Siti Kasim: An Inconvenient Woman


February 13, 2019

Siti Kasim: An Inconvenient Woman

Opinion  |  S. Thayaparan

  Our government does not seem to realise that we have a serious terrorist mentality bred with extreme prejudice inside our society, which needs to be eradicated. This is a serious problem today.—Siti Kasim.

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

― Abigail Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams

COMMENT | For those of us who view religious extremism, which is reaching critical levels as the existential threat facing this country, Siti Kasim is the raised middle finger to the religious bigots, fascist crypto-Islamists and race supremacists who have control and influence in this country.

Whether fighting for the rights of women, indigenous people, the LGBTQ community or opposing radical Islam, Siti Kasim has made herself a target for the religious bureaucracy and political operatives in the establishment.

While most Muslims who do not support the darker paths of Islam are content to hope for a moderate agenda from the political and religious elite, Siti openly advocates a progressive agenda for all Malaysians.

In this interview, Siti reminds us why people who read are dangerous to the established order of things, and continues in her efforts to save Malaysia from the political and religious class who view her as a real threat to their dominion.

Siti Kasim is an inconvenient reminder that the progressive forces in this country that could save Malaysia are being marginalised, and that speaking truth to power is problematic in these partisan times.

Do you think the persecution you face is based on the fact that you are a woman questioning religious dogma?

Yes, being an outspoken woman does not sit well with the patriarchy culture of radical Islamism. Also, a woman who does not conform to their view on how a Muslim woman should be.

How do you cope with the harassment you receive?

I try to ignore and focus on my causes. Of course, I can’t run away from reading the nasty messages sent to me, but I take it in my stride and believe that what I am doing is right for my country and my fellow Malaysians. The supportive messages I receive give me the strength to continue, and I know I am on the right path. I thank God for giving me a strong constitution to face all the negativity thrown at me.

What do you think is the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ (AGC) role in the current charges against you?

I am not sure what is the AGC’s role in the current charges against me. (Note: This interview was conducted before the AGC dropped the charges against Siti Kasim for showing her middle finger to hecklers in a forum.) From what’s stated by OCCI Fadzil, he received the endorsement to charge me from the previous AGC. I believe it’s selective persecution against me by certain quarters within the government.

How do you engage with Muslims who believe in the Islamist mode of thinking and believe that sanctions against you are justified?

You have no hope of engaging with them. These are people who are indoctrinated in radical Islamism. The teachings, the mentality of which is no different from that of Talibanism and ISIS terrorists. Only Taliban and ISIS terrorists will sanction others for being different from them. The only difference between them and the Taliban and ISIS is that they have no power or weapons to carry out their threats. When they have those, the country will be torn asunder.

Yet our government does not seem to realise that we have a serious terrorist mentality bred with extreme prejudice inside our society, which needs to be eradicated. This is a serious problem today.

Malay-Muslims are participating in and leading terrorist organisations all around the world. We have groups like Skuad Badar, which is nothing more than a terrorist organisation without weapons terrorising people. We have people like Amri Che Mat and Pastor Koh disappearing in plain daylight and never to be heard again. We should be terrified. Not talking about it is not going to make it go away. We need to tackle it head-on with extreme conviction.

Does being a “liberal” Muslim who appeals to a certain demographic bring with it more problems when engaging in the Islamic discourse?

It should not be. Remember our Rukun Negara has the word ‘liberal’ in it, and it was written by Malay leadership at a time when Malay society needed to progress. In fact, most of the liberal Muslims I know have more knowledge about the Quran than the majority of the Malay population because liberals read more on their own and don’t depend on the cleric class to tell them about their religion.

Do you think that Mujahid Yusof Rawa (photo) is doing enough to offer a counter-narrative in the Islamic discourse in this country?

No. They are still not facing the fact that our religious-bent Malaysian education system is delivering to us every year a more radicalised Islamist generation who are intolerant and increasingly militant in mindset. It is no surprise that PAS is increasing in strength, and UMNO has to be more radical Islamist than before in order to gain Malay votes.

We need to change this mindset by changing education to go back to our secular humanist roots. The roots that made the Malays progressive and more developed in the 80s.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the Orang Asal community in this country and what has the Harapan government done to address this issue?

