Jonathan Kay on Kurt Westergaard, free speech, and leftist refuseniks
Posted: October 05, 2009, 4:33 PM by Jonathan Kay
Jonathan Kay, Full Comment
Has Jack Layton converted to Islam? That’s what activist Tarek Fatah asked himself last month after the NDP leader sent out an effusive Eid message to Muslim supporters, urging one and all to “renew the spirit and faith in Islam.”
“I am waiting with bated breath to see Layton ‘renew’ his faith in Islam,” Fatah wrote. “Has he already embraced the Shahadah [oath of Islam]? He goes on to say, ‘We are not celebrating the end of Ramadan, but thanking Allah for the help and strength given throughout this special month’ We? May I suggest a new name for Layton: Jack AsSalaam.”
Layton’s Eid stunt wasn’t a one-off: For years, the NDP consistently has courted Canadian Muslims – even selling out the party’s otherwise dogmatic embrace of gay marriage and hard-core feminism by running candidates who support Sharia law.
Nor is Layton alone. The post-9/11 shotgun marriage between leftists and fundamentalist Muslims has generated some bizarre juxtapositions. At anti-war demonstrations, militant feminists lock arms with women in Burkas. A group called “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” marches in solidarity with Islamists who regard homosexuals as vermin. And the Socialist Worker (yes, it’s still around), recently ran a column urging readers to support the Taliban’s fascistic movement because it’s “the face of anti-imperialist resistance in Afghanistan.”
That last one pretty well sums up the emotional bond between Islamists and Marxist enablers: a shared hatred of capitalism and globalization, and a romantic embrace of any fighting faith – no matter how bigoted or reactionary – that stands in opposition to Western civilization.
But the Left also has produced “refuseniks” (to borrow a term from self-described Muslim refusenik Irshad Manji) with the backbone to resist this ideological reflex. In the United States, Christopher Hitchens, who once wrote a book about the war crimes of Henry Kissinger, now rails against Islamofacism full-time. The aforementioned Tarek Fatah is a refusenik. So is Terry Glavin, a B.C.-based activist who’s become of one of Canada’s leading voices in support of our Afghanistan campaign.
Last week, I met with one of Europe’s most famous refuseniks, Kurt Westergaard – the Danish artist behind the famous 2005 image of the Prophet Mohammed carrying a bomb in his turban. In 2008, he was the target of at least one assassination plot. The man now lives a Rushdie-esque existence, in a house equipped with steel doors and surveillance cameras.
In the four years that have passed since the Danish cartoon controversy sparked deadly riots, the proudly unrepentant Westergaard has become an important European voice in the fight against Islamic-inspired censorship. But it turns out the 74-year-old artist doesn’t care much for capitalism or Christianity either. When I sat down to interview him in Toronto last week, the first thing he did was hand me a blasphemous cartoon image of … Jesus Christ. The uncaring son of God, equipped with suit, tie and briefcase, was shown stepping down from the Cross and heading for Wall Street.
Joining us during the interview was Danish Free Press Society President Lard Hedegaard, another self-described “man of the left” with a “Marxist perspective.” But where Europe’s internal clash of civilizations is concerned, such labels are meaningless. “What’s ultimately at issue in Europe,” Hedegaard told me, “is the very notion of free speech – this is something that goes back to Montaigne, Spinoza, and Milton’s Areopagitica … Yet many on the left seem not to care.”
As Hedegaard sees it, leftists who indulge Muslim demands for censorship are unconsciously following an authoritarian tradition inherited from the right. In part, this stems from political correctness, and the left’s traditionally exaggerated sensitivity to the demands of minority groups. But he also sees a crass political motivation.
“The dream of the socialist left was that they could build a new society based on the working class,” he tells me. “But now the proletariat no longer want to follow along. So they’ve now found a new group of victims that they claim to represent – and these are the Muslim immigrants. And they have the great advantage over the working class that they will never become integrated. So they cannot be co-opted by this so-called ‘corrupt’ capitalist society.”
Hedegaard is comfortable in English. Westergaard, less so. And during the interview, the artist remained silent for long stretches as his friend held the floor. But then, toward the end, when I asked about whether the controversy over his cartoon had strained friendships with fellow travelers, Westergaard suddenly became animated.
“One of my old friends from the left, he said last year to me ‘There are many who say that if something happens to [you], you were asking for it’ — that it would be my own fault,” Westergaard declared ruefully. Asked to choose between free speech and friendship on one side, and Islamist demands on the other, many of his Marxist compatriots had taken the cowardly route.
“I am merely a cartoonist,” he added. “I express myself with simple images and ideas. As I see it, many of the immigrants who came to Denmark, they had nothing. We gave them everything – money, apartments, their own schools, free university, health care. In return, we asked one thing – respect for democratic values, including free speech. Do they agree? This is my simple test.”
I don’t blame Canadian politicians for courting Muslim voters, or any other ethno-religious group. But I’d urge them to think about Westergaard’s test when they do so. Welcoming newcomers into our society in exchange for their embrace of liberal values is the essence of the Canadian social contract. Welcoming them without any conditions at all, on the other hand, means living behind steel doors.