There is, as Richard Hofstadter put it many years ago, a paranoid style of politics. While, he came up with this notion in his examination of American politics, McCarthyism and its predecessors, I am struck how this sort of politics can be found in just about every democracy. The paranoid knows that enemies surround us. We must be vigilant and protect ourselves, limit or eliminate immigration, impose loyalty oaths, arm ourselves. For, “they” are out to get us. The complexities of the world are explained by the machinations of “them.” (A most popular them these days are Muslims.)
The paranoia continues: we will resolve the problems posed by them only through vigilance. Those who don’t see this are naïve, in some ways worse than the enemy itself. You’re either with us or you’re against us: our country right or wrong, love it or leave it. The National Front in France, the Swedish Democracy Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, the Bulgarian Ataka party, Hungary’s Jobbik party, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the British National Party, the League of Polish Families, among others in Europe and beyond, including the Tea Party in the U.S., utilize this style of politics, the populist, xenophobic kind. (link) (link)
In each country, the health of democracy, it seems to me, will be determined by whether the paranoid style is marginalized, and remains so through time, or if it seeps into the political mainstream. When a right wing coalition ruled in Poland and included the League of Polish Families, the prospects for Polish democracy dived, only reviving when that coalition was defeated in the polls, and , indeed, to mention Hofstadter’s immediate concerns, when Dwight Eisenhower’s Republican Party turned against McCarthy, American democracy was strengthened. A pressing American concern today has to do with the paranoid style of politics in the Tea Party and in the anti-immigration movement. Our fate is tied to how we respond to the Park Islamic Community Center and other . . .
Read more: Political Paranoia Threatens Healthy Democracy Here and Globally
The man behind the controversial Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan, Feisal Abdul Rauf, aims for tolerance, but stirs up fear and regret.
While I have been observing Feisal Abdul Rauf’s actions and reactions to the public controversies surrounding his work as the the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and the imam of the Farah mosque in Lower Manhattan, I have been thinking a lot about my book, Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society. I think that in democracies, intellectuals are talk provokers who help the general public confront and address serious political problems by informing discussion. I think that they do so by civilizing differences so that enemies can become opponents and opponents can become collaborators, and by subverting commonsense that hides problems, so that these problems then can be discussed. I, of course, know that no one intellectual is always a subversive, and no one intellectual is always an agent of civility. Yet, certain key intellectuals have primarily played one or the other role. This for example is how I think about the intellectual work of Malcolm X versus Martin Luther King Jr.
The tragedy of Feisal Abdul Rauf is that he has intended and has dedicated his life to the role of civility, while more brutal figures in our public life, perhaps Newt Gingrich is the primary culprit, have intended to turn the persistently patriotic imam into a subversive. He has been labeled an agent of Islamic, indeed radical Islamist, subversion of the good moral order, just when he has done everything in his public pronouncements and actions to support the good pluralistic moral order that he understands, along with many of his fellow Americans including his President, to be the great American achievement.
Thus consider deliberately Feisal Abdul Rauf’s words in his recent op-ed piece. He is even willing to see this episode in which he has been systematically and viciously slandered as a positive development in the project of civil religious interactions:
“Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention, specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions . . .
Read more: The Tragedy of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf