11 MAY 2002, Page 14


Melanie Phillips on how Pim Fortuyn and others hijacked

liberal values and provoked a Muslim backlash against liberalism itself

AT first blush, the murdered Dutch maverick Pim Fortuyn and I would not appear to have been natural bedfellows. He was, after all, a flamboyant, post-Marxist, gay libertarian who advocated sexual permissiveness, casual drug use and euthanasia. I campaign for traditional family values, deeply oppose drug use and euthanasia, and do not employ a butler, wear a spaniel under my arm or smoke Cuban cigars.

However, one thing he stood for did ring a bell with me. He was, above all, aware of the danger that Islam presents to liberal values. Despite his knee-jerk media designation, he was not a racist. He recruited ethnic minorities to his cause; he condemned Jean-Marie Le Pen — a real racist and heir to the Nazi collaborators in the Vichy regime — for his anti-Semitism.

His objection to immigration was different. He thought that the Netherlands simply could not absorb so many newcomers; but, more specifically, he was against Muslim immigration because of the threat he thought this posed to liberal values. He recognised that Muslims threatened the way of life he promoted: women's rights, sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, drug use, free speech.

He was entirely right. These values are threatened by Islamic activism. That's why young people so strikingly supported him. It wasn't merely that Fortuyn managed to be that oxymoron, a cool rightwinger. Almost half of 18to 30-year-olds in a Dutch poll said they favoured zero Muslim immigration. Just like Fortuyn, the young understood that their precious freeand-easy lifestyle was threatened by rising numbers of people who were not prepared to tolerate it. In the capital of social tolerance, the threat of such intolerance was simply intolerable.

Muslims not only despise Western secular values as decadent, materialistic, corrupt and immoral. They do not accept the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal, the division which in Christian societies confines religion to the margins of everyday life. Instead, for Muslims, the whole of human life must represent a submission to God. This means that they feel a duty to Islamicise the values of the surrounding culture. Since most of the mass immigration now convulsing Europe is composed of Muslims, it is therefore hardly surprising that antiimmigrant feeling is largely anti-Muslim feeling. The sheer weight of numbers, plus the refusal to assimilate to Western values, makes this an unprecedented crisis for Western liberalism. The crisis is forcing it to confront the fundamental questions of what constitutes a country, national identity and the very nature of a liberal society.

For all the insults they heaped upon Fortuyn, so-called liberals actually think the same way. Western feminists, after all, suppressed their natural instinct to beat up America for dropping bombs from a great height on the Taleban because the Afghans denied women's rights, a crime apparently worse than the sponsorship of terror.

Fortuyn impaled these 'liberals' on the twin prongs of their own hypocrisy. For them, it is an article of faith to promote both homosexuality and the 'rights' of minorities. But since Muslims are deeply hostile to homosexuality, wouldn't such liberals have to agree with Fortuyn that Islam was a 'backward culture'?

On the other hand, he could have written the script for the libertarian Tory party that some Conservatives yearn to create. He wanted tax cuts, an axe taken to public-service red tape, more use of the private sector in healthcare, and permissive approaches to drugs and family; he would even have borrowed the Thatcher handbag to bang the EU table for the return of the Netherlands' money. So was Fortuyn a martyr to the Right, or to the Left?

The answer is neither. He embodied instead the profound confusions of the West, which have not only torn up the political map but have also hijacked liberalism itself, turned it inside-out, and delivered it bound and gagged to the far Right. For Western society has embraced both a libertinism and a cultural nihilism which are not liberal at all; on the contrary, they actually threaten the liberal values of which Western libertines and nihilists so misleadingly claim to be the guardians.

Take the drug use for which the Netherlands has become so famous and which was so enthusiastically promoted by Fortuyn. The Dutch blame immigrants for the epidemic of drugs and crime. But it is not immigrants that are the cause of the problem; it is rather the indigenous Dutch libertarians, whose misguided permissive approach has resulted in a spiral of social mayhem.

This is not a liberal policy. Harm to individuals and society was never part of the liberal agenda. Similarly, sexual licence has left behind a gathering trail of damage and misery in sundered families, broken hearts, and the shredding of trust and security.

Moreover, the very heart of liberalism was the freedom to enter into binding private contracts. Yet the libertine assault on the family has made the marriage contract progressively meaningless, destroying the ability of individuals to secure the future for themselves and their children.

As someone who deplores this warping of liberal values, 1 find that Muslims are often allies. Their critique offers a salutary contrast to Western indifference and inertia. Muslims rightly condemn the collapse of Western moral authority, the failure of nerve that has created our epidemics of

crime, drug abuse, family breakdown and promiscuity. They are right to be horrified at the wholesale destruction of the sacred, and the worship instead of consumer choice. They are right to point to the meaninglessness and vacuity of secular society, its arrogance and the paralysis of its institutions.