First, I’d like to correct the usage of Orang Asal and Orang Asli. The ‘Orang Asal’ term is used for Sabah and Sarawak indigenous people, whilst Orang Asli is for those in the peninsula.

The Orang Asli are largely forest or agriculture based, although several individuals have achieved levels of educational and economic success comparable to those of the dominant population.

Nevertheless, it is no hidden secret that the Orang Asli rank among the most marginalised of Malaysians today, not just in terms of numbers, but in their ability to determine their own fate.

The once politically autonomous and independent people are but a pale likeness of their ancestors.

Much of this has to do with the fact that the Malaysian nation state does not recognise the Orang Asli as a separate people – that is, as distinct groups associated with particular territorial bases and requiring ‘government’ on a different basis from that of the other communities.

But, as can be discerned from their demands, the Orang Asli are not, at least not yet, seeking self-determination in the sense that they want to secede from the Malaysian nation-state. Rather, the desire is to exercise full autonomy in their traditional territories, both in the control and ownership of their lands, and in the determination of their way of life and in the way they deal with the dominant society.

The issue of Orang Asli land rights is but the most visible and deeply-felt manifestation of the principal problem facing the Orang Asli viz-a-viz the unwillingness of the state to recognise the Orang Asli as a distinct people.

Using the ‘land rights’ problem as a strategy for Orang Asli political mobilisation is rational because the issue is deeply felt among the communities, easily identifiable, and it is the source of much social stress for the Orang Asli.

With the recent suit which our federal government initiated against the Kelantan state government, it can be seen that the Pakatan Harapan government is attempting to correct the wrongs. We have also seen more Orang Asli senators being appointed when they came into power.

From our engagement with the current government, we can see there is a lot more improvement than before, at least with the current minister in charge of Orang Asli Affairs. We hope the Harapan government will continue with its determination in trying to solve our Orang Asli problems.

Do you believe that Harapan has a moderate Islamic agenda?

They have, but they do not know how to go about it. They do not have the leadership for it. The political will is missing. I will be talking in more detail on this subject in my column soon.

Do you think it is important for non-Muslims to speak up when they witness Islamic transgressions or does this make the situation worse?

Yes. We need them to stand up for fellow Malaysians, and Malays who are being persecuted by the conservative Islamist authorities, to ensure Malaysia will always be the home for their children and grandchildren to live in and prosper. When any public policy is based on any religious ideology, every citizen must have the right to speak up about it.

Is the press doing its part in highlighting Islamic provocations?

No. It has not done enough to highlight and criticise.

Why do think “moderate” Muslims are afraid to speak up?

Just look at the social media comments by their so-called fellow Muslims against anyone who does not conform to them. The amount of vile comments, threats of sanctions, harassment, persecution and even threat of physical harm by the Islamist elements in Malay society are enough to scare away and silence many Muslims.

Do you think the Malay community needs Islamic departments at state and federal levels?

Under ideal conditions, the answer would have been ‘no’, but in our environment we need a federal department that can monitor and revamp radical Islamic teaching that is going on today to abolish them. That should be their job. We don’t need them to do dakwah (proselytisation). No government should be using tax money to propagate any religion.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessar

A neo-BN New Year


December 31, 2018 Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

A neo-BN New Year

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/458280

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.” (Little Gidding)

TS Eliot

COMMENT | Another new year is upon us. I know some people feel as if Pakatan Harapan is the new BN. I have pushed this narrative in nearly all my writings. I desperately sound the alarm bells that Harapan is becoming neo BN – but I do not do this out of spite.

I do this because I come from a generation that saw how BN evolved. A generation that witnessed alliance politics morph into something ugly but more importantly, saw how the public supported a corrupt system out of pragmatism or fear or just plain self-interest.

Image result for lim kit siang

I remember when Lim Kit Siang and the opposition were decimated in one election, and how those of us who were rooting for him were shocked that people did not vote for at least the DAP, which offered something else to the politics that were tearing us apart. However, this is the past. Admittedly, things have changed.

These days I see articulate young leaders toe the party line. I see young leaders more interested in maintaining party discipline, egged on by the base who assume that they speak for all Malaysians.

I see a kind of fascistic patina slowly forming around young leaders more interested in inter-party ascendance than inspiring people – young people especially – that things can change if only you worked hard enough for it. Hate to break it to you but playing the political party game works well on social media but it doesn’t inspire people – especially young people – to vote for the change they want.

