Why ‘Islamo-Leftism’ is just another conspiracy theory

The following article was published by LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal on March 5, 2021@ http://links.org.au/islamo-leftism-conspiracy-theory

By Saladdin Ahmed

March 5, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Islamo-leftism is one of the latest rhetorical inventions of the Right propagandists in France and the United States. This term is just another device to obscure reality by classifying the perceived enemies of White nationalism under one term. Equating political Islam and leftism can only be a sign of: 1) genuine political and historical ignorance, or 2) racism. 

To unpack this, let us analyze the terminology and look at a few historical facts. Let us also be charitable in our interpretation and assume that those who adhere to the term “Islamo-leftism” do not mean to implicate “Islam” as such simply, because that would be absurd given that “Islam” refers to a religion with thousands of variations and hundreds of millions of believers, just like Christianity. 

Needless to say, even in that case, religiosity, whether Islamic or Christian, falls under conservatism, not leftism. Even “Liberation Theology” inevitably falls short of maintaining a leftist position unless it becomes “Liberation from Theology.” Marx’s assertion that “even a critical theologian remains a theologian” may sound like stating the obvious (1994, 57), but it is precisely the statement that makes the problem obvious. If this reasoning is not convincing enough, the Iranian regime is a living example of “Liberation Theology.” In its first year of rule, the regime massacred thousands of leftist academics, Communists, Kurds, Bahais, and Balochis, as a part of a long list of its religious campaigns, which have never stopped since (see Amnesty International 2017). 

What about Christian “Liberation Theology” or “Black Theology”? To answer this and grab the issue from its roots, we may ask a different kind of question: Would there be any need to speak of “liberation theologies” had these theologies themselves not been at the heart of colonial campaigns of genocide and enslavement? It is as if worshiping the same God as that of the colonizers has spared Native Americans or Africans from the fate of genocide and impoverishment. No, submitting to the imperial religion in fact crowned the process of subjugation whether in the case of Islamic or Christian imperialism. Spirituality is a nice term for turning one’s attention away from what matters and to focus on a presumed realm of absolute truth and metaphysical justice, thereby surrendering the body to endless chains, the iron sounds of which create the perfect mass space of sadomasochism. Theology has always claimed liberation. How else could it make people call murder sacrifice, genocide holy war, and submission virtue? How else could total domination be internalized on the account of it being total freedom?  

Thus, if those who use the term are not so ridiculously oblivious to implicate “Islam” as such, by the “Islam” part of the term “Islamo-leftism,” they must mean what is known as political Islam, jihadism, Islamic fundamentalism, or (hereafter) “Islamism”. However, even with this charitable interpretation of the term “Islamo-leftism,” i.e., assuming that it is meant to associate Islamism and leftism, the far-right intelligentsia’s adoption of the term is indicative of their ignorance and disturbing racist mindset. Islamism is an ultra-right ideology, through and through, socially, politically, historically, and geopolitically. If “right-leftism” made any sense, then “Islamo-leftism” would make sense too. Perhaps there is such a thing as “right-leftism” as a form of self-contradicting ideocracy, but in that case, such an orientation, despite appearances, belongs to the same camp of White-racism, which means the right intelligentsia in the West should consider so-called “Islamo-leftists” as their fellow ideological travelers because of their shared racist modes of perception, as I will explain further below.   

To show the pseudo-rationality of the term, it is sufficient to simply recall two basic facts with regard to the relationship between Islamism and leftism. First, Islamism is inherently, universally, and fanatically anti-leftist. A mere elementary level of historical awareness of social movements in the past 100 years or so is enough for anyone to comprehend that leftists have been Islamism’s most uncompromising traditional enemy. Whether we look at the contemporary history of Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey or wherever else Islamists in one way or another triumphed, or we compare the two sides’ respective discourses, the diametrical opposition between Islamism and leftism could not be more evident. Communists have been at the frontline against Islamist movements. In fact, only after the brutal eradication of Communism as a popular social movement did Islamism gain a global sphere of influence. It barely needs to be mentioned that the bloody eradication of Communists was committed by a wide anti-leftist coalition that included local nationalists, Western colonial powers, and Islamists, which brings us to the second point.   