This is, after all, why so many are turning to fundamentalism in Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam. It represents a search for certainty, authority and hope in a world where the mainstream has connived at their destruction. It provides an anchor in a society which insists on kicking away all the props of traditional attachments, This is surely why Islam, an actively proselytising religion, retains such a strong hold on minorities from Muslim countries.

But the problem is that it does not just oppose libertinism. Having never had a 'reformation' which would have forced it to make an accommodation with modernity, it is fundamentally intolerant and illiberal. As a result, it directly conflicts with Western values in areas such as the treatment of women, freedom of speech, the separation of private and public values, and tolerance of homosexuality.

These are all liberal fundamentals and are not negotiable. Tolerance of homosex uality is rightly an article of liberal faith. What people do in their private sex lives should be of no concern to others. So Fortuyn was right to highlight this as a major stumbling block to Muslim integration.

Yet this issue also exposes the Western weakness. For liberal tolerance towards private behaviour has morphed into an attempted illiberal takeover of the public sphere through the assault on the very idea of norms of sexual behaviour. Resistance to the latter is demonised as prejudice against homosexuals, a patent untruth but backed by sufficient menace to silence opposition and thus negate the defence of the traditional family. In other words, although For tuyn portrayed himself as a champion and defender of liberal values, in fact the libertinism he stood for has weakened liberal society and made it more vulnerable.

The further Western society retreats from its core morality, the more it opens the way for Islam to fill the gaps left by Christianity in full flight from its own beliefs. Multiculturalism is predicated on the idea that all faiths are equal; but the fact is that, if enfeebled Christianity no longer identifies itself as the spiritual pastor of the culture it founded, then Islam will move into the vacuum.

In Faith and Power, the Muslim Yale academic Lamin Sanneh has written of the Muslim resolve to make Islam count in the public realm: in schools and universities, in marriage, divorce, property, inheritance, taxation, banking and trade — and in enforcing the blasphemy laws in defence of Islam.

This agenda is making headway, he says, because Western liberals put their heads in the sand. They categorise Muslims in terms of race, under which they qualify for public entitlement. These liberals thus miss the crucial point — made by Fortuyn — that Islam is not a race, but a religion and a culture with distinctive values. And those are not liberal values. It is no accident that there is no Islamic liberal democracy anywhere in the world.

The question the multiculturalists have to answer is this: are we a Western culture, or are we to become something else? If the latter, who is making the decision to wipe out our national identity? Because if we take in enough people who refuse to assimilate to Western values, this belief system will not survive. Liberalism will then have disappeared up its own fundament.

When Fortuyn identified the threat, those liberals who have helped create it merely screamed 'racist'. So great is the hysteria about 'xenophobia' and cultural difference, they cannot admit that their liberal values are indeed superior to the alternatives and that they have to be fought for.

Those of a certain age can hear, in the terrifying rise of the far Right throughout Europe, the echoes of Weimar. The mark of true decadence in the West is the fact that it is not prepared to fight for its own values but is falling over itself to appease both terrorist violence and cultural aggression.

Even today, the West does not grasp the nature of the threat from militant Islam, the latest chapter in an age-old struggle. But as Samuel Huntington observes in his seminal The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order, Islam is again on the march; and the threat it poses is hugely enhanced by the decay of the West from within through moral decline, political disunity and cultural suicide.

Classical liberalism always understood that liberal freedom depended on moral self-restraint. Even John Stuart Mill warned that a free society would be threatened if its 'restraining discipline' was relaxed. Licence is a threat to freedom, since it observes no obligation to others. But our libertarian society has decided that all restraint is oppressive. Liberalism has thus become a licence to do harm, rebadged as virtue.

We can defend ourselves only by reasserting true liberal values. This means welcoming immigrants, certainly, but in numbers which mean they can become integrated and enrich our culture rather than undermine and destroy it. It means welcoming Muslims, certainly; but, as with all minorities, it means expecting them to adopt a common civic identity which subscribes to overarching British values, under whose umbrella they can pursue their own culture and traditions — provided that the two do not conflict. Where they do, the host culture wins. Those have always been the rules for immigrants: to preserve both national identity and the rights of minorities.

Above all, we have to reassert liberalism as a moral project which does not pretend to be morally neutral. We have to acknowledge that liberal values are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and sprang from British culture. We have to defend them by reaffirming the values, history and institutions of Britain using the language of morality, a word which the Left has degraded into an insult and at which much of the Tory party still runs screaming from the room.

No wonder there is such a gap between governed and governments. No wonder Islam holds Western society in such contempt. No wonder the way is open for populist demagogues and cynical racists of the far Right to foment and exploit such profound confusion and disillusion.

Liberalism has to be rescued from the clutches of the libertarians, in order to defend liberal democracy from militant Islam on the one hand and the racist Right on the other. Fortuyn was never going to be the answer. He was part of the problem. But in exposing the hypocrisy and confusion of false liberalism, he did us all a service.

Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist.