Why are so many Jews getting our vicious culture wars so very wrong?
“Cultural Marxism” is a term that refers to the strategy propounded by left-wing theorists in the last century to use the institutions of a society’s culture to bring about a revolution in society.
In a speech this week, a British Conservative MP, Suella Braverman, said that conservatives were engaged in “a battle against cultural Marxism, where banning things is becoming de rigueur; where freedom of speech is becoming a taboo; where our universities, quintessential institutions of liberalism, are being shrouded in censorship and a culture of no-platforming.”
Cue instant uproar, led by the British Jewish community. The Board of Deputies objected on the grounds that “the term ‘cultural Marxist’ has a history as an antisemitic trope.”
Others went further, accusing Braverman of using a phrase that was not only “a conspiracy laden with antisemitic undertones” championed by the “extreme Right” but had been cited by the white supremacist accused of murdering 50 Muslim worshipers at two New Zealand mosques earlier this month.
On the Left, “cultural Marxism” has long been labeled a demented conspiracy theory. Certainly, it has indeed been appropriated by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, antisemites and other conspiracy-theory fruitcakes.
But such people also routinely accuse the Jews of being the puppet-masters of global capitalism or globalism. Yet few claim that “anti-capitalism” or “anti-globalism” is a “conspiracy laden with antisemitic undertones” – even though it is – not least because it’s also a common trope on the Left.
Yes, “cultural Marxism” surfaced in Nazi discourse as “cultural Bolshevism.” But it also has roots in an actual political philosophy propounded by far-left thinkers known as the “Frankfurt School,” along with other Marxist theorists such as Antonin Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse and Saul Alinsky.
All of these believed that, rather than expect the workers to seize control of the levers of political and economic life, the way to bring about radical change was to seed revolutionary ideas within the core institutions of society.
This was not “conspiracy theory” but an actual plan, dubbed by the 1960s German student leader Rudi Dutschke as “the long march through the institutions,” to describe the strategy for subverting the professions from within.
This has been achieved to the letter particularly in the universities, the principal incubators of cultural orthodoxies, and where teaching of the humanities is almost universally suffused by the Marxist assumption that life consists of a series of battles for power.
This is what lies behind identity politics and victim culture, the progressive destruction of the traditional family, and moral and cultural relativism – which have taken an ax to the legitimacy of the Western nation and its bedrock values.
“Cultural Marxism” is used accordingly as a shorthand phrase to describe the Left’s onslaught on core Western precepts. As Braverman said, “We have culture evolving from the far Left which has allowed the snuffing out of freedom of speech [and] freedom of thought.”
Yet for stating the obvious about something that should concern all decent people committed to liberal values, she found herself disgustingly smeared by association with antisemitism and mass murder.
This followed hard on the heels of similar treatment meted out after the New Zealand mosques massacre to opponents of Islamist extremism. Including me.
After I wrote a blog post expressing horror at the attacks, I was engulfed by a Twitter storm because I have repeatedly written against Islamic extremism and the attempt to Islamize the West by forcing it to subscribe to Islamic tenets.
The care I’ve always taken to emphasize that we mustn’t tar all Muslims with the extremist brush was ignored. I was actually accused of inspiring the massacre by promoting “Islamophobia.”
Yet an extremely courageous Muslim, Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization, wrote after the New Zealand atrocity that it was impossible to divorce the actions of the New Zealand terrorist from the fact that, in the minds of many non-Muslims, Islam had become synonymous with terror.
Jihadist doctrine, he wrote, was traceable to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam which were a “summons to perpetual conflict.” Left unaddressed, this could encourage anyone to “defy what they claim to be illegitimate laws and butcher their fellow citizens, whether they live in the Islamic world or the West.”
These are truths that need urgently to be said. Yet Jewish leaders don’t say them. In New Zealand, the instantaneous Jewish reaction to the massacre was to express its solidarity with the Muslim community.
That was a very humane gesture. It was rewarded by a New Zealand Muslim leader, Ahmed Bhamji, telling last weekend’s “anti-racist” rally marking the atrocity that he had a “very, very strong suspicion” that “Mossad is behind this.” To which a person in the crowd shouted out: “It’s the truth. Israel is behind this. That’s right!”
Of course it’s only decent to express sympathy with any victims of terror attacks. And of course, it’s important to be careful not to inflame attacks against ordinary Muslims. But it’s perverse and dangerous to behave in the way radical Islamists demand of the West by presenting the Islamic world in general as wholly blameless, and only ever the victims of deranged extremists or of the West itself.
This sanitization of Islamic radicalism does the jihadists’ work for them. As Staquf went on:
“This is why it worries me to see Western political and intellectual elites weaponize the term ‘Islamophobia,’ to short-circuit analysis of a complex phenomenon that threatens all humanity. For example, it is factually incorrect and counter-productive to define Islamophobia as ‘rooted in racism,’ as proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. In reality, it is the spread of Islamist extremism and terror that primarily contributes to the rise of Islamophobia throughout the non-Muslim world.”
What courage it takes for a Muslim to say this. Yet many Diaspora Jewish leaders do not stand in solidarity with such bravery. Instead, they take the cowardly, dishonest and dangerous approach of endorsing Islamist double-think.
In Britain and elsewhere, Jewish community leaders are not only in the forefront of the attempt to suppress “Islamophobia” as rooted in racism, but they also equate it with antisemitism.
This equation is horribly wrong. It’s not just that criticism of the Islamic world is about how people choose to behave while antisemitism attacks people for what they inescapably are. The key difference between them is the distinction between truth and lies.
For while antisemitism is based entirely on falsehoods, distortions and deranged fantasies about the Jewish people, “Islamophobia” labels as bigotry all adverse comment about Muslims, including truths about Islamic extremism and jihadi terrorism.
Some people are indeed irrationally prejudiced against Muslims, just as there is irrational prejudice against any group. But “Islamophobia” was invented as a term by Islamists determined to suppress rational, legitimate and necessary acknowledgment of the dangers within the Islamic world.
It was invented specifically as a cynical appropriation of the characteristic that antisemites of all stripes believe about antisemitism: that it is a term which allows Jews to escape accountability for their misdeeds.
Islamists, who deeply believe antisemitic tropes such as demonic Jewish global power, wanted to invent a term that would afford them cultural immunity for their own misdeeds.
The difference is that the Jews are innocent of the crimes of which they are thus accused; the Islamists are not.
So it’s not surprising that the campaign to outlaw “Islamophobia” is also intent upon suppressing any acknowledgment of the institutionalized antisemitism which courses through the Islamic world.
Which is why Chelsea Clinton found herself accused by Muslim students in New York of having helped cause the New Zealand mosques massacre – just because she had criticized the antisemitism of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Our culture has indeed developed the characteristics of the former Soviet Union, a disorienting hall of mirrors in which everything seems to be the reverse of reality.
Jews were themselves historic victims of that system (although some were also among its perpetrators). It is beyond disturbing to see that, in its modern manifestation, so many Jews have put themselves on the wrong side of the looking glass.
The writer is a columnist for The Times (UK).