Saturday, January 10, 2015

Can Liberalism Also be Fundamentalist?

A couple of years ago, there was a South Park episode that made fun of the late Steve Irwin,  Australia's famed "crocodile hunter."  The episode characterized the nature of Irwin's TV documentaries as mere attempts to gain viewership by intentionally pissing off wild animals while fully knowing that the animals will be pissed off by the human intrusions.  By skirting serious physical danger in his pretty much unnecessarily violent interactions with the pissed off animals, Irwin somehow gains a status of folk hero in the process.

Far-fetched as it may seem at the first sight, the Steve Irwin analogy (and his final demise at the hands of a stingray) is rather relevant in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of a Parisian satirical magazine.  The journalists of the magazine, just like Irwin, are professionals at provocation, using cartoon drawings to intentionally offend radical groups, whether they be political extremists or religious conservatives.  By fending off the controversies (along with the vigilante justice and death threats they must face), they court fame and following among the liberal public.

The potential danger of such activities are obvious and the clear consequences are at display during the ongoing fiasco in Paris.  After all, both Irwin and these Parisian journalists are acting out of clear consciousness that their activities are fraught with danger, deliberately brought themselves in exchange for notoriety.  To suffer at the danger of their respective subjects, whether they be wild animals or extremist ideologues, should be more or less a given, because they should know beforehand that the danger is unpreventable and thus precautions absolutely necessary.

However, the reaction of the French public in response to the massacre at the office of Charlie Hebdo has been, in many ways, just as fundamentalist in ideology as those that drove the Muslim terrorists to kill.  There has been a major focus on "preserving the freedom of speech," in essence not only a seal of approval for the journalists' reckless open ridicule of extremists that brought fatalities, but also clear sign of determination that what the journalists did will not only be halted by danger, but be continued persistently as demonstration of strength.

To put the reaction succinctly, it amounts to squaring off of those who profess "liberal values" manifested in the near-sacred right of behavior freedoms with zero restrictions on subject and content, with those who are determined to defend their own territories (whether physical or ideological) by whatever violent means necessary.  This "you vs. us" mentality, while amusing in Irwin's "man vs nature" case, becomes very much unsettling when thrown into the context of different human communities in supposedly multicultural and tolerant France.

In Irwin's case, the loser and the winner of the squaring off is very clear.  Either man subjugates the animal, or the animal kills the man.  But the same cannot be said with a showdown of two belief systems.  As public protests with "Je sui Charlie" signs show, death of some journalists will only spur more journalists to take up the cause.  But in the same way, the uncompromising hostility of the public toward the Muslim fundamentalist cause (and violent deaths of the "martyrs" at the hands of the police) will only continue to radicalize a small faction and lead to more violent attacks.

As such, there really is very little difference between the Muslim fundamentalists doing the attacks and the "liberal fundamentalists" refusing to back down in terms of how they communicate their persistence in expressing their own beliefs.  While the Muslim radicals threw away any regard for the law in not murdering innocents, the radical liberals abandoned all adherence to common sense and morality by not making any touchy and sensitive subjects off-limits from public expression, just because the majority of the population does not find the subjects offensive.

Indeed, the liberal extremists' persistence is deep-rooted in belief that their system of belief is more correct than others.  They will ban things that do not fit this value system (e.g. positive comments on racism, Nazism, authoritarianism), but all others, including foreign religions like Islam, are open game, all in the name of "freedom of expression."  Such behavior comes off as extremely insensitive, and to the fundamentalists, worthy of persistent violent resistance.  Certainly, the Western world has learned very little on self-reflection even after years of Muslim fundamentalist attacks.  


  1. Liberalism, like any ism, cannot tolerate anything but itself, because to do so would be to tolerate intolerance.

    "The apostles of tolerance, truth to tell, are very often the most intolerant of men. This is what has in fact happened, and it is strangely ironical : those who wished to overthrow all dogma have created for their own use, we will not say a new dogma, but a caricature of dogma, which they have succeeded in imposing on the western world in general"

  2. cannot have put it better myself.