The second basic fact of which the right in the West needs to be reminded is that Western governments and politicians, including some of the right’s own celebrated heroes, share a major part of the blame for the rise of Islamism. All one needs to do is to check United States Congress resolutions from the 1980s to find out that jihadis from various backgrounds were openly and proudly supported with positive propaganda, logistics, funds, and weapons in their fight against the Communists in Afghanistan, not to mention the wide scale of US and British discreet support for anti-Communist Islamist and nationalist military juntas throughout the second half of the 20th century. 

Can the discursive act of grouping leftists with Islamists be a sign of anything other than obliviousness? Well, again, following the principle of charitability, we should consider the fact that the term “Islamo-leftism” is mostly used in the European and US contexts. Therefore, giving the rightists the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it is only fair to assume that by “Islamo-leftists” they intend to refer to Western intellectuals who support Islamism as some sort of anti-imperialism. Indeed, that is an existing phenomenon with which the left is cursed and, thus, deserves to be addressed from a leftist angle. A well-known example of a post-Marxist intellectual who is counted on the left and, at the same time, is sympathetic to Islamism is Judith Butler. While I personally like to consider intellectuals like Jodi Dean, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, and Franco Berardi, as the representatives of the left in the West because they, unapologetically, have stayed faithful to the inclusive/universalist core of Communism, we have to admit that post-Marxist culturalist “leftists” are not marginal in Western universities. 

Given the post-Marxist liberal leftists’ flirtations with Islamism, one might think rightists are justified on some level to use the term “Islamo-leftism,”butin this case, they would still be guilty of racism simply because they: 1) cannot differentiate between “Islamist” and “Muslim”, and 2) take the Muslim identity as a racial identity. 

This mentality is incapable of imagining a non-White society that is not homogeneous. It is a mentality that defines all non-Whites anthropologically through the paradigm of culture and mythology. Unsurprisingly, such a mentality cannot imagine that the politics of right and left also exist in a so-called Muslim society because it perceives all the members of such a society through the supposed cultural/religious identity. Therefore, according to the White-culturalist mentality, even if some sort of leftism exists in such a society, it can only be Islamic leftism. Universalism is reserved for the White European. The non-White’s world is assumed to be inherently local, tribal, sectarian, and culturally predetermined. Even in the proclaimed multiculturalist age, to this mentality, the White stands above and beyond the anthropological notion of culture playing the role of the all-loving lord while the non-Whites are expected to be grateful for this infinite semi-divine kindness.  

By the same token, while feminism in the West has to be described by its epistemologies, theories, doctrines, and waves, if “feminism” could exist in the Middle East and North Africa, it cannot be but Islamic. This mentality, whether it claims to be anti-Eurocentrist or not, whether it is sympathetic to the perceived Other or not, whether it is for or against multiculturalism, whether its rhetoric comes across as cultural humility or supremacist mythology, is racist for the simple reason that it perceives the world through the lenses of “race” and “culture,” both of which are Eurocentric, mythic inventions devised to create a metaphysical distance between White and non-White. It is a racist mentality because it presumes that only Whites could have developed a complex politics of left and right, secular and liberal, progressive and conservative, etc. Regardless of good and bad intentions, the premises that stem from culturalism indicate the dominance of a racist episteme. 

Given that Western post-Marxist leftists and the anti-Marxist right share this culturalist mentality, they should not be so hard on each other. After all, ideologically they are more similar than they think they are, and their differences are merely evaluative. Granted one side may see the non-White as an object of pity deserving kindness or an aesthetic element of diversification of the natural colors of the world while the opposite side may see the non-White as an object of scorn and permanent threat or a continental if not planetary agent of contamination, epistemically both parties are plunged in racism. Self-proclaimed leftists who abide by the culturalist ethos commit racism as a matter of course. Therefore, no matter how many “ethnic dishes” they like or how “culturally diverse” their social relations might be, they effectively partake in the reproduction of a retroactive world. Leftism is not a matter of intentions or moral sentiments; rather, it is first and foremost the struggle of breaking free from the dominant modes of perception and thereby operating against the ethos where the premises and paradigms of domination are normalized. In this sense, perception, cognition, utterance, and political action together provide the unity of revolutionary praxis.          

