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Neo-liberalism with an American face

Quiz Show
Are You a Phony Liberal?

A week ago Sarah Baxter, the Washington correspondent for the London Times, wrote a piece asking: “Where do you stand in the new culture wars?” She included a test designed to gauge the test-taker’s liberalism—phony or authentic, as the case may be. It’s a tendentious test: Sixteen questions closer to prompting required answers than testing the varied limits of progressive liberalism: By definition, liberalism is not dogmatic. The test almost forces you to be. But it’s worth taking, if only as a trigger to debate. I “passed” the test, answering 15 of 16 questions, making me “a true progressive” according to Baxter’s criteria, as I suspect most people here would be. Still, the one question I failed revealed why the test is a neocon’s idea of liberalism. First, here are the questions…

Yes or no answers. (Once you’ve answered them, check your “phoney-ometer” here for the “right” answers.

  1. Is it allowable for Muslims to be homophobic because of their culture?
  2. Should forced marriages for women be illegal?
  3. Is it acceptable to insist that a woman wears a veil?
  4. Is anti-semitism a legitimate response to frustration with American and Israeli foreign policy?
  5. Should Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear bomb?
  6. Can you be a people’s champion if your people can’t get rid of you?
  7. Are political prisoners ever justified?
  8. Is al-Qaeda in Iraq a legitimate resistance organization?
  9. Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali too critical of Islam?
  10. Should the Dutch government have taken away her security abroad?
  11. Should Salman Rushdie have written about the Koran in the way that he did in “The Satanic Verses”?
  12. Are freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion (and atheism) universal human rights?
  13. Is it an acceptable cultural tradition to call for the death of people who wish to leave your religion?
  14. Is it okay to ban members of other religions from holy sites, such as Mecca?
  15. Can honour killings or genital mutilation of women be placed in their “cultural” context?
  16. Is it acceptable to call for the death of cartoonists because you don’t think their cartoons are funny?

Who but a Southern Baptist would consider it “allowable for Muslims to be homophobic because of their culture?” Then again, it’s far from just a Baptist thing, considering the election results of 2004 when voters in 11 out of 11 states with the measure on their ballot banned gay marriage.


Is it acceptable to insist that a woman wears a veil? I suspect enough liberals would consider that a toss-up, unfortunately. But the question is well phrased: Is it acceptable to insist, not merely to wear. In absolute terms, I consider the veil absolutely sexist (why is it men never wear it? Being naturally ugly isn’t an excuse), regressive, and ultimately silly, the modesty angle having neither logic nor reason behind it: we’re not children. And in fact, children aren’t required to wear the veil. But I’m not going to force a woman not to wear it, anymore than it would be acceptable to force a woman to wear it. I also happen to think most children’s fashions these days a lot worse than the veil, but I’m not about to picket Target and Wal-Mart over it.

Is anti-semitism a legitimate response to frustration with American and Israeli foreign policy? Again, the question seems too easily and too often to find its yes-men among otherwise fine upstanding liberals (although the evangelical-conservative pretenders who say they love Israel are worse: they love Israel temporarily, because in their twisted Biblical view they must make friends with Israel before Jews are “improved” into Christianity, or annihilated if they stand in the way). Oppose Israeli foreign policy all you want, but the moment it’s termed “Jewish,” or even, I think, Zionist (the term has taken on sinister connotations it didn’t always have), the opposition loses credibility. It becomes more prejudicially than critically inspired.

The converse is just as true: One shouldn’t be accused of anti-Semitism merely for being critical of Israel, regardless of the virulence of the criticism. But more often than not, and almost always so in the United States, criticism of Israel is equated with anti-Semitism.

Is it okay to ban members of other religions from holy sites, such as Mecca? That question cracks me up, sadly. It reveals the worst of Saudi rules at Mecca, where non-Muslims are forbidden from entering the holy mosque. Back in 1979, when a group of Sunni fanatics took over the mosque and held hundreds of people hostage, the Saudis, at their wits’ end, summoned a team of French paratroopers to free the place. They were not Muslims. They all had to convert to Islam before proceeding. Human beings are being held hostage in the mosque’s undergrowths, they’re starved, terrorized, dying, and Saudi authorities are busy converting French soldiers before allowing them to go on with their rescue mission. Now, that’s fanaticism of the crummiest order.

Every one of these questions warrants an essay. I’ll spare you. But about the one question I got “wrong.” It’s this: “Should Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear bomb?” The allegedly correct answer is no. My answer is yes. First, the West cannot in any way pretend to be the world’s nuclear policeman when it’s sitting on a stockpile of a few thousand nuclear warheads. Second, no government that puts it in its mind to acquire nuclear weapons can be stopped or will be stopped. It may be delayed. It may be bombed. It won’t be stopped. Third, Iran’s acquisition of nukes isn’t nearly as dangerous as Pakistan’s already accomplished possession of nukes. Twice—in 1993 and 1998— Pakistan and India nearly came to nuclear blows over Kashmir. Sooner or later, they will.

Until them, let’s also always remember that to date only one nation has terrorized another with nuclear weapons, only one nation has used the weapons as a tool of mass slaughter, and only one nation stands ready, as a matter of policy, to use them again (because it refuses to adopt a no-first-use policy), and that’s the United States. So spare me the hand-wringing over Iran. It won’t be a happy day when Iran acquires the bomb, but the unhappiness won’t be of the order of Iran per se acquiring the bomb. It’ll be the same sort of unhappiness even the scientists gathered at Los Alamos in 1945 to watch the explosion of the first bomb felt. The weapon the United States built is going global, as those scientists predicted. The destruction the United States conceived is coming back to bite it.

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