Ian Buruma (in Perlentaucher) and Timothy Garton Ash respond to Pascal Bruckner’s defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali against their alleged attacks. Both pieces appear in English in signandsight. Buruma:
To be tolerant is not to be indiscriminate. I would not dream of defending dictatorship in the name of tolerance for other cultures. Violence against women, or indeed men, is intolerable, and should be punished by law. I would not defend the genital mutilation of children, let alone wife-beating, no matter how it is rationalized. Honour killings are murders, and must be treated as such. But these are matters of law enforcement. Figuring out how to stop violent ideologies from infecting mainstream Muslims, and thus threatening free societies, is trickier. I’m not convinced that public statements, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has made, that Islam in general is “backward” and its prophet “perverse”, are helpful.
She has the perfect right to say these things, of course, just as Mr Bruckner has the right to describe Muslims as “brutes”. I am not in the slightest bit “embarrassed” by her critique of Islam, nor have I ever denied her the right “to refer to Voltaire.” But if Islamic reform is the goal, then such denunciations are not the best way to achieve it, especially if they come from an avowed atheist. Condemning Islam, without taking the many variations into account, is too indiscriminate.
Pascal Bruckner is the intellectual equivalent of a drunk meandering down the road, arguing loudly with some imaginary enemies. He calls these enemies “Timothy Garton Ash” and “Ian Buruma” but they have very little to do with the real writers of those names. I list below some of his misrepresentations and inaccuracies, with a few weblinks for the curious.
Pascal Bruckner speaks in the name of the Enlightenment, but he betrays its essential spirit. The Enlightenment believed in free expression, without taboos. Because I disagree – courteously, precisely and giving clear reasons – with the views of a woman of Somalian origin, Bruckner does not hesitate to imply that I am a racist (he calls me “an apostle of multiculturalism,” then describes multiculturalism as a “racism of the anti-racists”) and a sexist (“outmoded machismo”, “the spirit of the inquisitors who saw devil-possessed witches in every woman too flamboyant for their tastes”). This is exactly the kind of blanket disqualification that he himself criticised in an article in Le Figaro entitled “Le chantage a l’Islamophobie,” (reprinted from Figaro here) deploring the way any critic of Islam is (dis)qualified as an Islamophobe racist. Except that here he is the blackmailer. Voltaire would be ashamed of him.
Truly grotesque, to the point of self-parody, is this passage: “The positions of Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash fall in with American and British policies (even if the two disapprove of these policies): the failure of George W. Bush and Tony Blair in their wars against terror also result from their focussing on military issues to the detriment of intellectual debate.” Never mind that I have been an outspoken serial critic of the Bush (and Blair) approach on precisely this issue. For Bruckner, white is black and words mean what he wants them to mean. Objectively, comrades, TGA agrees with Bush. Izvestia under Stalin would have been proud of his dialectical argumentation.