However we look at “Islamo-leftism,” it is nothing but an intellectual scandal. It would be nice if adherents of the term had the ability to be embarrassed, but alas how could the representatives of “civilization” be anything but confident not only in their racial pride, but also in the taxonomic expertise that allows them to mix all kinds of terminologies and create ever more marketable systems of classification for pseudo-intellectual bureaucrats and politicians? 

I have taken the “Islam/o” part of the term “Islamo-leftism” to mean political Islam or Islamism. Nonetheless, regardless of the intentions of the term’s adherents, the choice of word is not free of immediate ideological implications, so we should not completely ignore the inherent ambiguity. Essentializing those who are perceived as Muslim by totalizing a perceived homogeneous religious identity on them is itself an act of “de-specification,” to borrow Domenico Losurdo’s concept (2015, 55). De-specification is an act of Othering a group of people through the use of discursive devices that essentially dehumanize them. For instance, repeated attribution of certain collective behavior to the targeted population is done in order to de-specify them. De-specification is at the core of a process of justifying forms of treatment that are otherwise unjustifiable, at least in terms of human-to-human treatment. Once the Other’s image is established as fundamentally different from us, the stage is ready for their full dehumanization. We should also keep in mind that “us” remains to be the signifier that normatively designates the species of humans in the most neutral sense, in the sense of the universality of reason, morality, and the beautiful. Therefore, the out-group’s dissimilarity with the in-group amounts to falling off the class of humanity insofar as the full membership in the species is measured by the degree of resemblance with the civilized, with “us”.  

The act of de-specification is often committed in preparation for justifying the use of violence against the Other. This is a typical fascist procedure. Old-fashion fascists liken the Other with insects, animals, viruses, etc. to create a popular climate of opinion in which ordinary people of the in-group would demand a heavier hand on the excluded, marginalized, Other. The antagonized masses may very well even take matters into their own hands via the mobilization of armed militia who would organize insurrections and assassinations. At a certain stage, the accumulated hatred against the de-specified Other could easily be utilized by fascist agitators to instigate mobs to commit spontaneous acts of lynching, pogrom, stoning, etc. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that de-specification can only be launched by elites who control the means of opinion making. 

The rightist intellectuals and governments are not going after Islamism. How many Western academics have boycotted Turkish universities in protest of the vast Islamification campaign of Turkish universities? In terms of international politics, how many Western governments have cut ties with Erdogan’s regime, given that it is the most powerful pole of Islamism in today’s world? In fact, NATO’s second largest standing army, under Erdogan’s leadership, is directly involved in supporting jihadist groups from Libya to Syria, not to mention its bloody campaigns against the left in Kurdistan. 

To expose the propagandist tactic devised in the term “Islamo-leftism” as part of a much broader campaign, we need to go further back into the history of fascism. Historians of fascism are familiar with terminologies such as “Jewish Bolshevism,” “cosmopolitan Jews,” and similar right-wing linguistic devices that were at the heart of the anti-Semitic campaigns throughout the first half of the 20thcentury. Reactionary writers and politicians associating Jewry and leftist international conspiracies and revolutions has a long history (see for instance Hobsbawm 1995, 119-120; Traverso 2016, chapters 1,2, and 8). It is well known that the Nazis regularly depicted Communism as an international Jewish conspiracy. For example, in 1935, in the Nazi Party’s congress, Joseph Goebbels proudly delivered a speech advancing such an anti-Semitic and anti-Communist conspiracy theory, and he was thrilled to see that Adolf Hitler was “genuinely enthused” (1935).[1] 

Of course, fascists did not create anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from scratch; rather, as in many other issues related to policies of genocide, they borrowed a page from the more experienced colonial powers. As Losurdo writes, “the initial head of the crusade against the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy was Henry Ford, the American automobile magnate” (2015, 178). At the beginning of the first decade of the rise of fascism in Europe, the 1920s, Ford’s publishing company published an anti-Semitic booklet titled, The International Jew, in four volumes. The Ford International Weekly, on the first page of its May 22, 1920 issue, published an article under the headline of “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.” [2]

Looking back, we could see how plain the rationale of the hate campaign was. Namely, it associated the ideological enemy, Marxism, with the race enemy, in this case Jews, to turn individual human beings of flesh and blood into legitimate targets of discrimination and violence. Of course, there are many differences between the nuances of anti-Semitism and those of other forms of racist campaigns, but the overlap is the association of the Othered with “leftism” to impose homogeneity more forcefully in the production of both social space and knowledge. 

