Je suis Charlie, but I’m also a moron!
The atrocious acts of muslim terrorism give us reason to be worried and upset. There seems to be steady rise in incidents in the West and we witness growing atrocity, as IS trumps Al Quaida violence with the most barbaric cruelty. There are more radical organizations at work too attempting to open more frontiers of islamic jihad. Radical Islam is a threat. Let there be no mistake about this. Yet, the West should examine itself before pretending to be innocent. Islam may be a threat to the West and its libertarian ways, but a close examination of its libertarianism reveals a shallow self-infatuation together with a solid dose of hypocrisy.
What exactly is the nature of the freedom we defend, the freedom that allegedly liberates us to publish cartoons of Mohammed and frees us to trample other people’s religious sensitivities? It is the freedom of unboundedness; the freedom that is defined by its sheer unlimited nature, the never-ending possibility of categorically free choice in which no option is left forbidden. Perhaps the only limit we still leave in place is that we are free to do what we want as long as it doesn’t harm the other. This harm is limited to bodily harm. In the name of this freedom we sack the gods, especially those of others. Our free ridicule of them is proof of their inability to do anything in their defense and shows that we are free from any god who would rule from above with restrictive moral demands. But are we free from all gods? Our own gods, such as individualism, consumerism, capitalism, hedonism, etc.—whether we acknowledge their idolatrous status or not—we treat with deep respect and devotion. It may be true that our most revered freedom—freedom of speech—is also used to speak out against these sacred Western idols, but we have a system in place in which these gods are safeguarded from such speech. They actually thrive in the presence of this free speech, for as long as people think they have infinite freedom they will bow to these new gods of the West.
What is worse, however, is the fact that our Western concept of freedom as limitlessness or unboundedness is truly a self-destructive freedom that robs freedom of its essence. Freedom can only be truly freedom in the face of proper boundaries, parameters within which freedom can thrive. Deep inside we know this, for we don’t let the pedophile abused children and will not allow nazism to become a viable political option again. We also still make laws for our societies. But apart from these examples we have forgotten that true freedom is at least minimally defined by that which allows human existence to thrive. A human individual can only come to true self-expression in the relation with the other. The other is always already a boundary for the self. Without this boundary the self would explode into unlimited loneliness and infinite relationlessness. The other, the lover, the neighbor, the citizen, the co-worker, the infidel, the fundamentalist, the muslim. Is it really a necessary act of freedom worth to be defended to offend islamic honor cultures by publishing degrading cartoons of Muhammed? I think true freedom is in the ability and freedom to do so and then to freely refrain from doing so out of love for the neighbor . . . oh yeah, sorry, that is a Christian idea (another religion that is despised, marginalized, and ridiculed).
It is not too hard to trace our Western concept of freedom back to the Enlightenment, where an anthropological concept was developed of the autonomous reasonable individual who’s freedom was expressed in her individuality and self-expression. Any morality (esp. Christian) was to be repudiated except what was reasonable. To be fair, Kant’s deontological ethics based on duty did its best to provide a principle that followed a universalization of the golden rule, but with John Stuart Mill ethics was already reduced to utilitarianism that sought the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This teleological idea of the common good combined with the notion of progress. This drive for progress in the name of modern freedom led to the expansion of European and later American power through colonialism and imperialism. We were free to dominate others, exploit them, to loot other nation’s resources for the economic benefit of our own. Worse, we were free to enslave black people from Africa, because in Western eyes black flesh and freedom were incompatible. Our Western civilization expressed its enlightened freedom in the subjugating of countless peoples to economic oppression. In much the same vein America later played dirty politics in the Middle East and betrayed the Mujahedin in Afghanistan when it no longer needed them.
This expression of Western freedom has sown hatred, but nobody is willing to acknowledge that. On the contrary. The other day I read a post on Facebook (written notably by a philosopher) who was lamenting Obama’s lack of willingness to call the struggle against terrorism a war against islam. According to him, Obama should stop the expansion of the Umma (the theocracy of Islam) by halting muslim immigration and forcing muslims in the US to assimilate. Obama ought to defend American exceptionalism. What? Really? Isn’t American exceptionalism merely a secularized version of the idea of theocracy? Isn’t American exceptionalism not yet another version of this absolutizing and privileging of one’s own culture that Western powers have engaged in over the past 300 years? The very expression of freedom that those at the short end of the stick experience as oppression! The West is hated for this very reason!
And this is the point. I’m not defending muslim radicalism at all; I’m not trying to diminish its threat either. I’m least of all trying to generate sympathy for the followers of this abhorrently radical religious ideology. But if the West loudly proclaims “Je suis Charlie” it should also remember it is a moron by bringing about its own demise with a defunct notion of freedom and a sore lack of humbling self-criticism.