My progressive liberal friend

liberal brain

I have a friend who, when I generalise on some topic, asks if every Ashkenazi Jew is intelligent, every Japanese well-behaved, every Muslim a potential problem. I then explain that while not all men are 6 inches taller than women, it is still true to say that they are on average 6 inches taller. It’s annoying to have to keep adding this obvious qualifier but some people demand it.

Despite castigating me for my generalisations, he himself claims that ‘Muslims are beautiful and peaceful people’. He doesn’t deem it necessary to add ‘on the whole’ or ‘on average’.

I don’t think I have ever made such a sweeping and demonstrably untrue statement. Is Abu Hamza beautiful, either physically, morally or any other way? Was bin Laden peaceful? Weren’t they both Muslims? (Some people might reply that no, they weren’t real Muslims because they went against the allegedly peaceful teachings of Islam. In this way true Muslims can never do anything wrong and wrong-doers can never be true Muslims, QED). Even so, it is still a fact that Ashkenazi Jews score higher on average than other groups on IQ tests and you can test the thesis that present-day Japanese people are better behaved than most other groups by walking around Tokyo at 4am, something I wouldn’t recommend doing in many places in the world. It seems to me, though not to my friend, that when you are talking about groups made up of large numbers of people then averages are important.

Is it really a noticeable phenomenon that Muslims are, on average, more beautiful than other groups? (You can only be beautiful, just as you can only be tall, in comparison with other people). And are Muslims really more peaceful than people of other religions? If so, why is it that Muslim countries always have ‘bloody borders’ as Samuel Huntingdon said. Why, wherever you find large groups of Muslims in the world, do you find a conflict going on? Is it always the fault of other people who are all Islamophobes?

I think that if you follow either a horrible religion or a horrible political ideology – Islam is both – you are more likely to do horrible things. People generally don’t act randomly and if we notice a trend then we are justified in asking why, say, nearly all acts of terrorism are perpetrated by Muslims and not Quakers. Are all Muslims misinterpreting their religion? Is Islam so unclear that it begets so much misunderstanding and confusion among its followers? Or is it possible that Islamists have correctly understood their religion and it is the moderates and progressives who have hijacked Islam’s essentially supremacist message, which is hostile to non-Muslims? After all, which other religion would divide people into the House of Islam and the House of War?

Apologists for Islam claim that Islamists are distorting the true spirit of Islam, which we are assured advocates living in peaceful co-existence with people of other religions and other beliefs yadda yadda. Without knowing a great deal about it either way, I suspect this is just politically correct guff from non-Muslims and obscurantism from Muslims, with both groups indulging in lots of wishful thinking. Since there is no single correct reading of the Koran I don’t really see how anyone can be accused of misreading it unless, of course, he is claiming that it is Jew-friendly or that Quantum Mechanics is described therein.

On the other hand, some Muslims have political and social grievances against the West and in this they are generally encouraged by leftists. Though my friend advocates the most peaceful reading of Islam imaginable, he holds views of western actions and motivations that encourage various grievance-mongers, including Muslims.

Yet if there is no single definitive interpretation of Islam, then there is certainly no single definitive reading of western history and politics. This being the case, why don’t these same people who ‘soften’ Islam in the hope it will become more palatable also hold views about the West that are less likely to induce hostility in non-westerners? Why, in short, does my friend send me videos of a black man attributing Africa’s problems to colonialism but never videos showing Muslims or black people doing anything wrong? Doesn’t he know that anti-western views increase resentment against us?

More importantly, doesn’t my friend know that this anti-western narrative is just one among many ways of viewing history? There is, after all, an equally good argument to be made that without colonialism Middle Easterners would still be riding camels and their oil would still be stuck deep underground. Africans standard of living has only improved because of western aid, western medicine and western know-how. Colonial countries often built infrastructure and introduced the rule of law and did away with practises like slavery (my friend probably believes that America invented slavery). Even today, colonised countries generally do better than their non-colonised neighbours.

So why, if progressive liberals are so sure of their anti-western narrative, do they wiggle two fingers on either side of their daft faces whenever they utter the word ‘truth’, just to show that they are far too sophisticated to believe in the existence of a single truth? Why does my friend bend over backwards to accommodate the Muslim narrative yet hold the most jaundiced and tendentious of interpretations of western history and politics? Why the double standards? Why the lack of proportion?

