Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lacking Moral Cider

Chris Selley takes issue with Rondi Adamson’s call for moderate western Muslims “to admit that most of the terrorists who threaten us are Muslim,” and—to the extent that I don’t think she goes far enough explicitly in her expectations—so do I. Which is to say that I take issue with Mr. Selley too.

The idea of bothering to get Muslims qua Muslims to undertake admitting such a thing (to themselves? to non-Muslims? en masse? … “Yes, they are Muslim. Can we get back to reheating our pizza pockets now?”) seems, obviously, rather pointless. One is reminded of heated arguments with wife or friends wherein you come to that desperate part of the exchange where someone says: “I just want to hear you admit it!” But, in fairness to Ms. Adamson, I don’t think that what she is getting at is exactly what comes across here. Indeed—as she imagines what David Miller might have said (if he wasn’t such a hopeless mincer) in his official remarks following the arrest of the infamous “Toronto Seventeen” (Selley’s tidy moniker, I believe)—Adamson does ask “I wonder what Canada’s Muslim leaders/moderate Muslim citizens can do to prevent this kind of thing in future?” This strikes me as being much more to the point.

Selley counters that “it’s anathema to a free society to ask anyone to state his position on a given topic simply because someone nominally “like” him did something unpleasant. You might as well drag someone out of Sunday service at St. Paul’s and demand to know his position on the Omagh bombing.”

Now, whacky analogy aside, I really don’t see how it is “anathema to a free society” to have the relevant section of its “multitudes” actively (I should probably be using the pseudo-word ‘proactively’ here, but I can’t bring myself to do it) participate in the preservation of that very freedom through a simple assertion of solidarity. It’s called a gesture, and civilization has long- depended on its gestures to preserve an uncertain peace. If this sort of thing is anathema, then western civilization (in its liberal democratic character) should itself have been cursed from the outset and never would’ve lasted.

But there is, of course, a time and a place for such gestures. Sickly-sweet, endless, uninitiated declarations of fealty are irritating and, ultimately, without merit. To this extent, moderation (in Selley’s sense: of “not speaking up all that much”) is a great virtue and much to be desired. But there does come a time when a gesture goes far in stemming (understandable) panic and misdirected concern, and (nearly as importantly) in keeping rash, brick-wielding idiots at bay.

To my mind—and I think, perhaps, this is rather clearly what Rondi Adamson is getting at—The Great Inexplicable in this whole situation is what appears to be the widespread reluctance of moderate Muslims to come forward in a crisis, as concerned Canadian citizens possessed of (an albeit still very limited amount) of useful expertise above and beyond that of your average citizen who has only a Judeo-Christian/European inheritance upon which to draw. If I can offer an analogy of my own: in a hospital filled exclusively with GPs presumably you wouldn’t hesitate to call a cardiologist if somebody came in complaining of serious chest pains. He may not have the answer, but he’ll be fairly handy in determining, at least, what the problem isn’t.

With regard to the recent raids of suspected terrorists’ homes in Forest Gate in London, Peter Hitchens emphasizes “the difficulties of penetrating groups whose language our security services barely speak, and whose culture they hardly know.” Ours, I think, is a very similar, if not identical, problem. In spite of our shared nationality and, ahem, nominal well wishing on both sides as such, there remains to be a considerable cultural divide among Canadians. And we rationalize—past rationality—maintaining this divide in the interests of various platitudinous notions of tolerance and diversity, and, apparently, even non-platitudinous ones like moderation. But if it is the case that moderate Muslim Canadians are committed to liberal democratic principles, and if those principles happen to be threatened, then it is absolutely not asking too much to expect those citizens to make available any advantages they might possess to protect them (liberal democratic principles, I mean).

So long as we continue to indulge this totally counterintuitive idea that by constantly treating a section of our population as honoured guests rather than as contributing—indeed indispensable—members of Canadian society, then the ‘othering’ so many of our well-meaning inclusivists are so afraid of will continue in a most virulent and insidious form.