ON-Lion Letter

Roger Kimball begins his "Notes & Comments" in the February 2015 issue of The New Criterion by quoting James Burnham, who wrote "what Americans call 'liberalism' is the ideology of Western suicide" in his Suicide of the West:  An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.  Kimball's piece argued that reactions to the horrific Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January reveal the limits of free speech.

"Free speech does not exist in isolation," according to Kimball.  "It is part of a constellation of freedoms that include, for example, the freedom to apostatize and the idea that all are equal before the law.  Those ideas are, or were, bedrock principles in the modern secular West, but they are foreign to all major allotropes of Islam.  Apostasy is a capital crime for Islam, in principle everywhere, in brutal fact in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.  Equality is also foreign to Islam, for which an assumed existential disparity between Muslim and infidel is central, as indeed is the disparity between man and woman."

Kimball is president and publisher of Encounter Books and editor and publisher of The New Criterion.  Encounter Books is an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, a nonprofit organization that is substantially supported by Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, as is The New Criterion.

"It is important to understand the place of free speech in the economy of Islam," Kimball writes.  "In brief, there isn't any.  This is something that the London-based Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary explained with admirable clarity in USA Today a few days after the Paris shootings.  'Contrary to popular misconception,' Choudary began, 'Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.'  Accordingly, 'Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people's desires.'

"The epigraph from James Burnham’s Suicide of the West," Kimball concludes, "may seem hyperbolic.  In what sense is liberalism 'the ideology of Western suicide'?  In the course of his analysis, Burnham quotes the nineteenth-century French writer Louis Veuillot.  Quand je suis le plus faible, je vous demande la liberté parce que tel est votre principe; mais quand je suis le plus fort, je vous l’ôte, parce que tel est le mien. 'When I am the weaker, I ask you for my freedom, because that is your principle.  But when I am the stronger, I take away your freedom, because that is my principle.'  In other words, it's the old Leninist credo:  demand freedom, toleration, and diversity when out of power; practice suppression, control, and elimination of opponents when in power.  What is our principle?  Anjem Choudary and his friends understand what they are about.  Do we?"

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