Left too soft on Islam, claims Aussie journalist

James Button“Sitting in his office in Antwerp, Filip Dewinter says he wants to keep religion out of public life, protect free speech, promote democracy and ensure the equality of men and women.

“He talks like a progressive. But as head of the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party, which gets 20 per cent of the votes in the Flemish half of Belgium, he is one of the most far-right politicians in Europe. His adviser hands me a leaflet showing a minaret with a red line through it. ‘Stop Islamising’, the slogan demands. ‘No mosques in our neighbourhood.’ …

“Islam is the greatest challenge to old politics since the fall of communism. It has scrambled categories of right and left. The right steals the left’s language to allege that Muslims do not fit in because they do not respect Western values of pluralism, women’s rights and even gay rights….

“The populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was often labelled right-wing but said, fairly or unfairly, that he was hostile to Islam because he did not want to ‘have to go through the emancipation of women and homosexuals all over again’. He entered politics partly out of rage at young Muslim men smashing the windows of his gay bar.

“Left liberals, meanwhile, are thrown into confusion, or worse. In 2004, the left-wing Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, hosted a visit by Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric whose fatwas endorse wife-beating and the murder of homosexuals….

“The left rightly points out that most Muslims are not extremist. Yet it is so afraid of appearing racist or asserting Western cultural superiority that it seems unable to acknowledge any problems associated with the Muslim faith at all….

“Responding to both radical and fundamentalist forms of Islam gives the democratic left a chance to rediscover its core beliefs. It should not cede ownership of Western values to the right, values that the left fought for centuries to create.”

James Button in the Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October 2007