Tolerating individualism

Irshad Manji writes a brave and brilliant and troubling op-ed about Muslim hate and speech in The Times.

It’s troubling, for me, because she makes compelling arguments for Tony Blair’s new policies of zero tolerance for inciting terrorism — in other words, for speech that incites terrorism. The speech and the speakers they attack are truly hateful and dangerous. But I still do not know how to rationalize this with my American belief in the sanctity of free speech. Isn’t free speech what we’re fighting for?

Manji says:

But if these anti-terror measures feel like an overreaction to the London bombings, that’s only because Britons, like so many in the West, have been avoiding a vigorous debate about what values are most worth defending in our societies….

Neither the watery word “tolerance” nor the slippery phrase “mutual respect” will cut it as a guiding value. Why tolerate violent bigotry? Where’s the “mutual” in that version of mutual respect? …

She gives an example of speech that cannot be tolerated: Omar Bakri Muhammad — who is no longer tolerated in England — issues a fatwa against Terrence McNally for his play depicting Jesus as a gay man.

He has even lionized the July 7 bombers as the “fantastic four.” He is a counselor of death, and should not have been allowed to remain in Britain. And thanks to Mr. Blair’s newfound fortitude, he has reportedly fled England for Lebanon.

The Muslim Council of Britain, a mainstream lobbying group that assailed Mr. Blair’s proposed measures, has long claimed that men like Mr. Bakri represent only a slim fraction of the country’s nearly two million Muslims. Assuming that’s true, British Muslims – indeed, Muslims throughout the West – should rejoice at their departures or deportations, because all forms of Islam that respect the freedom to disbelieve, to go one’s own way, will be strengthened.

Amen. But now here is the best of it: Manji proposes the value that “could guide Western societies”:

individuality. When we celebrate individuality, we let people choose who they are, be they members of a religion, free spirits, or something else entirely….

Of course, there may be better values than individuality for Muslims and non-Muslims to embrace. Let’s have that debate – without fear of being deemed self-haters or racists by those who twist multiculturalism into an orthodoxy. We know the dangers of taking Islam literally. By now we should understand the peril of taking tolerance literally.

: I can’t help but contrast what she says with this, from an American political leader:

…there is no such society that I’m aware of where we’ve had radical individualism and it has succeeded as a culture.

That, of course, comes from our own Rick Santorum railing against the evils of radical individualism.

Americanism, modernity, enlightenment, civilization, tolerance, individualism. They are worth fighting for. The Bakri’s of the world are worth fighting. The only question is how.