It is pointless chronicling the whys and hows of the fall of Najib Abdul Razak. When the old maverick claims that Bersatu was needed in the removal of Najib, I think it is more complicated than that. I think he was needed for the removal of Najib.

Image result for political frogs in malaysia

 

UMNO Kataks have morphed into  Neo-Bersatus  

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad always knew how to play the political game better than his comrades in UMNO. If Najib had just listened to him, I doubt we would be having this conversation.Image result for Dr.mahathir the maverick

.

However, the removal of Najib is more than just the legacy of the old maverick. It demonstrated that a ruling coalition could fall. I want young people to take note of this. From what I gather, young people are infatuated with the old maverick and while I understand this, I hope the young people who were standing in the sidelines in the 14th general election now understand the future of this country – and more importantly, the power they could wield in determining this future.

Going through my files, I reread an article in the BBC earlier this year about the power young Malaysians have but do not wield. It is an interesting article, not only because it neatly condensed many of the data points that I have put forward concerning the youth vote in this country but it also reminds us that young people have the power to change things.

“If this is genuine lack of interest, it is reflected in one poll by Merdeka Center, an independent Malaysian polling organisation which last year looked at how young people in West Malaysia felt about politics. Merdeka Center found that as many as 70 percent of them do not believe that their vote will bring about tangible changes in the government and don’t think their elected representatives really care about people like them.”

Young voters are the key, even if they do not care. Look, while I think that DAP, PKR, and Amanah are making an effort, I also think that there are many young people in Bersatu who know that things need to change. I mean, look at someone like Wan Saiful Wan Jan. Smart guy, but he has to conform to the politics of Bersatu, which is an early UMNO pastiche.

Honestly, I tried to give Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (photo) the benefit of the doubt but if someone like Wan Saiful had brought the kind of American-inspired conservatism to Bersatu, which is what he did when he was in Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), this would have been a good thing. Bersatu, whether we like it or not, has the best chance to lead the way but if it continues down this path, we are going down the crapper.

Jostling for power, contracts

Change does not take time. Political will stalls for time. We can move forward slowly or you could convince people that you are moving, but walking slowly on the same spot. I keep getting these clips of the old maverick saying that the education policy needs to change. I keep seeing young and old political operatives in Bersatu talking about how the Malays cannot rely on the tongkat and Bersatu needs to lead the way.

I have heard all this before. Maybe you have too. Take education for instance. Firstly, why doesn’t someone give Azly Rahman a job sorting this mess out, but more importantly, if Bersatu and Harapan have the political will to slowly remove the tongkat and change the education system, they would make some good faith gestures.

First, they would recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC). Then they would do away with Malay-only institutions. They would recognise the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) for instance, and not in various political ways, propagate the “do not spook the Malays” meme.

What we are hearing from the supposedly closed-door Bersatu AGM is the same game of federal control, of power, through proxies. This is why people are jostling for power, contracts and positions. Decentralise power, which would allow state-level affirmative action programmes for all races. I bet my last ringgit that more Malays would benefit from these programmes than non-Malays, if that is the fear of Malay and non-Malay political operatives.

This way you could name the new agenda the Best Ultra Malay Initiative – BUMI – and nobody would care if everyone was getting the help they need, regardless of race. But everyone knows what separates Bersatu and the far right of Umno and PAS – polemics not policy.

And while I am bitching about policy, this 1am closing time for nightspots in the Federal Territory is the dumbest and I would say a mendacious policy of the Harapan regime. Interfering in business – the price of KFC too high, really? Is it mendacious when you claim we have a trillion ringgit debt?

There is a whole host of small businesses attached to nightclubs, not to mention the traders who service the after-hours crowd in local fare, that would be affected by this malicious rule.

What Harapan is doing is destroying part of the culture of this country. Big City culture and what they want to do is to turn it into what some parts of this country are. Remember this day, because no matter what some people say about closing hours in the West, what we have here are sub rosa moves by the Islamist to slowly impose hegemony, Harapan style. This is just the beginning.

Who knows what the following year will bring in the permutations of Malay power. Frogs jumping, political opponents having lunch, internecine conflicts among Malay brokers in the major parties.

In this climate, do you blame people for feeling jaded and thinking that nothing changes?

