Wife-unit watched Good Will Hunting again recently. It is a masterpiece of a film, full of glorious moments and superb performances. My favourite scene in the film is where Ben Affleck’s character stands in for Will at a job interview.
“Until that day comes, keep your ear to the grindstone.”
Of course, as the years have gone on, Affleck emerged as an outstanding scriptwriter, actor and director. Argo is as rollicking and enjoyable a film as I can remember winning an Oscar and his performance in To The Wonder is utterly iconic.
One of the things that I liked about Affleck’s appearance on the Bill Maher show this week was how easily dumbstruck he was. He is obviously a deeply intelligent and compassionate man. By his fruits we can assume as such. But faced with the smug smarminess of the unfunny Maher (lionized recently by Dawkins as “brave”) and the comedically evil Sam Harris, all Affleck could come up with was a resigned “Jesus Christ”.
He did manage to point out that Maher and Harris’ liberalism was gross, racist and blind to the decades of slaughter that America has inflicted in majority Muslim lands. For that he deserves our gratitude.
But let us take the Maher and Harris logic and try the simple task of turning it back on itself. Presumably, for two men who believe themselves to be intellectuals, coherence is an essential aspect of any argument that they wish to back. How does the claim that Islam is “the mother lode of bad ideas” stand up if we examine American liberalism and American progressives with the kind of suspicion that Maher, Harris, or many in the Obama administration hold for the entirety of the global ummah?
If Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas, what is American liberalism? It insists that all humans are intrinsically good, invested with inalienable rights. And yet in a world populated with good men, it has been at ceaseless war since 1939. American liberalism is such a bad idea that it cannot even account for the causes of wars that it endlessly fights. Oh you American progressives, answer us this: “All the evil people, where do they come from?”
Islam is oppressive of its women and homosexuals. But American liberalism has just recently decided that homosexuals were people too. And the argument used to support this change of heart is that gay people are born this way. But at the same time, every single person’s sexual identity and practice is an expression of who they want to be, a free and autonomous act of self-creation. A nation that forgets that its psychological association only declassified homosexuality as a condition in 1973 affirms gay people by simultaneously saying “You are made this way” and “you make yourself”. Liberalism forgets its own sins, while it convicts Muslims on terms that Islam does not accept and even contradicts itself in the action.
And let us not forget the great liberation that women in the liberal west now enjoy. They can do the same jobs that men can do, for less money, while doing all the work they historically had to do in normative patriarchies as well. “But,” says the western woman who is expected to dress to a higher standard than her male colleagues, is afflicted by drastic body-image issues and who has often heard bosses make comments about how her “refusal” to get pregnant is one of the reasons they can “really trust her to do the job”, this woman says, “but the hijab is oppressive.”
Sam Harris loves to tell us that Islam is violent. But Sam Harris is a citizen of a country that has been at war without end for longer than my dad, who is not a young man, has been alive. America kills with secret agents, and with robotic drones, and with trade sanctions, and with intellectual property clauses over essential medicines, and with soldiers carrying guns, jet fighters flying faster than the speed of sound, submarines powered by nuclear reactors and through the slow, determined, dedicated acts of torture they unfurl without any accountability and justice. America kills its own citizens, in botched capital punishment and in alarming numbers at the hands of police officers who aren’t racist but they just happen to only shoot at black people. Liberals say Islam is violent, but they ignore the fact that Affleck tried to make. More Muslims, innocent children and elderly ladies as well as young Jihadis, have been killed by western Liberals than westerners killed by Muslims. Putting a murder on YouTube isn’t what makes murder wrong. Putting murder in the hands of soldiers doesn’t make murder right.
Islam, it is said, hinders culture. It drapes social life under a theocratic strait-jacket. It slows economic development. All this may be true. It may be false. But let us consider again on what shaky ground the liberals stand when they make this claim. The western progressive laments the state of societies they have never visited, while living in cities segregated so thoroughly by internal poverty that there are neighbourhoods they have never visited and would feel unsafe to do so. Somehow, this is exclusively the fault of the people who live in those council estates or projects. Such social utopia we enjoy in the EU and the US! We are segregated by race and by creed and by capital. But the people up on top who get invited onto hilarious talk shows with Bill Maher don’t need to worry because they never need to see what happens to families when no one can get a job and kids go to schools where the teachers have 38 students in a class and where libraries get shut down, sports centres never get built and the only place where you can congregate with friends is the pub. Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas, but our increasingly unjust distribution of wealth, decaying social fabric and paranoia represents the pinnacle of human culture.
Finally, the sophisticated liberal distances himself from the crude, gross, racism of Maher and Harris but they do quietly suggest, in tones informed by tomes you have heard of but never read, that Islam has a problem with its status as religion. “You see,” says this mansplaining progressive, “Islam can’t have a separation of church and state.” Somehow this is meant to be a killer argument. We in the west have entertained a blind faith in the dogma that religion is a private endeavour that shouldn’t intrude on the public square. That the Muslim world refuses to embrace this doctrine doesn’t just make them heretics. In the eyes of the contemporary liberalism, it makes them savage. Until they progress beyond their primitive refusal to compartmentalize religion from politics, economics from ethics, liturgy from community and faith from reason, they will always be suspect. Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas, but in the face of all evidence, we liberals will continue to irrationally insist that religion is something like Marmite, a taste acquired by some, offering marginal flavour to lives of those in the margin.
Let me close with a word from an American Muslim prophet:
Your Correspondent, Once visited the United States, Land of the thief home of the slave