The image of the in-group is packaged and sold as the rational, free, democratic, tolerant, and even universal, whereas the excluded is presented as a threat to all that constitutes “our way of life,” which is simply the culturalist alternative expression for racial purity, with the exact same phobias and anxieties common among old fashion fascist groups who use terminologies of biological racism.   

The irony is that racists, sectarians, extremists, and nationalists attribute what is characteristic of themselves to leftists, many of whom, or at least the Marxists among them, are deemed a threat on the existing relations of domination precisely for their doctrines of cosmopolitan equality. At the end of the day, despite their fantastic images of themselves and psychological means of projection, denial, and defense, the Right in the West, including White-supremacists, are extremely similar to Islamists in terms of their hierarchical views of the world and xenophobia. They are similar not only in their anti-leftist violent tendencies but also in the propaganda tactics they deploy against leftists. 

Pairing Communism with fascism, especially since 1951 when Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism (1979), is a well-known trick to undermine the legitimacy of Communism through its alleged shared features with fascism (Hobsbawm 1995, 393).[3] Communists were fascism’s number one enemy across Europe from Italy, Spain and Germany to Yugoslavia, Romania and Ukraine. As soon as fascism lost the war and its political power, it also lost its attraction to many in the academy and intelligentsia. Furthermore, it became a useful term for criminalizing Communism. However, simply associating fascism with its arch enemy, Communism, would have been laughable. Therefore, a third concept was needed to be deployed as mediator; and “totalitarianism” was quickly turned into that gluing agent. Thus, somehow, Communism along with fascism became the other of capitalist liberalism in the post-WWII ethos. 

There is an existing example of this criminalization-via-pairing tactic at work, and it is more directly similar to the French invention of “Islamo-leftism.” The example to which I want to draw attention is the Erdogan regime’s habitual pairing of the leftist, pro-democracy, pro-Kurdish-rights, feminist, liberation movement represented by several political parties in Turkey and Syria, such as Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Democratic Union Party (PYD), with ISIS. In addition to the obvious and complete ideological opposition between this leftist movement on one side and Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood to ISIS on the other side, there is a bloody ongoing existential conflict between the two camps. As if that is not enough to show the shamelessness with which Erdogan lies to the world, he has been actively supporting Islamists across the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, today Erdogan’s regime is by far more influential than the Iranian regime in terms of Islamist mobilization, populism, and reactionary radicalization. “Islamo-leftism” is thus just the latest propagandist tool that is put forward by those whose mindset, worldviews, and policies are exemplary of exclusionism and extremism.  

In closing, to Asian and African leftists, whether from Javanese or Bengali, Punjabi or Pushto, Kazakh or Persian, Baluchi or Kurdish, Turkish or Arab, Darfurian or Nubian, Nigerian or Amazigh, or any other background, who are part of everyday struggles from the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, from Mesopotamia to central and west Africa, the term “Islamo-leftism” would sound laughable. 

Notes

[1] The depiction of Communism as a Jewish international conspiracy is typical of many Islamist ideologues (for instance, see Azzam 1980). In fact, Iraqi communists were accused by Islamists (and nationalists) of being part of such an international conspiracy (for instance, see Janahi 2010).

[2] Well after the World War II anti-Semitic and anti-Communist rhetoric continued. For instance, Frank Britton, a US nationalist, published a book insisting on the anti-Semitic and anti-Communist conspiracy theory (2012). Journal of Historical Review, which was published between 1980 and 2012, is an example of platforms that perpetuated that rhetoric. More broadly, leftist exile intellectuals who had escaped Nazi Germany to the US were systematically subjected to hate speech. For instance, the members of the Frankfurt School were typically accused of aiming to corrupt the US society through utilizing their project of cultural Marxism. American Free Press is an ongoing platform that is still obsessed with “cultural Bolshevism”, “red plagues” and so on.

