There is an interesting interview here between the writers David Thompson and Ophelia Benson. Ophelia is co-author of a book entitled Why Truth Matters, which I nominated in a recent survey for Prospect magazine as the most underrated volume of 2006. The Independent columnist Johann Hari made the same choice, leading to a curious editorial formulation by Prospect's writer William Skidelsky that the book appealed to "liberal neocons". (I'm a liberal and not a neoconservative; I'm fairly certain Johann isn't either of those things.) David Thompson remarks, of an issue on which I'm spending some time at the moment:
This wasn’t always the case, of course; but right now I don’t see too many leftists standing up for free speech and the testing of ideas. Those that do are, of course, assailed from the left. Instead I hear lots of talk about “sensitivity” and “respect for other cultures.” And if a person doesn’t want an open debate to take place and wants to define in advance what kind of language is permissible and which subjects are off-limits, that usually indicates the weakness of their position and, more to the point, an awareness of just how weak that position is.
This brings me neatly to an accolade I am unfazed by, if not moderately pleased with, from a forum I don't think I've mentioned before. A web site tendentiously entitled Islamophobia Watch ("Documenting the war against Islam") notes: "Kamm backs Cohen on 'Left-Islamist alliance', dismisses Islamophobia."
What can I say, comrades? You have accurately encapsulated my position, and I appreciate it. The only editorial amendment I would make to your headline would be to enclose the word "Islamophobia" in inverted commas, as I have just done. The notion that this fabricated, question-begging and illegitimate term bears any comparison to the great progressive causes of civil rights and opposition to racism is a linguistic feint that should not be allowed to pass by default. Criticism of religious doctrine and practice is an essential part of a free society and a vigorous intellectual culture. That is true for religion in general, and for religions in particular. When I have written, for example, about the phenomenon of antisemitism, I have made it clear that: "I have no interest at all in the fortunes of Judaism, but a great concern in the resilience of historically persecuted peoples." The principles of the separation of religious and civil authority, and that government should protect the free exercise of religion but not the sensibilities of the faithful, used to be axiomatic among progressives. For some of us (I use the term "progressive" without irony in my case, but with plenty concerning the authors of Islamophobia Watch), they remain so.