“9/11 liberal” is a term most probably coined by Bill Maher, a political commentator, comedian, and host of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher show. According to Maher, 9/11 liberals include people like him, Salman Rushdie, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and of course, late Christopher Hitchens.
If you know enough about these guys mentioned above, then, you would surely get an idea on how they are different from other liberals (which constitute the majority of the ‘liberals’). They are distinct from other liberals with respect to Islam. Unlike others, who constantly harp on motherhood statements like “All religions are alike” or “There are extremists in every religion”, the 9/11 liberals bluntly say that all religions are NOT alike and that Islam poses a different and greater threat to human civilization.
The 9/11 terror attacks acted as a rude awakening and a moment of truth for many of these – with obvious exceptions of like of Salman Rushdie who had a fatwa on his head during 80s itself – and they realised that political correctness is not going to help the world. Some unpleasant truths about Islam had to be told.
Unfortunately, this breed of liberals can be argued to be missing from India. We may call these missing liberals “26/11 liberal” though India had witnessed horrors of Islamic terrorism much before 26/11 or 9/11. If you ask for views on Islam to anyone in India who terms himself or herself a “liberal”, the probability that their views will match with those of the 9/11 liberals is extremely low.
Surprisingly a lot of people on the Right fulfill the above-mentioned criteria. Forget the “Right Wing” that the likes of NDTV will choose for you, and look around yourself, especially on social media. Many people who identify themselves with the Right support decriminalizing homosexuality, oppose the first amendment of Indian constitution (which curbs freedom of speech), and are not in denial of Science (Evolution, Climate change, etc.) unlike many in the American Right. And they are at par with the 9/11 liberals on the issue of Islam.
In fact, the paradox is such that if you are culturally Right/conservative in India, you have to be socially liberal since the Indian/Hindu culture is pro-liberty and believes in change with time. And perhaps this is why the “Indian liberal” is not like 9/11 liberal because he will sound like those who are branded Conservatives or Right Wing in India! Maybe this makes them behave in a manner that is illiberal most of the times, or maybe there is something inherently wrong with them.
The inconsistency or rather the hypocrisy of the Indian liberals on almost everything that is apparently dear to them, whether it is Free Speech or Science or Secularism, is appalling. The Left, as Sam Harris says, is ‘irredeemable’. It is, therefore, I would say, that let the old left-liberalism or pseudo-liberalism die. What we really need is ‘26/11 liberalism’.
A question which is constantly asked in TV debates and LitFests is ‘When did liberalism become a bad word?’ And the answer to that is quite simple. When the so-called liberals in the garb of liberalism became content with mocking Hinduism – a religion that adapts with changing times – while defending Islam – a religion that put a full stop on change in the 8th century as perfection was supposed to have been achieved. When they started fearing Hinduism – which allows an individual to even question their gods – but loved Islam – that asks for complete submission of individuals over religion and punishes for blasphemy.
This double standard is quite visible to even a fence sitter like me. Eid is around. You will NOT find a single article in the Indian media, which is dominated by ‘liberals’, that mocks or questions the festival, but just recall the articles you read around Holi and other Hindu festivals. You will see a Barkha defending freedom of speech of JNU students or an Arnab (who also calls himself a socially liberal) defending freedom of speech of some comedian, but when it comes to defending freedom of expression of Kamlesh Tiwari, they want ‘reasonable restrictions’ to apply. Same Sagarika Ghose who reminds the Right Wing of America’s 1st amendment after JNU incident, writes an article after Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo cartoonists saying that humour should have limits. Same Malini Parthasarathy, who finds Mangalsutra patriarchal, subtly defends child marriage among the Muslims in her state. And the list of such inconsistencies goes on and on.
There was this one defining moment in the US where the classical liberals realised the need to differentiate themselves from what they now call as “regressive leftists”, but somehow even after bleeding year after year, that moment has not arrived in India. Talk about living in denial!
Not only the Indian liberals have refused to be shaken by anything like 26/11, they have shielded all criticism by labeling other peoples as ‘bigots’ and ‘communal’ when they dare to disagree. It is not that the same doesn’t happen in US. Even 9/11 liberals are branded Islamophobes and racists. Hollywood actor Ben Affleck tried to to do Sam Harris and Bil Maher by branding them such. However, the power equations, when it comes to media and narrative, is not as skewed in US as it is in India. This has allowed people, who are intellectually dishonest and hypocrites to hold a monopoly over the words “liberal” and “progressive” in India.
These terms sound very appealing for the fence sitters, who by the way constitute the majority. They want to be counted as liberal and progressive too, so they have to agree with these pseudo liberals. Hence, even while mocking the liberals, the Right Wing should not disown the word or the concept completely, at least on social issues.
Make no mistake, I am only making a case for liberalism on social issues not on economic issues. As someone who truly believes in freedom of individuals above anything else, I think the only political philosophy that does complete justice to individual freedom is Libertarianism, which roughly means being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. But even libertarians in India are somewhat clueless about the degree of threat that Islamism poses to our civilization. Hence, I made a case for “26/11 liberalism”, although I know these ideological labels are losing their meaning nowadays.
I hope and pray that we don’t need something like 9/11 or 26/11 again for our liberals to have that awakening, but we do need this brand of liberals in India desperately.