May 2018 Pulse
In one of his epistles, the apostle John exhorts his readers not to believe every spirit, but to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God’ (1 John 4:1). John was of course urging his readers to exercise spiritual discernment ‘because many false prophets have gone into the world’.
While John’s exhortation sought to warn Christians of falsehood within the church, it can surely be extended beyond that context. Christians must be cautious and prudentially critical in processing the tsunami of information that comes their way every day.
They must not believe everything they read in the media and embrace every idea that they encounter. Instead they must ‘test them’, that is, subject them to careful and critical evaluation to ascertain their truth or falsehood, and to discern the subtle ideologies and hidden agendas that fuel and shape each perspective.
One of the most politically and socially debilitating phenomena that we witness today, especially in the West, is arguably the curious ‘alliance’ between Islamism and left-wing ideology and politics.
In the context of this article, ‘Islamism’ refers to that ideology that seeks to impose a version of Islam, namely, political Islam over society. ‘Left-wing’ broadly refers to that species of politics that exhibits a radical and socialist bent.
This strange alliance, which is sometimes described by the neologism ‘Islamo-Leftism’, has captured the attention of numerous scholars and social commentators. It has also been subjected to severe criticisms by some leftist thinkers, notably Michael Walzer who offered an interesting analysis of this phenomenon in Dissent.
The circumstances and reasons that led these two quite disparate parties to become bedfellows are intriguing and merit careful study.
One of the reasons why the left wittingly or unwittingly colludes with Islamists is the former’s vociferous anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist attitude. The left vehemently condemns western intervention in Iraq, Libya or Syria, believing that these powers – the United States or Britain – are not acting in good faith but are attempting to increase their wealth and influence at the expense of the people living in these countries.
The left supports the Islamists because they not only see them as victims of ruthless western powers, but also as a resistance movement against imperialism. This has inspired wildly outrageous statements from leftist academics and public intellectuals.
For example, the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek could declare that Islamic radicalism is ‘the rage of the victims of global capitalism’. And Judith Butler, the American feminist philosopher, opines that ‘understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important’.
This has led the left to turn the proverbial blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Islamists.
Deepa Kumar suggests in his book, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire that even though the left recognises the crimes committed by Islamists, they are slow – almost reluctant – to lay the blame on them because they perceive the Islamists as opponents of western – especially American – imperialism. As Walzer puts it starkly: ‘So “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”’.
Additionally, the leftists have naively conflated the Islamic supremacists with Muslims. Consequently, criticisms of Islamism are equated with criticisms of Muslims, and are swiftly and decisively condemned. But in doing so, the leftists have willy-nilly supported the very narrative that the Islamists are promoting in an attempt to feign representation.
Consequently, the left commandeers ideas like inclusivism, multiculturalism, group rights and Islamophobia – along with many others – to condemn the actions of people with whom they disagree, regardless of whether these actions are justified or not. The Islamists have much to thank the left for providing the rhetorical tools that they can employ to their fullest advantage.
Take ‘Islamophobia’, for instance. Now anti-Muslim sentiment is a real phenomenon in the wake of the current situation, and a potential threat to social peace.
But both leftists and Islamists have used Islamophobia (and racism) as a political and rhetorical devise to scaremonger people to silence. This has led Pascal Bruckner to observe in his book, The Tyranny of Guilt that Islamophobia is ‘a clever invention because it amounts to making Islam a subject that one cannot touch without being accused of racism’.
The same can be said of ‘multiculturalism’. The left has used multiculturalism (again, with racism) to defend the oppressors – the Islamic supremacists – whom, as we saw above, they had regarded as the oppressed. ‘Multiculturalism’ is employed to silence dissenters without even giving them the chance to articulate their views and their reasons for holding them.
As Maryam Namazie puts it, ‘this politics doesn’t merely ignore dissent, in many ways it forbids it. The likes of StWC, Socialist Workers Party, Unite against Fascism, Islamophobia Watch, and Respect Party or Ken Livingstone and George Galloway are there as prefects to silence dissenters and defend Islamism as a defence of “Muslims”’.
Namazie has rightly described the pro-Islamist Left as promoting a ‘politics of betrayal’ that is extremely dangerous and that has and will continue to cause the deaths of innocent people.
In the West, leftist ideologues have made their presence felt in many sectors of society – in academia, media and the law – imposing their vision of the human community, very often with an undercurrent of threat and coercion.
‘Do not believe every spirit’, John writes. Instead, ‘test the spirits’. In our complex world, this call for discernment is something that the Christian simply cannot afford to ignore.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.