I think one reason is cowardice. Like weak children in a playground fight, they cheer on the bully in the hope this will ensure their own future safety. Another reason is vanity. They think that seeing things from the point of view of ‘the other’ shows they have overcome a primitive bias for their own tribe. They therefore always side with ‘the other’, no matter how stupid, barbaric or brutal because they believe it reflects well on them.

So how are we going to beat the Islamists while leaving untouched all those Muslims who don’t actually commit a crime but don’t help us either? Beats me. Some proportion of them are bound to be fifth columnists who want the jihadists to prevail and unfortunately no one seems able to differentiate the Muslims who are with us from the ones who are against us. Certainly most Muslims aren’t doing much to help us fight the extremists in their midst.

Some people really aren’t that bothered about any of this, preferring instead to keep their hands clean and not think about how all courses of action involve trampling on someone, whether it be the white girls of Rotherham and Rochdale and the victims of past and future suicide attacks, or our Muslim population. I’m old-fashioned in siding with my own group. My friend claims that I have a mania for categorising people and he finds the very concept of ‘groups’ divisive. If only we could stop thinking in those terms, he says, then no conflict of interest between groups could ever arise since the idea of ‘groups’ is just a social construct. So although the child sex grooming scandal of northern England would still have happened, it would have been committed not by ‘Muslims’ or even ‘men’ but by individuals who have nothing at all in common.

Quite how things are improved by us not noticing the existence of groups or their behaviour is not clear to me, though my guess is that it has something to do with not stigmatising whole groups of people, regardless of how accurate or useful the generalisation is.

Anyway, my friend chides me for categorising people and this tendency puts me, in his eyes, on a moral par with the Muslim terrorists of Paris; both they and I split the world into Muslim and non-Muslim, black and white, male and female. He doesn’t appear to have noticed that everybody categorises everyone and everything every waking minute of the day. And the fact that the Paris terrorists were bloodthirsty, murdering bastards while I’m not doesn’t seem to matter to him. To him it is the categorising that is the root cause of all humanities problems, not the actual killing, maiming, gunning down and blowing up of people one disagrees with. Categorising people as ‘Muslim’ rather than just ‘people’ is divisive; unless, of course, you think ‘Muslims are beautiful and peaceful people’, in which case categorising them is just fine.

I’m not that bothered about my friend comparing my thinking to that of murderous terrorists. However, the fact that he constantly misunderstands me is annoying. While I understand his point of view – after all, I passed through that leftist phase myself – I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand mine. I know this from the kind of questions he asks me like: “[So, you think] intellect is the most important human characteristic.  Different races are proven to be intellectually unequal.  Therefore we should separate races out into geographic nations and then compete economically, albeit on unequal national/racial fronts. Is [your view] something like that?”

No, it’s nothing like that. The word ‘therefore’ is very misleading. Yes, I think intelligence is important and yes, I think different races are differently endowed with it. This is because all the scientific evidence points that way. However, this is not the reason I think ethno-nationalism is a good way to structure a nation. I think that because history seems to show that making different ethnic groups share the same space doesn’t work, not only because of hate-filled right-wing bigots like me but because pretty much everybody feels more at ease with their own kind and prefers to have self-determination, which usually involve having your own nation.

I had carefully spelled all this out over several long emails, my main point being that I didn’t want Britain flooded with even more immigrants, especially Muslims and blacks, because neither of these groups integrates well into our way of life. Quite where the ‘compete economically, albeit on unequal national/racial fronts’ came from I have no idea. Economics often involves cooperation and mutual trading. Of course there is competition in any free market but not primarily along racial lines. You see, this kind of misunderstanding and distortion is what you get from a lifetime of reading the Guardian.

Our initial friendship was formed 15 years ago during long, leisurely, tipsy lunchtime discussions in Barcelona restaurants. Those days are gone and while he has stayed on the Christian left, I have moved to the right, both politically and geographically (6,000 miles to the right, though some pedants insist that moving to Japan should be called ‘moving east’). The fact that we now hold diametrically opposed political, social, cultural and religious views means that we now have little in common. Add to this the fact that my friend is so deep into the liberal, multicultural left way of seeing the world that he can’t even bring himself to summarise my views fairly, I am left wondering in what sense we are still friends.

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