I have two hopes for the new year. The first that young people discover the power they wield. And the second that the people who supported Harapan pressure the government so it does not become another BN.

Have a productive new year, Malaysia, whoever you are.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Closing of The Weekly Standard Makes Neo-conservatism’s Exile from the Republican Party Official


December 17, 2018

The Closing of The Weekly Standard

For more than two decades, The Weekly Standard was the house organ of neo-conservatism. William Kristol, one of the magazine’s co-founders and the walking embodiment of its politics, was a leading champion of the Iraq War and of Sarah Palin’s rise in national politics.

In  the pre-Trump era, especially during the George W. Bush years, he was a conservative celebrity in Washington and a fixture on Fox News. But Kristol recoiled from the ugliness and political contradictions of Trumpism, and his magazine followed his lead. In the summer of 2016, the day after the Republican National Convention wrapped up, Stephen Hayes, Kristol’s successor as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, published an article titled “Donald Trump Is Crazy, and So Is the GOP for Embracing Him.” On Friday, The Weekly Standard’s corporate owner, Clarity Media Group, decided to shut the whole thing down. The magazine’s employees were told to clear out their desks by the end of the day.

The move came a few days after the first public reports of tensions between The Weekly Standard and Clarity over the magazine’s opposition to the Trump ward shift of the Republican Party.

The magazine’s obstinance stood in contrast to Clarity’s other D.C. media property, The Washington Examiner, which has been friendlier toward the Administration. The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells, who wrote about Kristol and Trumpism earlier this year, thinks that the magazine’s closure is the clearest sign yet that neo-conservatism has been cast out of the Republican coalition. “Pillar after pillar of conservatism has collapsed in the face of Trump,” he told me. “But the neocons have been pretty forthright. They stood up and have argued against him.”

Image result for The Weekly Standard

Trump celebrates collapse of The Weekly Standard as the conservative magazine’s reporters lose jobs over holiday season

The question is whether the G.O.P. has any room for dissent at the moment. “Within the conservative movement and the Republican coalition, the degree of orthodoxy, obsequiousness, that this suggests—I think it’s real. I think there isn’t very much space for Trump-critical thought,” Wallace-Wells said. As the publishing industry struggles financially in the Internet age, the closure of any outlet raises questions about business models and sustainability. But small magazines have different economies than daily newspapers or big book publishers. Philip Anschutz, who controls Clarity, has an estimated fortune of eleven billion dollars. “It’s not that there’s not an audience anymore,” Wallace-Wells said. “The reason is just that an owner said, ‘Nope, sorry, I’m not doing this anymore.’ ”

https://www.newyorker.com

 

 

 

 

New York Times Book Review–Unhappy Conservatives


October 26, 2018

Books of The Times

To hear Max Boot tell it, he feels as forlorn as the despondent, battered elephant on the cover of his new book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right.” Boot minutely describes a disillusionment that wasn’t only “painful and prolonged” but “existential.”

Here he is — a lifelong Republican with sterling neoconservative credentials (an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War and a champion of “American empire”) — explaining why he’s eager for the day when “the G.O.P. as currently constituted is burned to the ground.”

The scorched-earth rhetoric reflects not just a pro-war pedigree but also a profound feeling of betrayal. In the run-up to the November 2016 election, Boot was a vocal Never Trump conservative who couldn’t fathom that a “crudely xenophobic” reality television star would become the standard-bearer of the Grand Old Party, much less president of the United States. Along with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” another new volume by a Republican critic of Trump, Boot’s book attempts to answer a looming question for conservatives unhappy with the current occupant of the White House: What now?

“The Corrosion of Conservatism” does double duty as a mea culpa memoir and a political manifesto, detailing Boot’s “heartbreaking divorce” from the Republican Party after decades of unstinting loyalty. He charts a political trajectory that gave his life social and emotional meaning. As the 6-year-old son of Jewish refuseniks, Boot emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1976; at 13, he was inducted by his father into the world of “learned, worldly, elitist” conservatism with a gift subscription to National Review.

Max Boot CreditDon Pollard

Years later, even amid the peer pressure of “Berzerkeley,” the young Republican persisted. He may have been a white man of some means, but he enjoyed seeing himself as a besieged minority.

