Ex-senator Rick Santorum is one of the most repulsive conservative Republican bigots out there. He’s also a presidential candidate. A fundamentalist Catholic, he’s known for comparing homosexuality to incest and bestiality. Santorum is officially against the right to have consensual sex in one’s private home, and blames the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandals on “political and cultural liberalism”.
In response to all this, blogger and gay activist Dan Savage started a campaign to have the name “Santorum” on Google linked to another, yet unspecified definition. Asking his readers to come up with a new definition, the end result was this: “Santorum: The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”
So to this day, when you Google “santorum“, well, just see what pops up…
A Google search for Santorum has generated some inappropriate results since gay columnist Dan Savage organized an online campaign to link graphic sexual terms to the socially conservative senator’s name.
Now, the Republican presidential candidate says he’s convinced Google could do something to remedy the issue, if the company wanted to.
“I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, they’d get rid of it,” Santorum said. “If you’re a responsible business, you don’t let things like that happen in your business that have an impact on the country.”
He continued: “To have a business allow that type of filth to be purveyed through their website or through their system is something that they say they can’t handle but I suspect that’s not true.”
Santorum has acknowledged his widely covered “Google problem” in the past, but his contact with the company is a newer development.
UPDATE: A Google spokesperson responded to Santorum by advising that users who want “content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly.”
“Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web. Users who want content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly,” the spokesperson said. “Once the webmaster takes the page down from the web, it will be removed from Google’s search results through our usual crawling process.”
The spokesperson said that Google does not “remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines.”
Michael Lind has an interesting political analysis up at Salon.com on the three fundamentalisms that nowadays mark the Republican right: Biblical fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism. I think this is a way of putting things that is largely correct. The Republican Party is now so far removed from any other political party in the Western world that it can only be described in these terms.
It does not explain, however, the seeming contradictions in this fundamentalist philosophy; for example, how can you adhere to a hardcore market fundamentalism along the lines of Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, and at the same time claim to be a Bible-following Christian? After all, the teachings of Christ have nothing to do with considering selfishness a virtue. Rand, who along with God and the Founding Fathers is always named the greatest inspiration for every Republican presidential candidate, herself proclaimed to be anti-Christian in her ‘thinking’.
Lind also shows how the intellectual project of re-constituting a moderate conservatism as a political ideology in the 1960s led, by and large propelled by the rise of evangelical Protestantism and the presidency of Ronald Reagan, to the extremist fundamentalism that nowadays marks the Republican Party. All of the hallmarks of Biblical, constitutional and market fundamentalism can be found, for example, in the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
What I’m worried about (as if the adherence to a triple fundamentalism by one of the world’s two most important political parties is not frightening enough) is the emergence of a similar kind of orthodoxy emerging in the Netherlands today. Whereas the Dutch polity used to be marked by agreement across the political spectrum on such issues as the multicultural society (in hindsight perhaps a bit too much consensus in that respect), political equality, tolerance for differences and care for weaker groups in society, the governing coalition nowadays seems to converge ideologically to adherence to a monocultural society, treating people with non-Dutch backgrounds as second-class citizens, and implementing a by European standards pretty hardcore market fundamentalism.
In other words: rightwing orthodoxy in Europe, at least in the Netherlands, is intensifying and growing more extreme just like it has in the US. The question is how those still believing in political equality, a rights-based citizenship, and a market tempered by government interference can defend themselves in an increasingly hostile climate, in which such very basic and once universally accepted notions are painted ‘elitist’.
In contradiction to the hostility to Darwinism shared by many of its constituents, the American right is evolving rapidly before our eyes. The project of creating an American version of Burkean conservatism has collapsed. What has replaced it is best described as triple fundamentalism — a synthesis of Biblical fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism.
Following World War II, the American right was a miscellany of marginal, embittered subcultures — anti-New Dealers, isolationists, paranoid anticommunists, anti-semites and white supremacists. Russell Kirk and others associated with William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review sought to Americanize a version of high-toned British Burkean conservatism. While the eighteenth century British parliamentarian was embraced by conservatives for his opposition to the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, a champion of the rights of Britain’s Indian, Irish and American subjects, could also be claimed by liberals like Yale Law School’s Alexander Bickel, who preferred gradual, cautious reform to radical social experimentation. In its liberal as in its conservative forms, Burkeanism disdains reaction and radicalism alike, and favors change in lesser things when necessary to maintain the continuity of more fundamental institutions and values.
