Something is obviously going terribly wrong here. The logic of relativism is taking Western academics into dark waters. They are now prepared to countenance practices that are obviously cruel, unnatural and life-denying, that is, practices that offend against all they claim to stand for.writes Keith Windschuttle (thanks to Sock Pocket of Doom), who concludes that
…The moral rationale of cultural relativism is a plea for tolerance and respect of other cultures, no matter how uncomfortable we might be with their beliefs and practices. However, there is one culture conspicuous by its absence from all this. The plea for acceptance and open-mindedness does not extend to Western culture itself, whose history is regarded as little more than a crime against the rest of humanity. The West cannot judge other cultures but must condemn its own.
Since the 1960s, academic historians on the left have worked to generate a widespread cynicism about the nature of Western democracies, with the aim of questioning their legitimacy and undermining their ability to command loyalty
The truth is that the riots, the arson, the death threats were not spontaneous outbursts from passionate religious believers but were carefully stage-managed by Muslim leaders. The imams of the Danish Muslim community consciously ignited the response some four months after the cartoons were published. They travelled to the Middle East where they generated support for a campaign quite deliberately targeted at Western culture's principle of freedom of expression.
Their real aim is not religious respect but cultural change in the West. They want to prevent criticism of its Muslim minority and accord that group special privilege not available to the faithful of other religions. Instead of them changing to integrate into our way of life, they want to force us to change to accept their way of life.
Muslim rage over the cartoons is not an isolated issue that would have been confined to Denmark and would have gone away if nobody had republished them. It is simply one more step in a campaign that has already included assassination, death threats and the curtailment of criticism. And our response, yet again, has been one more white flag in the surrender of Western cultural values that we have been making since Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie in 1989.
The Western concept of freedom of speech is not an absolute. The limits that should be imposed by good taste, social responsibility and respect for others will always be a matter for debate. But this is a debate that needs to be conducted within Western culture, not imposed on it from outside by threats of death and violence by those who want to put an end to all free debate.
The concepts of free enquiry and free expression and the right to criticise entrenched beliefs are things we take so much for granted they are almost part of the air we breathe. We need to recognise them as distinctly Western phenomena. They were never produced by Confucian or Hindu culture. Under Islam, the idea of objective inquiry had a brief life in the fourteenth century but was never heard of again. In the twentieth century, the first thing that every single communist government in the world did was suppress it.
But without this concept, the world would not be as it is today. There would have been no Copernicus, Galileo, Newton or Darwin. All of these thinkers profoundly offended the conventional wisdom of their day, and at great personal risk, in some cases to their lives but in all cases to their reputations and careers. But because they inherited a culture that valued free inquiry and free expression, it gave them the strength to continue.
Today, we live in an age of barbarism and decadence. There are barbarians outside the walls who want to destroy us and there is a decadent culture within. We are only getting what we deserve. The relentless critique of the West which has engaged our academic left and cultural elite since the 1960s has emboldened our adversaries and at the same time sapped our will to resist.
The consequences of this adversary culture are all around us. The way to oppose it, however, is less clear. The survival of the Western principles of free inquiry and free expression now depend entirely on whether we have the intelligence to understand their true value and the will to face down their enemies.