He “loved making a bonfire” of Berkeley’s “liberal pieties” in his column in the student newspaper and trolling his peers with a “Bush-Quayle ’88” sticker on his dorm-room door. He swiftly clambered up the echelons of the conservative establishment, editing the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal by the time he was 28 and eventually advising the presidential campaigns of John McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.

Those candidates all lost their bids for the highest office, but it would take Boot a while to get to where he is now — repulsed by the Republican Party’s fealty to President Trump and instructing Americans to “vote against all Republicans.” His surprisingly anguished book is peppered with so many penitential lines (“I am embarrassed and chagrined”) and so much bewildered disappointment in figures like Rubio (“I thought he was a man of principle”) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (“I had viewed him as smart, principled and brave”) that even the most die-hard leftist might be moved to hand Boot a hankie.

Not that he’s a particularly moving stylist; Boot’s clean, starched prose marches forward with all the spontaneity of a military parade (he’s uncommonly fond of words like “pusillanimous” and “japery”). But the stodginess reveals how much soul-searching it must have taken to write this candid, reflective book.

For his entire life, Boot wanted to be a good soldier. Instead he’s now in his late 40s, waking up to the historical brutality of “white identity politics” (“I have had my consciousness raised,” he says) and incredulously wondering: “How could all these eminences that I had worked with, and respected, sell out their professed principles to support a president who could not tell Edmund Burke from Arleigh Burke?”

How indeed? And Arleigh who? The confident name-dropping (of an admiral in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, natch) is quintessential Boot, who describes himself as one of the “sophisticates” of the Republican Party.

There’s something refreshing about an elite conservative owning up to being an elite conservative. The closest that Ben Sasse comes to doing the same in his new book is a cryptic recollection about how, when he and his wife lived in Chicago, they “were fortunate to be able to make ends meet.” (He was working as a management consultant at the time.)

Image result for Ben Sasse book

BenSasse (B.A. from Harvard, Ph.D. from Yale) spends a great deal of “Them” honing his down-home credentials (Nascar, TGI Fridays). He emphasizes the importance of civil debate, denouncing Fox News and MSNBC, and laments the extreme partisanship that characterizes public life in the Trump era. But “the dysfunction in D.C.,” he says, stems from something “deeper than economics,” and “deeper and more meaningful” than politics. “What’s wrong with America, then, starts with one uncomfortable word,” he writes. “Loneliness.”

He shores up his argument by referring to scholars of social isolation like Robert Putnam and Eric Klinenberg — though the socially conscious Klinenberg (with his emphasis on the crucial role of publicly funded institutions) might find it hard to recognize the conclusions Sasse has drawn from his work. Community, Sasse says, is fostered by individual acts of charity and fellow-feeling; government does what it needs to do when it gets out of the way. “Citizens in a republic must cultivate humility,” he writes in a section titled “Civics 101.” It’s “the only way to preserve sufficient space for true community and for meaningful, beautiful human relationships.”

This is standard conservative stuff; a little cloying in the delivery, sure, but not shocking. After all, Sasse — who regularly boasts about having one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate — doesn’t have a responsibility to become a Democrat in the Trump era, much less satisfy Boot’s desire for a politician who can “make centrism sexy.” (I had to laugh before I cringed.) Even Sasse’s ability to sentimentalize “rootedness” in little communities in one breath and welcome the “uberization” of existing industries in the other can be chalked up to an old strain of techno-optimism among business-friendly conservatives.

What’s curious, then, is not so much the careful avoidance of politics — politicians are really good at this — but Sasse’s repeated assertions that political solutions are meaningless. “Ultimately, it’s not legislation we’re lacking,” he writes. Public servants like him “simply need to allow the space for communities of different belief and custom to flourish.” It’s a pretty idea, though anyone familiar with how “belief and custom” have long propped up local prejudices (Jim Crow being a glaring example) knows that there’s nothing simple about it.

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As he did in his previous book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” Sasse talks a lot about the importance of “meaningful work,” yet he has chosen to be a United States senator, spending five days a week away from his family back in Nebraska in order to do whatever it is he does in Washington — which is what? Apparently vote with Trump close to 90 percent of the time and help his party try to bulldoze health care legislation and tax cuts through Congress, keeping crucial details secret until the last minute — all the while writing a book that solemnly proclaims the necessity of respectful debate and “engaging ideological opponents.”