The religious equivalent of Burkean politics is orthodoxy, not fundamentalism. Orthodoxy means the continuity of a tradition, as interpreted by an authoritative body of experts, such as priests, rabbis or mullahs. The term “fundamentalism” originated in the early twentieth century as a description of reactionary evangelical Protestants in the U.S. who rejected liberal Protestantism and modern evolutionary science and insisted on the inerrancy of the Bible. The phrase is nowadays applied indiscriminately and often inaccurately to various religious movements, some of which, in the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim traditions are better described as ultra-orthodox.
The increasingly-Southernized American Right has transferred the fundamentalist Protestant mentality from the sphere of religion to the spheres of law and the economy. Protestant fundamentalism is now joined by constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism.
In all three cases, the pattern is the same. There is the eternal Truth that never varies — the will of God, the principles of the Founding Fathers, the so-called laws of the free market. There are the scriptures which explain the eternal truths — the King James Bible, in the case of religious fundamentalism, the Constitution or the Federalist Papers, in the case of constitutional fundamentalism, and Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in the case of market fundamentalism (The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand can be substituted for Hayek, on request).
“There’s only one book you ever need to read,” a Bible-believin’ Texan Baptist once assured me. He was two books short of a populist conservative bookshelf. But in the age of post-intellectual, fundamentalist conservatism, three books are sufficient to make anyone the equal of the most erudite intellectual. The books need not actually be read, and for the most part probably are not; it is enough, in argument, to thump the Bible, and to thump “The Road to Serfdom” and “Atlas Shrugged,” too.
Modern American market fundamentalism, too, is recognizably modeled on the fundamentalist Protestant version of church history, even though market fundamentalists need not be Christian conservatives. Ignoring the long history of tariffs, land grants, military procurement and mixed public-private corporations in the United States, the market fundamentalists pretend that the U.S. was governed by the laws of the market until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal replaced capitalism with socialism (or statism, or fascism, or whatever Amity Shlaes or Jonah Goldberg want to call it). Russell Kirk wrote that any true conservative would be a socialist before he would be a libertarian. But then he was a Burkean High Church conservative.
The rise of triple fundamentalism on the American right creates a crisis of political discourse in the United States. Back when conservatism was orthodox and traditional, rather than fundamentalist and counter-revolutionary, conservatives could engage in friendly debates with liberals, and minds on both sides could now and then be changed. But if your sect alone understands the True Religion and the True Constitution and the Laws of the Market, then there is no point in debate. All those who disagree with you are heretics, to be defeated, whether or not they are converted.
For their part, progressives have no idea of how to respond to the emergent right’s triple fundamentalism. Today it is the left, not the right, that is Burkean in America. Modern American liberalism is disillusioned, to the point of defeatism, by the frustration of the utopian hopes of 1960s liberalism in the Age of Reagan that followed and has not yet ended. Today it is liberals, not conservatives, who tend to be cautious and incremental and skeptical to a fault about the prospects for reform, while it is the right that wants to blow up the U.S. economy and start all over, on the basis of the doctrines of two Austrian professors and a Russian émigré novelist.
One of the better analyses I have read of the Egyptian Revolution thus far can be found in the New Statesman. In the European and American media, there’s been an awful lot of concern about the role of islamists in and after the uprising. Earlier on, we’ve pointed to differing interpretations of the Muslim Brotherhood as either a democracy-minded middle class institution, or as a fundamentalist conservative organization (the truth is probably that they have different wings). On the American right, in particular, ‘Iran’ has been frequently invoked to actually denounce protesters, and voice support for the Mubarak regime.
