Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Literary Left and Radical Islam

In the wake of Attorney General Eric Holder's embarrassing, for him, appearance last week before a congressional committee in which he refused to use the words "radical" and "Islam" in the same sentence, there appears a very passionate piece by novelist and critic Mark Goldblatt on the political correctness, that amounts to cowardice, that largely accounts for such disgusting performances.

To strengthen his point, Goldblatt includes a story he heard at the service honoring the Beat poet Allen Ginsburg after his death in 1997. The story was about Ginsberg's reaction, in 1989, to a Muslim cab driver in Manhattan who unapologetically supported the Ayatollah Khomeini's issuance of a death sentence on the writer Salman Rushdie after the publication of Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, in which the prophet Muhammad was not exactly portrayed in the most respectful light. You really need to read the account in order to appreciate fully the effect this had on Ginsburg, but suffice it to say that he was not constrained by the strictures of political correctness. Goldblatt embraces Ginsberg's reaction and uses it to enrich, if that's the right word, his own reaction to radical, and even not so radical Muslims worldwide.

Anyway, Goldblatt's piece reminded me of both the episode and the events surrounding it when Rushdie's novel was published in the late 1980s. Why, then, did so many of the Literary Left find it so easy to come to Rushdie's defence, even going so far as to attack vigorously the religion of Islam itself? And why today, by contrast, will you look long and hard before you'll find anyone from that particular tribe willing to say so much as an unkind word about even radical Islam, and this after the actual murders of more than 3,000 on 9/11 and not simply the promise of a murder of one lone writer? (Christopher Hitchens, by the way, is a notable exception.)

Before I answer, let me complicate this a bit more. Do you recall that in response to that same episode, there were more than a few on the political Right, the Religious Right to be more precise, who, at the time, articulated a measure of sympathy for Muslims over the insult to their prophet contained in Rushdie's novel? Now, again by contrast, these same people are perhaps the most willing to call radical Islam for what it is, a murderous ideology that must be stopped.

Is there any way to reconcile these apparent contradictions? I think so...well partly anyway.

The Literary Left rallied to Rushdie's side at the time because his novel, in part, sought to accomplish what they all collectively sought also to accomplish, at least here and there, and that is the deliberate discrediting and mocking of traditional religion. The Religious Right sensed this as they themselves had long experience being the target of the same enterprise and, as a result, proffered a measure of sympathy for Muslims everywhere.

Today, after 9/11, with the entire country clearly the target, the Religious Right, along with all sane Americans, quite rationally and naturally want to defend it from its expressed foe, radical Islam. But what of the Literary Left? Why do we hear so little from them? I'm convinced that gutlessness, plain and simple, is a large part of it, probably the largest part. But we shouldn't forget another very powerful reason that they actually share with the radical Muslims. That is, an abiding hatred of America. The same pleasure they take in attacking traditional religion, they take also in watching their country torn down. It's suicidal, no doubt. But not for that reason any less true. The passionate language Mark Goldblatt's uses to express his disgust for radical Islam, might be just as appropriately directed at these people.


  1. Your argument about the anti-American literary left is reinforced by Pat Buchanan'e example. He expressed some sympathy for critics of Rushdie. (Someone else referred to the episode as "The Ayatollah Khomeini and the Improvement of Literature." Buchanan's unquestioned patriotism does, however, haver an element of tribalism in it.

  2. Thanks Ken. What you say of Buchanan is true, but I would still welcome him in my fox hole before I would any of the others. He may be indiscriminate, but at least I can count on him to pick up a gun and start shooting. Cheers.