[3] For more on this, see the first chapter of my book Totalitarian Space and the Destruction of Aura (2019). 

Bibliography

Ahmed, Saladdin. 2019. Totalitarian Space and the Destruction of Aura. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Amnesty International. Blood-Soaked Secrets. 2017. London: Amnesty International Ltd. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE1394212018ENGLISH.PDF

Also in Persian: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE1394212018PERSIAN.PDF

Arendt, Hannah. 1979. The Origins of Totalitarianism, new ed. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Britton, Frank L. 2012. Behind Communism. London: Ostara Publications.

Goebbels, Joseph. 1935. “Communism with the Masks Off.” Calvin University’s German Propaganda Archive: https://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/goeb58.htm

Hobsbawm, Eric. 1994. The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914–1991. New York: Vintage Books.

Losurdo, Domenico. 2015. War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century. London: Verso.

Marx, Karl. 1994. Karl Marx: Selected Writings. Edited by Lawrence H. Simon. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

The Ford International Weekly. 1920. “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.” May 22. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/19200522_Dearborn_Independent-Intl_Jew.jpg

Traverso, Enzo. 2016. Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945. Translated by David Fernbach. London: Verso. Apple Books. 

Arabic Sources:

Azzam, Abdullah Yusuf. 1980. Al-Saratan Alahmar [The Red Cancer]. 1980. Amman: Maktabat al-Aqsa, 1980.

Janahi, Mahmud Hassan. 2010. “Alsila bayn Alarab wa Alshuiaiya – Haqaiq wa Arqam” [The Connection between Jews and Communism: Facts and Numbers.] Maqalati: Hassan Mahmud Janahi, August 19: http://maqalati.com/56.htm 

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For the privileged, the right to free speech means being able to air their opinions without repercussions

The following article was published in Roar Magazine on July 17, 2020:

 

The False Victimhood of the Harper’s Letter Signatories

Saladdin Ahmed

the recent Harper’s open letter titled “On Justice and Open Debate,” a swathe of authors, academics and intellectuals use their perceived authority as voices of moderation and reason to condemn “forces of illiberalism” that have ostensibly contributed to “the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides” of societal debate (emphasis mine). Given the timing of the letter and the ongoing events since the murder of George Floyd, these “sides” necessarily include both the Black Lives Matter movement and far-right organizations like the Proud Boys or the Ku Klux Klan.

The writers of the letter complain about “blinding moral certainty” within the resistance, suggesting that the writers suffer from no small degree of uncertainty when it comes to issues such as those central to the BLM movement. Although the writers do not name the left or BLM in particular, this is typical of pragmatic anti-leftists, as it preserves space for them to deny their denialism.

In the second sentence, the letter acknowledges “powerful protests for racial and social justice” only to be followed by a sentence that begins with “But.” Thus, it becomes clear who the target of the attack is, and where the call for “open debate” is headed. The linguistic formula x, but z is a discursive device that is widely used to express opaque discriminatory ideologies such as racism and sexism in ways that are meant to protect the speaker from any possible criticism (as in “I am all for equality, but…”; “I support BLM, but…”; or “I support women’s rights, but…”).

These devices along with their insistence on having “room for experimentation” imply that they prefer not to take “sides” in what they see as a moral quagmire created by BLM and antifa activists on the one side and the alt-right and Trump’s America on the other. Still, the authors are careful to couch their complaint in vague and convoluted language in an apparent effort to obscure this inconvenient backdrop.

The Harper’s letter can best be described as a failed rhetorical maneuver that uses age-old tactics to portray the privileged as victims under threat and the real victims as a source of turbulence. The writers state that they “refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.” However, it is clear that they, as well as many in the far right — who are much more outspoken — are the ones who commit that fallacy, which is known as a “false dichotomy” or “either-or” argument.

