A Statement from the Claremont Institute
The Woke-Islamist Axis Against Free Speech
Two wheels of extremism run roughshod over the West’s foundational rights.
At today’s hinge moment, reactionary-radical Islam and hyper-liberal wokeism can now see eye-to-eye—turned into strange bedfellows by the common enemy of liberal free speech. Their shared debasement of speech now stretches across the West, from U.S. college campuses to French newsrooms, with no end in sight.
Since the Twitter-livestreamed beheading of a French high school teacher in broad daylight two weeks ago seemed insufficient, finally, with the back-to-back serial knifings of innocent churchgoers in Nice and Avignon last Thursday, the West has rallied behind a beleaguered France. But beware of the illusory sense of unity, for the values of free expression and open inquiry that France is besieged for upholding are under siege from within the West, too.
Isn’t it ironic that some of Samuel Paty’s pupils and their parents in Conflans-St-Honorine had sought to cancel this poor teacher in much the same way that rising numbers of woke college students in the U.S. refuse to listen to classroom perspectives that make them feel “uncomfortable”? The exploitation of this fracture within the West over the bounds of free speech and whether its uglier forms are to be tolerated is becoming an unprecedented menace. Has there been a graver threat to our fundamental right to free speech than this woke-Islamist pincer movement? If France bows to the woke-Islamist mob, we suspect that, with the passage of time and “enlightenment,” there’s nothing stopping the rest of Europe and the Anglosphere from eventually following suit.
To grasp how radical Islam’s attacks on free expression are enlisting wokeism as willing paramour, look no further than Chief Woke Vizier Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Building on a long summer of tensions between France and Turkey over territorial disputes in the Southeast Mediterranean, Erdogan was among the earliest voices to condemn French laïcité in the wake of Paty’s murder for allegedly anathemizing Muslims. The always bellicose Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly was quick to retaliate, and the Turkish president must have been left in a state of apoplexy by the magazine’s front-page cartoon two days ago. It showed Erdogan unveiling his wife’s prominent buttocks from underneath her burqa—pure shock effect à la Charlie.
But to make his point against the magazine’s nihilistic ridicule of Islam, Erdogan resorts not to Islamic pieties, nor to name-calling the blasphemous, but to the latest woke clichés. In his two-page communiqué in French—where he also announces he’ll be taking legal action against Charlie Hebdo’s management—Erdogan lambasts the rise of “racism, fascism, Islamophobia,” and “xenophobia” in Europe. He accuses President Emmanuel Macron, bizarrely lumped in with the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, of “hiding himself behind values like freedom of speech to offend and relentlessly accuse Islam.” Replace “Islam” with the hyphenated-American minority of your choice and the tirade may just as well have been the work of the self-styled Ibram X. Kendi.
This sly utilization of pseudo-liberal discourse to clear the ground for violence is neither new nor limited to when radical Islam plays defensive. To make the burqa a Muslim uniform palatable to Western sensibilities, its defenders have long invoked women’s right to dress as they please—never mind the profoundly misogynistic worldview that goes into demanding that they cover their entire bodies out of their own “volition.” And while it may be amusing to see the otherwise hardline authoritarian Erdogan speak like a petulant, triggered woke activist, the surreptitious alignment between the woke and Islamist worldviews is the larger story lurking in the background.
Erdogan has recently been joined in much darker tones by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who in a long Twitter thread last week seemed to beckon further terror attacks by hinting that Muslims have a “right to kill millions of French people,” a statement spine-chilling enough to trigger even Twitter’s otherwise slow-to-act content moderators into shutting his account. But Mohamad and Erdogan were in lockstep on one point—while the Turkish PM shied from inciting violence, both cast Muslims in the West as an aggrieved minority, routinely offended by mainstream culture and thus entitled (if not obligated!) to demand the cancelation of their oppressors. And as America’s long summer of urban unrest can attest, this kind of woke outrage is always one step away from mutating into violence.
What’s worse, the presumption that the horrific scenes of the past two weeks are at least partly justified by France’s treatment of Muslims isn’t relayed only by political Islam. Sadly, it has also colored much of the English-language media’s coverage of these events. While radical Islamists denounce a “war on Muslims,” the liberal-Left media has similarly characterized France’s banning of the burqa in public spaces and the continued legality of Charlie Hebdo as a “crackdown on Muslims.” Both are unable to see France’s attachment to free speech, however ugly its forms, as anything other than thinly veiled Islamophobia. While jihad rests on a call for all Muslims to suspend their loyalty to liberal politics, progressives in the U.S. and the U.K. relieve Muslims of the imperative to disown violence.
What English-speaking media would be well advised to understand is that it’s not Islamophobia under attack from radical Islam but free speech itself. The woke reflex of refusing to entertain perspectives that make one feel uncomfortable now dominates Western culture, and for that reason it is being utilized by radical Islam to press the attack. Is it any wonder that Macron’s government has moved, like Donald Trump’s, to ban critical race theory?
If the West is to prevail against radical Islamist violence, it will need all the help it can get. Ridding itself of the woke virus that threatens free speech is an indispensable place to start.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.