A new sentiment has gripped the mainstream of liberal thinking in Britain over the last few years. It is an attitude that regards Muslims as uniquely problematic and in need of forceful integration into what it views as the inherently superior values of the West. For this new breed of liberal, previously cherished norms of multiculturalism should be discarded and the fight for racial and religious equality is irrelevant. The publication this year of Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? how liberals lost their way and Andrew Anthony’s more sharply argued The Fall-Out: how a guilty liberal lost his innocence provide the clearest statements yet of what this new liberalism stands for. Their core argument can be stated straightforwardly: the major problem facing the West is a failure to stand up for its Enlightenment values. Liberalism has been infected by guilt – which prevents it from defending itself against external threats, chief among them ‘Islamism’, which is held responsible not only for terrorist violence but also for Muslim separatism in our cities. What precisely an Islamist is is left unclear; after all, a realistic definition of Islamism – as a wide range of political movements, some violent and some constitutional, generally with social conservatism at their core – would require the reader to pause for a moment before the ritual denunciation of all Islamists as irrational, nihilist and totalitarian.
But Cohen’s and Anthony’s main target is not so much Islamism as the appeasing attitudes they detect among liberals. Anthony writes that, since the 1970s, liberalism has been corrupted by White guilt which leads liberals to think that everything will be OK as long as they don’t interfere in other people’s lives, especially the lives of other ethnic groups. But this is fantasy: in practice, White liberals have not usually shied away from using the power of the state to intervene in the lives of non-Whites, either in Britain or in the neocolonialism of the ‘war on terror’. Moreover, at the conceptual level, liberalism has always lacked the means to generate the kind of social solidarity which Anthony wants to see. Individualist indifference has been a feature of liberal democracy since its inception. The slave-owning liberal democracy of early nineteenth-century America could not be said to be a society suffering from what Anthony calls a ‘guilt-warped vision of the world’, yet Tocqueville wrote of its citizens that ‘each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of the rest’. [complete article]