Nick Cohen (the right's favourite lefty?) stands up for Richard Dawkins' atheism activities in the Spectator and then follows up with a convincing reply to his critics.
His first point is that 'militant atheists' are much less of a threat that real religious militants. If you want someone to be rude to, then it's safer to choose Dawkins than an Islamic fundamentalists. That's a fair point and well made.
His wider point, to quote from his reply piece, is that: "Multiculturalism has become an excuse to ignore the suffering of others. If you can’t see that, the world has passed you by." There is also a great deal of truth in this. Tolerance of difference is closely akin to fatalism about human nature. It's a pretty conservative creed in that respect (traditional conservatives prefer the different cultures to be in different countries, but otherwise don't disagree much with multiculturalists). One traditional attack on conservatism is that it stands in the way of attempts to ameliorate actual human suffering by insisting that institutions, procedures or traditions be preserved. That's part of Cohen's point here. (Of course, there is much to be said on the other side of the debate, for example by pointing to the meaning that established institutions and structures give to people's lives, but that is for another day.)
One of Cohen's themes, here as elsewhere, is to question why the liberal-left has found itself in league with some fairly unsavoury people. In particular - what is going on with the Cambridge Liberal Democrats (see after the break for context)?
From the original piece: "Nahla Mahmoud ... is a Sudanese refugee who became a leading figure in the British Council of ex-Muslims. Earlier this year Channel 4 gave her one minute and 39 seconds precisely to talk about the evils of Britain’s Sharia courts in Britain. In these institutions, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, a man can divorce his wife by simple repudiation, and women who remarry lose custody of their children. One minute and 39 seconds may not sound long enough to list their vices. But it is one minute and 39 seconds longer than the BBC has ever given her. ...
She was shocked to find the same system here in her land of refuge. ‘Muslims have been living in Britain for hundreds of years and never needed sharia courts,’ she concluded. ‘Everyone should have equal rights and live under one secular law.’
She and her family have suffered for her simple moral clarity. Salah Al Bander, a leading figure in the Cambridge Liberal Democrats, went for her. (I was going to write, ‘who, surprisingly, is a leading figure in the Cambridge Liberal Democrats’ — but given the Liberal Democrats’ awful attitudes towards women and Jews, nothing they do surprises me anymore.)
Al Bander posted an article in Arabic on the Sudanese Online website (one of the most widely read sites in Sudan and throughout the Sudanese diaspora). He called her a ‘Kafira’ (unbeliever) who was sowing discord. These are words with consequences — particularly when Al Bander added, ‘I will not forgive anyone who wants to start a battle against Islam and the beliefs of the people…’ After mosques and Sudanese newspapers took up the campaign against her, religious thugs attacked her brother and terrified her mother. Nahla told me she is now ‘very careful when I go out’."
From the reply: "... the worst kind of hypocrite: a white western leftist who cannot defend black African feminists against religious misogyny because they are suffering at the hands of the wrong type of oppressor."