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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Respect: Relativism and Patronization

Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian, is the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. His Op-Ed on Atheism, written for the New York Times, is centered on a thesis best summarized in this sentence:
The paradox is that [European] Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.
Zizek’s Op-Ed is a worthy read; a couple of paragraphs grabbed me tenaciously. In my mind these paragraphs capture the essence of the Israeli left’s phoniness:
While a true atheist has no need to boost his own stance by provoking believers with blasphemy, he also refuses to reduce the problem of the Muhammad caricatures to one of respect for other's beliefs. Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth.

What, however, about submitting Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs.
This is spot on. Over the course of the last decades, the Israeli left tolerated the violation of agreements, ignored hateful speeches by “peace partners” and justified vile terrorist actions using a mixture of relativism and patronization. Since intellectual honesty is not a forte of their milieu, I doubt that reading the op-ed will change their ways or that the Israeli left will even make an attempt to connect the dots. I did.

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