrate gay marriages. Does she not know that the greater threat to her liberties comes from a far stricter political faith that would not permit her to drive a car or vote, let alone marry her lover in a mosque?

I do not know where the liberals have gone, but I actually think we need them. The differences between left and right are unimportant compared to the clash between illiberal radical Islam and the West - for the entire spectrum of Western opinion is under a common threat, indeed the very idea of the legitimacy of dissenting opinions is under threat. The fact that Canada’s leftist secular humanist feminists still think that their risk comes from a decaying and docile Christianity instead of a confident and growing radical Islam is liberalism’s Maginot Line, built to defend against a make-believe threat from a generation ago, not the real threat of today.


SPECIAL REPORTS



Save

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT