Many’s the time one reads about deep trenches within Western societies, but it seems that little has been done to overcome this split. Populism and extreme political correctness are both phenomena we need to start dealing with.
Looking at how especially the intellectual left is dealing with today’s hot topics such as refugees, integration and religious extremism, it becomes rather obvious that the initial concept of Political Correctness (PC) has gone quite astray. As defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, PC is the avoidance of expressions that could offend, marginalise or exclude a certain group of people. Today’s forms of PC, though, appear to prevent people from even mentioning these groups in a critical context. Western societies are thus becoming extremely sensitive about identifying or discussing a certain subject-matter. That being said, it is extremely important to underline that obvious racist or sexist terms need to be condemned decisively. This, however, should not lead to an inability to speak about serious problems that arise with regard to marginalised groups; a worrying tendency in Western societies which will eventually lead to a mere “War on Words”, rather than a substantial confrontation with the original problems.
This topic is not a new one. In fact, there are already several articles published about this issue, notably “Islamism and the Left” by Michael Walzer, published in The Dissent in 2015. However, it seems clear that not enough has been written, since our society is still threatened by politically-correct paralysis. Just recently at a conference, I asked about ways to oppose radical Islam and, contrarily, to support moderate Islam, but my questions were not dealt with at all. Rather, I found myself in the midst of a discussion on whether we should or should not use the word “Islam” together with the words “moderate” and “radical”. I truly wonder whether the intellectual left has lost its ability to speak about content rather than mere words. Especially when it comes to radical Islamist movements gaining ground all over the world today, wouldn’t it be more pressing to speak about the actual subject rather than fussing about how to phrase the question?
It seems as if the studies of post-modernism and post-colonialism have deprived many of the ability to speak. Colonial debt, the fear of being guilty of racism or, even of being falsely accused of it, and the rise of cultural relativism have paralysed many Western societies. They have become unable to call the problems by what they are.
Moreover, this incapability to speak has led to the rise of right-wing populism which can be observed around the world. People increasingly fear the loss of their identity as well as their security. As some of their fears might be unjustified, others are understandable and grounded in real experience. There is, for instance, a real threat that the integration of some recognised refugees might not be successful. Whereas right-wing parties have addressed these problems, albeit in a populistic and often racist way, the intellectual left has decided not to speak about these worries and problems at all. As a consequence, more and more people are finding their problems addressed solely by right-wing parties, such as AfD in Germany and FPÖ in Austria, and are deciding to trust them with their vote.
This societal radicalisation can only be stopped if leftist groups lift their self-censorship and start confronting reality. Sensitively addressing issues that arise from the integration of people from another culture and talking about terrorism, which unfortunately is often connected to radical Islam, is neither racist nor Islamophobic. We should refuse to let ourselves be put in any situation where the mere addressing of a problem immediately puts one in affiliation with the right-wing spectrum of society. For, as a consequence, the only other way to avoid this would be to remain silent.
We are living in a split and polarised society where one has to choose sides: either blame “Islam” for all the terror in the world, or “the West”. Either oppose refugees or deny the challenges that are connected with their integration. Or shall we just avoid the topic altogether and speak about the appropriateness of the term “refugee”? On the contrary, what we really need to do is speak about substance. We need to break the vicious dichotomous circle we are in and speak properly about the pressing issues we are facing, without censorship and without choosing sides.