“Our occupation links us to other people and gives us an identity and a sense of meaning,” Sasse muses, before waxing lyrical about a bedbug exterminator. For all his paeans to other people’s jobs, you might begin to wonder what the senator makes of his own.

Follow Jennifer Szalai on Twitter: @jenszalai.

The Corrosion of Conservatism
Why I Left the Right
By Max Boot
260 pages. Liveright Publishing. $24.95.

Them
Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal
By Ben Sasse
272 pages. St. Martin’s Press. $28.99.

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Dismantle The G.O.P.? Or Just Look Past Politics?

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity


September 21,2018

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity

A fragmented Malay society is making ‘Malay unity’ more urgent for those defeated by GE-14.

Image result for Rais Yatim

 

The Threat to Democracy — from the Left


September 17, 2018

The Threat to Democracy — from the Left

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

It has become commonplace to hear cries on the left to deny controversial figures on the right a platform to express their views. Colleges have disinvited speakers such as Condoleezza Rice and Charles Murray. Other campuses were unwilling or unable to allow conservative guests to actually speak, with protests overwhelming the events.

For several years now, scholars have argued that the world is experiencing a “democratic recession.” They have noted that the movement of countries toward democracy has slowed or stopped and even, in some places, reversed. They also note a general hollowing out of democracy in the advanced, industrial world. When we think about this problem, inevitably and rightly we worry about President Trump, his attacks on judges, the free press and his own Justice Department. But there is also a worrying erosion of a core democratic norm taking place on the left.

Image result for condoleezza condi rice

It has become commonplace to hear cries on the left to deny controversial figures on the right a platform to express their views. Colleges have disinvited speakers such as Condoleezza Rice and Charles Murray. Other campuses were unwilling or unable to allow conservative guests to actually speak, with protests overwhelming the events.

A similar controversy now involves Stephen K. Bannon, who, in recent months, has been making the rounds on the airwaves and in print — including an interview I did with him on CNN. Some have claimed that Bannon, since leaving the administration, is simply unimportant and irrelevant and thus shouldn’t be given a microphone. But if that were the case, surely the media, which after all is a for-profit industry, would notice the lack of public interest and stop inviting him.

The reality is that the people running the Economist, the Financial Times, “60 Minutes,” the New Yorker and many other organizations that have recently sought to feature Bannon know he is an intelligent and influential ideologist, a man who built the largest media platform for the new right, ran Trump’s successful campaign before serving in the White House, and continues to articulate and energize the populism that’s been on the rise throughout the Western world. He might be getting his 15 minutes of fame that will peter out, but, for now, he remains a compelling figure.

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Liberals need to be reminded of the origins of their ideology. In 1859, when governments around the world were still deeply repressive — banning books, censoring commentary and throwing people in jail for their beliefs — John Stuart Mill explained in his seminal work, “On Liberty,” that protection against governments was not enough: “There needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose . . . its own ideas and practices . . . on those who dissent from them.” This classic defense of free speech, which Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes later called the “freedom for the thought that we hate,” is under pressure in the United States — and from the left.

Image result for steve bannon white house in a crisis
Bannon says Trump is facing a ‘coup’. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon called the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times “a crisis” for the Trump administration.

 

We’ve been here before. Half a century ago, students were also shutting down speakers whose views they found deeply offensive. In 1974, William Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who in many ways was the father of the computer revolution, was invited by Yale University students to defend his abhorrent view that blacks were a genetically inferior race who should be voluntarily sterilized. He was to debate Roy Innis, the African American leader of the Congress of Racial Equality. (The debate was Innis’s idea.) A campus uproar ensued, and the event was canceled. A later, rescheduled debate with another opponent was disrupted.

The difference from today is that Yale recognized that it had failed in not ensuring that Shockley could speak. It commissioned a report on free speech that remains a landmark declaration of the duty of universities to encourage debate and dissent. The report flatly states that a college “cannot make its primary and dominant value the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility or mutual respect. . . . it will never let these values . . . override its central purpose. We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox.”

Image result for fareed zakaria

The report added: “We take a chance, as the First Amendment takes a chance, when we commit ourselves to the idea that the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time.” It is on this bet for the long run, a bet on freedom — of thought, belief, expression and action — that liberal democracy rests.