"There is no quarrel about how to treat those whose scorn for liberal values takes the form of blowing the legs off small children. They need to be locked up. But socialists as well as Islamists reject the liberal state, so what is to be done about them? Are they to be indulged only until they successfully challenge the state...?I think this is a rather confused piece. I don't buy the claim that liberals are necessarily obliged to not tolerate opinions that seek to undermine the liberal state - but if that is, in fact the case, then how is intolerance of Islam to fail 'the test of liberalism'?
"Liberalism holds that the state should tolerate any opinion that does not seek to undermine that very tolerance. It is an ironic kind of politics.
"If the test of liberalism is how it confronts its illiberal adversaries, some of the liberal intelligentsia seem to have fallen at the first hurdle. Writers such as Martin Amis and Hitchens do not just want to lock terrorists away. They also tout a brand of western cultural supremacism. Dawkins strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq, but preaches a self-satisfied, old-fashioned Whiggish rationalism that can be wielded against a benighted Islam. The philosopher AC Grayling has an equally starry-eyed view of the stately march of Western Progress. The novelist Ian McEwan is a freshly recruited champion of this militant rationalism. Both Hitchens and Salman Rushdie have defended Amis's slurs on Muslims. Whether they like it or not, Dawkins and his ilk have become weapons in the war on terror. Western supremacism has gravitated from the Bible to atheism.
"There is also an honorable legacy of qualifying too-absolute judgments with an awareness of context: the genuine liberal is appalled by Islamist terrorism, but conscious of the national injury and humiliation that underlie it. None of the writers I have mentioned is remarkable for such balance.
"For the liberal state to accommodate a diversity of beliefs while having few positive convictions is one of the more admirable achievements of civilization. But such neutrality, once under pressure, can easily slide into superiority, as sitting loose to other people's faith comes to look like rising disdainfully above it. It is then only a short step from superiority to supremacism."
Note that Eagleton rather sneakily slides from the dodgy views of Amis to claiming that Dawkins's rationalism can be wielded against Islam and that he is a 'weapon' in the 'war on terror' - I mean, so what? I'm sure the findings of academic psychology can be wielded in the 'war on terror' - should we abandon the practice of psychology?
But what intrigues me is how the socialist is supposed to fit in. After all, as Eagleton points out:
The left objects to the liberal case not because it believes in crushing those who differ, or dislikes the idea of a partisan state, but because this case rules out the kind of partisan state that socialism requires. It rules out, for example, a state that would not be neutral on whether cooperation or individualism should reign supreme in social and economic life.Socialism is no friend to Islam, sure it seeks to defend the oppressed, and Eagleton is right that Muslims have been the target of some unpleasant demonisation, but fundamentally socialists reject most religious belief. In fact, I'm not entirely clear how the SWP and Richard Dawkins differ in this regard.
Martin In The Margins notes that:
Eagleton is a master of the classic pseudo-leftish 'guilt by association' move. If you can get your audience to see your opponents as part of a wider, sinister movement - the war on terror, neoconservatism, late capitalism, imperialism - this relieves you of the necessity of engaging with their arguments.