Olivier Roy in the New Statesman, however, paints a picture of a young generation that is not so affected with the political islamism of their fathers. Even though they might shout ‘Allah akbar’, what they want is basic democratic rights and liberties (and work). They’re pluralistic, individualistic, and connected through social media. A particularly interesting analysis, I find, is that, true, Middle Eastern countries have in past decades experienced a process of islamization, but this has effectively pulled the angle out of islamist political movements. Islam has been de-politicized. This puts a different perspective on organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as on the sympathy among the young for fundamentalist dictatorships like Iran’s (which is non-existent).
Thus, the bipolar divide that is often drawn in Western media between the old secular regimes and chaos or islamism (only to be curbed by the military, or an Atatürk-like despot) may be incorrect, and the reason may be the young. I don’t know to which extent this is wishful thinking, but either way: read this article! In addition to giving this persuasive view of the young, it’s also amazing in its breadth and depth of analysis of Middle Eastern society at large.
In Europe, the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been interpreted using a model that is more than 30 years old: the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Commentators have been expecting to see Islamist groups – the Muslim Brotherhood and their local equivalents – either at the head of the movement or lying in wait, ready to seize power. But the discretion of the Muslim Brotherhood has surprised and disconcerted them: where have the Islamists gone?
Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation. For them, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history, their parents’ affair. The members of this young generation aren’t interested in ideology: their slogans are pragmatic and concrete – “Erhal!” or “Go now!”. Unlike their predecessors in Algeria in the 1980s, they make no appeal to Islam; rather, they are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.
This generation is pluralist, undoubtedly because it is also individualist. Sociological studies show that it is better educated than previous generations, better informed, often with access to modern means of communication that allow individuals to connect with one another without the mediation of political parties – which in any case are banned. These young people know that Islamist regimes have become dictatorships; neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia holds any fascination for them. Indeed, those who have been demonstrating in Egypt are the same kinds of people as those who poured on to the streets to oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. (For propaganda reasons, the regime in Tehran has declared its support for the opposition movement in Egypt, though this is little more than a settling of scores with Hosni Mubarak.) Many of them are religious believers, but they keep their faith separate from their political demands. In this sense, the movement is “secular”. Religious observance has been individualised.
It is a mistake, therefore, to link the re-Islamisation that has taken place in the Arab world over the past 30 years with political radicalism. If Arab societies are more visibly Islamic than they were 30 or 40 years ago, what explains the absence of Islamic slogans from the current demonstrations? The paradox of Islamisation is that it has largely depoliticised Islam. Social and cultural re-Islamisation – the wearing of the hijab and niqab, an increase in the number of mosques, the proliferation of preachers and Muslim television channels – has happened without the intervention of militant Islamists and has in fact opened up a “religious market”, over which no one enjoys a monopoly. In short, the Islamists have lost the stranglehold on religious expression in the public sphere that they enjoyed in the 1980s.
What has been perceived in the west as a great, green wave of re-Islamisation is in fact nothing but a trivialisation of Islam: everything has become Islamic, from fast food to women’s fashion. The forms and structures of piety, however, have become individualised, so now one constructs one’s own faith, seeking out the preacher who speaks of self-realisation, such as the Egyptian Amr Khaled, and abandoning all interest in the utopia of an Islamic state.
[The Islamist political movements] have also learned lessons from Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK party have succeeded in reconciling democracy, electoral success, economic development and national independence with the promotion of values that are, if not Islamic, at least “authentic”.
However, the embourgeoisement of the Islamists is at the same time an asset for democracy, because it pushes them towards reconciliation and compromise, and into alliances with other political forces. It is no longer a question, therefore, of attempting to establish whether or not dictatorships are the most effective bulwark against Islamism; Islamists have become players in the democratic game. Naturally, they will try to exert control over public morality, but, lacking the kind of repressive apparatus that exists in Iran, or a religious police on the Saudi model, they will have to reckon with a demand for liberty that doesn’t stop with the right to elect a parliament.