With so many experienced scholars and journalists among the signatories, they certainly should have been capable of giving us an example of the “false choice” that is supposedly imposed on them by the left. The lack of actual cases makes it all too evident that in addition to creating a false dichotomy, the writers committed a straw man fallacy.

It is the privileged who never fail to portray every demand for justice by the marginalized as a threat to “freedom.” In a country where Black people continue to be lynched, anti-fascism is under threat of being banned, white-supremacists roam around with their machine guns, and the administration has politicized an unprecedented pandemic, this group of the intelligentsia are worried about “severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions” if they “depart from the consensus.”

What “consensus” do they mean? Could the consensus to which they allude be established laws against racist discrimination and sexual harassment, such as Title VII and Title IX? Or do the writers believe there is a consensus around respecting Black lives?

BLM is a protest movement precisely because in the eyes of the established order, Black lives still do not matter like white lives do. Clearly, the privileged are threatened by the possibility of the demands of BLM becoming the consensus. Laura Ingraham made a strikingly similar, albeit much more direct, case when she warned the privileged that “the radical left” will take away their “power and money,” and that BLM will be treated as heroes. The authors of the letter likewise complain that they “are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods.”

The moment the marginalized take some space in the public sphere, we hear the phobic warnings of dangerous threats to “our culture,” which the letter warns is suffering from the spread of “censoriousness.” As soon as the silenced cease to be silent, as soon as the underprivileged make their presence in the world known, the privileged elites are terrified. Of course, we are told that their concern stems from their desire to defend freedom of speech and thought, to defend what the writers of the letter call “our norms.”

The demonization of revolutionary movements as inherently uncivil and aggressive is something we are used to seeing from the far right. For example, on July 11, the American Free Press, which was founded by the white supremacist Willis Carto, posted a piece that bemoans the alleged rise of “cultural Bolshevism,” demonizing prominent critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, all of whom escaped the Nazi persecution of Jews to the US. The article closes by blaming “our national decline and the protesting and rioting you see in America now” on the ideas of the critical theorists. In another article posted with a typical antisemitic caricature of Trotsky, the same writer links the rise of “Bolshevism” and political correctness with “the fall of Western cultural norms.”

Of course, the latest protests led by the BLM movement are a main target of the right-wing fearmongering campaigns. On the front page of its latest issue, the American Free Press warns against a growing “movement to tear down or disassemble monuments to great American figures and events.” The writer complains that “the left has ‘won the debate,’” adding that “it’s difficult to have a real debate when one side of the argument is completely silenced.”

Notably, the newspaper also devoted two pages to what it calls “A DISTURBING RUNDOWN OF THE CRIMES OF BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Again, the Harper’s letter does not mention BLM or the left, but it is a call to defend what they call “our culture” and “our norms” against those who reject racism and sexism. The signatories of the letter are certainly not the ones operating the speeding train of fascism, but does such an attack on the anti-fascist resistance not amount to guarding that very train?

When there is pressure from those who are normally excluded from the public sphere, forms of bigotry that had been normalized start to be problematized and challenged. The gained strength of the marginalized creates various challenges to the boundless power of the privileged. Therefore, there may be times when some individuals among the elite might be held responsible for their racist or sexist behavior and lose some of their privileges as a result.

The Harper’s letter alludes to a few such cases in which elite individuals faced repercussions for racist and/or sexist conduct. In coming to the defense of those cases, the letter writers demonstrated their identification with the dominant culture and norms, which are threatened by the voices rising from below. In short, the signatories are intolerant of those who refuse to tolerate intolerance.

TAKING RISKS WITHOUT TAKING RISKS

The morally confused writers’ fear of actual “risk taking” raises the question of whether they would dare to criticize a police state, assuming that such a regime might fire them for doing so. What is certain is that the writers make explicit that they want all their privileges secured beyond any doubt to enable them to express their views freely. We are asked to take their words in “good faith,” and if they sound racist, we must remember it is just an innocent mistake. Those innocent mistakes, however, amount to repeated denials of systematic discrimination, the victims of which must demonstrate “good faith” by silently and idly accepting these denials as freedom of expression.

