The anatomy of anti-liberalism

On Friday, Canadians were treated to the rather distressing spectacle of a protest being held outside a mosque in Toronto, calling for, among other things, an end to Muslim immigration and a ban on the practice of Islam in Canada. The total number of protesters, according to reports, was only 15, so one should not blow this out of proportion. But it should give pause to all those in the Conservative party, who have been lying and otherwise making a fuss about the M-103 motion.

I wouldn’t have much to say about the whole thing, except that I heard a great interview with one of the protesters on CBC radio (which I can’t seem to track down online). Now I know that many, many people in small-l liberal societies are not actually small-l liberal. Nevertheless, it is seldom that one hears the anti-liberal viewpoint expressed so compactly and efficiently. The interviewer asked one of the protesters, basically, “what’s the difference between what you’re doing and someone who dislikes Judaism, protesting outside a synagogue?” The answer was, roughly, “the difference is that Judaism is not evil, whereas Islam is.”

It doesn’t get much better than that. There’s no need for freedom of religion, all you have to do is look at each religion, one at a time, figure out whether it is “good” or “evil,” then allow only the good ones to be practiced. Someone should suggest this to Kellie Leitch, as an even better way of screening immigrants: just separate the “good” ones from the “evil” ones, and only let the good ones in. Who could possible oppose such a policy? Only those who support evil…

Actually, the whole thing could serve as a great test, to determine whether and to what extent people really “get” liberalism. If your first response, upon hearing the protester’s argument, was some variation on “that’s ridiculous, Islam is not evil,” then you’re about as much of a liberal as she is. If instead your response was some variation on, “that’s ridiculous, questions of individual freedom cannot be settled by first-order judgments about the good,” then welcome to the mainstream of elite opinion!



The anatomy of anti-liberalism — 12 Comments

  1. If instead your response was some variation on, “that’s ridiculous, questions of individual freedom cannot be settled by first-order judgments about the good,” then welcome to the mainstream of elite opinion!

    That’s getting more and more difficult to believe given cases like Trinity Western Law School. The overwhelming majority of lawyers in BC made a substantive determination that Evangelical Christians should not be able to set up a law school.

    Granted there are still quite a few old school liberals around, but one cannot take for granted that they represent elite consensus anymore.

        • Well, yes, substantive religious views at variance with the law (and, indeed, the Charter of Rights). Nobody would find it weird if a law society refused to let Shoplifters Anonymous set up a law school on the basis that they advocated shoplifting.

          • The point is that “the law” reflects a substantive moral and religious position, not some neutral procedure.

  2. Could some of what counts, or has been counted, or may count, as Islamophobia be considered a first-order judgment about the good? I’m thinking first and foremost of the Danish cartoons, but not exclusively.

  3. The clip you’re looking for is about half way down the story you link to. The video of the woman in red with big sun glasses.

  4. Hmmmm . . . and yet, small-l Liberals do generally believe in evil. Taking a key tenet of liberalism in this context to be broad equality of human worth and rights, such as we find expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I am certainly a small-l liberal in this respect. Strong believers in this tend to believe that anti-liberalism in extreme forms is evil. So Nazism is evil because it very strongly claims that people belonging to different races, religions and so forth are unequal and should be given vastly different treatment, including death for particularly disliked groups.

    Now normally, this ideology assumes that all religions are vaguely equal–but we tend to draw the line at “cults”, and despite attempts to codify the difference the dividing line is somewhat slippery. One could imagine a religion for which seriously anti-liberal tenets including genocidal racism were truly a core feature of worship (rather than, as in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, elements from which many sub-sects opt out)–a religion whose relationship to other religions was somewhat like the relationship of Nazism to other political ideologies. Liberals might well tend to label such a religion “evil”, and be correct from a liberal perspective to do so. It’s a rare case, to be sure.
    Ironically, many of those currently suffering from Islamophobia and pushing illiberal politics on that basis, object to Islam precisely on the basis of perceived illiberal features of Islam (which are actually true of some extreme subsects of Islam as of most widespread religions).
    One could argue, then, that the problem with these protesters from a liberal perspective is not that it is nonsensical to imagine a religion could be evil, the problem is more simply that they are wrong–and are wrong not because they evaluated the evidence dispassionately and made a mistake, but most likely because they are both xenophobic and in need of something evil to blame their problems on.

    • Right. And their numbers seem to be growing. With the Trinity Western case one can hardly argue that gays are likely to be harmed in even a trivial way by an already existing conservative religious college setting up their own law school. Yet, most of the BC bar association voted against allowing it.

      But, in Heath’s defense, he seems to spend a lot of time around philosophers, economists and business school types, which are often more classically liberal, and not necessarily representative of where elite opinion is overall.