While, I’d say, European media have mostly reported on the Egypt mass demonstrations in a carefully positive frame, on the American right the standard tone has mostly been that of concern and caution (or just a downright rejection of protesters as ‘rioters’). The Mubarak regime has been an ally of the US in the past thirty years, primarily because of the peace treaty with Israel. Now, with the possibility of regime change, that peace treaty might to some extent be up in the air. Views among the Egyptian public on Israel are very negative, and one of the main opposition groups – the Muslim Brotherhood – that may become part of a ruling coalition is no friend of the country either. So, Fox News and the once-esteemed Senator John McCain have already denounced the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘terrorists’ on par with Al Qaeda, and are claiming this Egyptian revolution is becoming another 1979 Iran.
But to which extent is this really true? Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest islamic fundamentalist organization in the modern world; and its conservative wing nowadays opposes the ‘Zionist entity’ and the West, as well as the Egyptian political system. According to other commentators, however, the Brotherhood is a ‘middle class institution’ consisting of lawyers and engineers that aims to combine Islam with democracy.
Either way, Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast has a good, insightful piece on the character of the Muslim Brotherhood, the actual likelihood of the organization gaining too much power, and the consequences of a possible democratic regime change to Egypt’s relations with Israel. Basically – and I agree – is that, like in the case of Turkey where a moderate Islamist party is also in power, it would expose Israel to harsher criticism of its treatment of the Gazan people. Not entirely unfair, I’d say. Also, the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip would from Egypt’s side probably be lifted. All in all, it may mean that the stalwart Netanyahu government may become a little more sensitive to Middle Eastern public opinion regarding the way it treats Palestinians. Would that be all bad?
Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that “The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political” tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”
Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people—the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”
But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.
Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.
All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.
The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.
Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep—and understandable—rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.
The Economist interviews The New Republicwriter Damon Linker about his new book, The Religious Test, on the compatibility of certain types of religious beliefs with the basic tenets of liberal democracy. The entire interview is very interesting, as it covers the subjects of the positive-negative equation in the contribution of religion to American democracy, the theocon and evangelical movements, the role of religion in the backlash against Obama, the new atheism, and the religious views of the Founders.
I thought this citation particularly interesting:
History shows us that traditionalist religion can be compatible with various forms of non-liberal government (theocracy, absolute monarchy). The same can be said for strident atheism and totalitarianism. Conversely, when religion is liberal—when it makes few supernatural claims, when it is doctrinally minimal, and when it serves mainly as a repository of moral wisdom—it can play a significant role in a liberal society. But the relationship between traditionalist religion and liberal politics is far more contentious—especially as we approach the most intense forms of piety and the most exalted forms of citizenship (which involve serving in high political office). A deeply devout Christian—someone who places his faith at the centre of his life—will tend to think of himself first and foremost as a member of the one true church working toward the establishment of the kingdom of God under Jesus Christ, if not in this life, then in the next. His ultimate loyalty will be to Christ, just as the ultimate loyalty of the most observant Jew will be to God and the Torah, while a Muslim’s will be to Allah and the Koran. Liberal citizenship at its peak, by contrast, requires devotion to the liberal institutions and democratically-enacted laws of the political community above all else. That’s why American presidents and other high officials swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and not natural or divine law of any kind.
These divergent loyalties may not come into direct conflict every day, but they nonetheless stand in deep and abiding tension with one another, forever threatening to pit the theological duties of the devout believer against the political duties of the citizen.
I’m conflicted between two views regarding this statement. On the one hand, I very much agree with it, as it reinforces the view that absolute certainty in religion (or anything else, for that matter) is a folly, and that one should always let a measure of doubt permeat one’s world views. This automatically leads to a more liberal religion that is more flexible in its interpretations, and hence can – probably – function well in a political system that revolves around structures to resolve or live with fundamental disagreements (i.e., liberal democracy).
On the other hand, recent trends in philosophy and sociology acknowledging that we live in a “post-secular” world in which religion is here to stay seem to run against this “submission” of religion to a substantive form of liberalism. Indeed, I can imagine the citation above feeling a little downgrading to people who adhere to a more strict form of religion and yet want to live in a democracy – as if their religion is only good enough when it’s filtered down to suit the secularist’s tastes. Instead, some post-secular thinkers advocate a “radical pluralism” that accepts the place of, for example, fundamentalism in a political system as well. But then still you’ll need a measure of (religious) toleration on both sides to function in one and the same system.