Ultimately, the concern about “public shaming and ostracism” and “dire professional consequences” for speaking out in “the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides” comes down to one simple issue. It is not that the denialists have been deprived of a platform to share their not-so-brilliant letter. On the contrary, the letter, despite its straw man argument and poor composition, was published by a mainstream magazine. This speaks to the fact that these signatories are anything but victims of censorship, unless “free speech” for them includes the special right not to be challenged.

For the privileged, the right to free speech means being able to air their opinions without repercussions, while the intellectual and moral perspectives of the marginalized are portrayed as inherently dangerous. Apparently, it is not enough to earn many times more than the average Black American; their social interests must be insured against potential damage.

It is not clear what specific guarantees the letter writers demand, but it seems their unlimited authority over the public sphere including their power to silence is their measurement for both freedom and justice.

The Harper’s letter is exemplary of bourgeois unfreedom, not only in terms of the writers’ failure to imagine the emancipation of the silenced Other, but also in the sense of their own incapacity to be free. Freedom is precisely the will to act regardless of potential consequences on one’s life. Exercising my freedom does not amount to obtaining the permission to do what I believe ought to be done, but rather simply doing it without regard for potential personal consequences. If I ask for permission or expect my speech-act to be insured like a piece of private property, then precisely because of that, the intended act embodies my unfreedom.

In this context, if I refrain from writing or saying what I believe to be true, merely because it would have negative consequences on my personal interests, then I am neither a just nor a free person. No cultural insurance in the world could give free will and a sense of justice to bourgeois elites who perpetuate the relations of domination from which they benefit every day.

Without a sense of irony, the writers declare, “we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.” The requested cultural insurance is supposed to allow this elite to take risks without risking anything and make mistakes without being called out on those mistakes. After all, these sorts of social experimentations are needed to address what they call “complex policy issues.”

This “policy” language betrays the social engineering mentality that is at work here. They add that “the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” which is exactly the claim various white supremacists hide behind. Denialists have habitually portrayed denialism as the ultimate voice of reason, and denialists as the victims for not having unlimited power to impose their myths and silence those whose very existence represents a threat to “our culture” and civilization.

The letter leaves one to wonder: what would the writers utter if they did not feel intimidated by the radical left? What is it exactly that they are holding back out of fear of being fired or shamed by the public? Do the writers of the letter practice their “open debate” on social media under pseudonyms, as Blake Neff, the top writer for Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, has been doing for years? Let us not forget that Carlson’s show regularly seeks to defend the right to “disagree,” and he often calls “to fight back against totalitarianism,” precisely to fight any chance of challenging the dominant norms of discrimination and exploitation.

Through references to the far right and Trump, the letter aims to secure a centrist position, but the very complaint and fear mongering to which it gives rise are what the far right and Trump regularly propagate. To give a recent example, on July 4, Trump warned that “angry mobs” are

driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values (. . .) In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.  If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.

Like Trump’s speeches, the Harper’s letter is intended to stir fear against the left, and it does not use sophisticated methods to do so.

LEARNING TO UNLEARN

To put it bluntly: the letter is profoundly stupid. It is neither controversial by any intellectual standards nor puzzling on ethical grounds. Despite its intentional vagueness, no hermeneutical power on earth could disguise the fact that it is an embarrassingly stupid denialist text.

Denialists do not fight for seeking truth or the right to seek truth; rather, they fight to keep the victims deprived of every right, including the right to express their victimhood. Not being allowed to be recognized as a victim is part of victimhood. In fact, ideological domination prepares us to hate victims even before we know anything about their history or present reality.

What makes a person a supporter of freedom is not their use of the free speech argument but the content of their speech. The letter claims to “uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters” while criticizing “a vogue for public shaming.” To be clear, stupidity must be publicly shamed when it is purposely exhibited in public, especially with such an arrogant sense of authority and self-entitlement. The fact that some prominent thinkers and literary figures such as Chomsky and Rushdie signed the letter does not make it any less stupid.

Unfortunately, trained experts are capable of selling stupidity as reason more successfully than non-experts, and for that very reason, the most crucial education in patriarchal societies everywhere is to learn how to unlearn.

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