The other day I ran across an item from the Boston Herald about a jihad-related kerfuffle in France. The story is about a high-school teacher named Robert Redeker, who has been driven into hiding after publishing an essay in Le Figaro suggesting — how dare he! — that Islam is trying to impose its cultural will upon Europe.
According to the story in the Herald,
Redeker accused Muslim fundamentalists of trying to muzzle Europe’s democratic liberties. Authorities in Tunisia and Egypt seized copies of Le Figaro containing the article, titled “In the face of the Islamist intimidations, what is the free world to do?”
Now the article is certainly strong stuff; it castigates Mohammed and his teaching in blunt terms as hateful and violent. (You can read the original French version here, or an English translation here.) And obviously this man oughtn’t to feign surprise; he must have known very well what the effect was going to be. But we are going to see more and more of this, I think, as people begin to see the need to stand up to such bullying, rather than cowering in timorous appeasement.
But what really got my attention was a comment by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. The Herald reports:
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called for vigilance so that “respect for the opinions of others is total.”
“We are in a democracy,” Villepin said on RMC radio. “Each person should be able to express himself freely while respecting others.”
To his credit, M. Villepin was defending the right of this man to express himself. But he is also expressing a strange idea that has taken deeper and deeper root over the past decades: the idea of radical tolerance. (This trend is related to a number of other misguided notions that have gripped Western liberal culture recently, in particular to the view that assuring equality of opportunity is no longer sufficient, and that what society must guarantee is equality of outcome.) The idea expressed by Villepin — that “respect for the opinions of others” should be “total” — is, if this is really what he meant, absolutely insane. Perhaps he was misquoted; one can only hope.
To be sure, as citizens of a free society we should respect the right of others to express their opinions — that right is one of the great blessings of liberal democracy, and as such is amply deserving of our deepest respect — but what he says here seems to be that we should feel obliged in all instances to respect the content of those opinions, which is absurd. The same goes for any prejudicial compulsion to “respect others”, at least at any level above the very basic respect — a generous habit of our culture — that we accord them, provisionally, as fellow human beings. Why should I respect a man who saws the head off a helpless prisoner who is pleading for his life? Why should I respect someone who sees all infidels as subhuman trash, fit only to be converted or slaughtered? Respect must be earned, or the word means nothing. It cannot be compelled. And tolerance of the lethally intolerant is not just folly, but suicidal folly.