"Are We Seeing the Emergence of a New Anti-Islamist Intelligentsia?"

That was the question that Michael Gove sought to answer at an event yesterday evening, organised by Peter Whittle and the New Culture Forum.  During the evening he also disputed the idea that the Middle East Peace Process would lead to a reduction in Islamist violence.  He said that so many Islamists hated Israel that they would not cease until they had eliminated the whole nation.  He defended David Cameron against a suggestion that the Tory leadership was insufficiently concerned about Islamism and pointed to the Tory leader’s recent call for Hizb ut-Tahrir to be banned.

The focus of Michael Gove’s speech was the emergence of a few significant left-wing cultural and journalistic leaders and their willingness to stand against the moral relativism and anti-Americanism of the mainstream of the political left.

In journalism he highlighted David Aaronovitch, Christopher Hitchens, John Lloyd and Nick Cohen.  The Observer’s Nick Cohen has just authored a book entitled ‘What’s Left?’  The book provides an account of ‘how liberals have lost their way.’  Here is a key extract of the book from Sunday’s Observer:

"Why is it that apologies for a militant Islam which stands for
everything the liberal left is against come from the liberal left? Why
will students hear a leftish postmodern theorist defend the
exploitation of women in traditional cultures but not a crusty
conservative don? After the American and British wars in Bosnia and
Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansers, why were men and
women of the left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps? As
important, why did a European Union that daily announces its commitment
to the liberal principles of human rights and international law do
nothing as crimes against humanity took place just over its borders?
Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal left, but not China, Sudan,
Zimbabwe, the Congo or North Korea? Why, even in the case of Palestine,
can’t those who say they support the Palestinian cause tell you what
type of Palestine they would like to see? After the 9/11 attacks on New
York and Washington why were you as likely to read that a sinister
conspiracy of Jews controlled American or British foreign policy in a
superior literary journal as in a neo-Nazi hate sheet? And why after
the 7/7 attacks on London did leftish rather than right-wing newspapers
run pieces excusing suicide bombers who were inspired by a psychopathic
theology from the ultra-right?  In short, why is the world upside
down? In the past conservatives made excuses for fascism because they
mistakenly saw it as a continuation of their democratic rightwing
ideas. Now, overwhelmingly and every where, liberals and leftists are
far more likely than conservatives to excuse fascistic governments and
movements, with the exception of their native far-right parties."

Gove went on to list some of the writers who are forming this new anti-Islamist intelligentsia.  Salman Rushdie.  Ian MacEwan.  Martin Amis.  Amis recently took part in one of The Independent’s Q&As.  This is his brilliant reply to a question on the most depressing thing he had observed about Britain you have observed since his return:

"The most depressing thing was the sight of middle-class white demonstrators, last August, waddling around under placards saying, We Are All Hizbollah Now. Well, make the most of being Hizbollah while you can. As its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, famously advised the West: "We don’t want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you." Similarly, when I went on Question Time the other week, a woman in the audience, her voice quavering with self-righteousness, presented the following argument: since it was America that supported Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Russians, the US armed forces, in response to September 11, "should be dropping bombs on themselves!" And the audience applauded. It is quite an achievement. People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead."

Michael Gove welcomed the Euston manifesto and the fact that it had been signed by a number of Labour MPs including Greg Pope and Gisela Stuart.  He also paid tribute to Gordon Brown’s recent statement that we needed the same intellectual war against Islamism that characterised our efforts against communism in the Cold War.  Finally, in another Cold War parallel, he urged western governments to champion the human rights of moderate Muslims who stand up against the human rights records of their governments and against preachers of hate.

One of the most important contributions in the debate period of the evening came from Tory A-lister Sayeeda Varsi.  She made the simple but vital point that ‘Islamist’ may be an intellectually accurate way of describing the ideological misinterpretation of Islam by the extremists and terrorists but on many practical levels it was a confusing term.  Most people she said would not understand the difference between Islam and Islamist and assume that quite proper attacks on Islamism were attacks on Islam itself.  Michael Gove said he understood the concern, that he respected the faith of Muslims but did not have a solution to this naming issue.

I’ve stopped reading Michael Gove’s Times column since he became a Conservative MP and for, I guess, contractural reasons he stopped addressing political and foreign policy issues.  Last night was a timely reminder of this Conservative MP’s intellectual skills.  He is a major star in the making who deserves to be a leading light in the next Conservative Cabinet.

Related link: Book reviews of Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7

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