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An Ode to the Intolerant Secular Democracy

mascettiBy Yaacov Mascetti*

Recent events, together with the broad reality we live in here in the Middle East, have brought me to ponder on some questions which I’d like to share with you. There is something unfair in the fact that the violent, aggressive, anti-democratic forces stirring within Israeli society today have always an advantage when confronted with the open-mindedness of liberal ideas. It’s never actually a fair clash – never.

If I claim the freedom of speech for everyone, and then I find myself in the difficult position of having to silence those intestine voices supporting the theocratization of society, or the deportation of alien populations (aka Arabs), or the re-building of the Temple and the destruction of the mosques, then there is something I must have done which needs to be fixed, needs to be thought over again. If I create a democratic forum where representatives of the people will conceive, discuss and vote on laws (aka The Knesset – the Israeli parliament), and then I find myself in the difficult position of having to tolerate the presence of voices arguing against the existence of that social and political entity called “Israel” within that very forum, then there is something wrong, then there is something that needs to be fixed. When I finance, support and then defend settlements in the midst of territories occupied during a necessary war which my country gloriously won in six days, territories held in the firm grip of military laws for 48 years where the local Arab population slowly developed what then took the shape of a very strong national identity, and in some of those settlements I then tolerate the presence of anti-democratic discourses / actions against the local Arab population first, and then the non-Jewish religious presence in all of Israel, while some parts of the Arab population start fighting the military occupation with violent and gruesome terrorist acts against the civilians within Israel, then I may have made some mistakes along the way and may now actually have a problem.

When I firmly believe that every human being is born equal and has, as a consequence, the exact same rights to a decent life, and then, specifically because I am such a staunch believer in freedom of speech, I allow certain parts of my society (defined in the local media as “crazy weeds”) to argue against those very ideals, and to foster conceptions of social structures where certain citizens are given priority because of inherent religious / ethnic characteristics, and I let those ideas spread mike weeds in my society and then actually become the majority within that parliament created in the name of my ideals, then I have gone wrong somewhere. When one of my prime ministers is killed in the name of a religious concept (din rodef) because he is pushing for the normalization of relations with the Arab population, by someone who obviously does not share my ideas of democratic discussion of ideas, pluralism, and government of the people, but decides to shoot bullets at a man in order to defend a Land that is inherently more important than human life, then I have a serious problem.

I could go on, but I think you got the idea. Of course this reading will not be shared by all, and I don’t even think everyone must share it – but I believe in freedom of speech, remember? Now, here’s the real dilemma I want to share with those who actually share my liberal and democratic ideals – what if we had made one fundamental mistake in tolerating the formation, fostering and spreading of anti-democratic conceptions within our own society? What if this tolerant, non-violent stance we have come to define as our glorious knightly armor were actually to be a ridiculous clown outfit that everyone laughs at? What if, in the name of the solidity and health of my society, of my body politic, I were to allow forms of intestine violence for the expulsion of those unhealthy parts, just like antibodies do in our organism?

There is a game I want to play, and it is called the liberal democratic game – all those who want to play and prosper within the game are welcome to join me; but those who wish to play the game in order to then take over it, and change it into another system, where certain players have more rights than others, where the field where we play is inherently adored as holy and promised and pulsating with life, those players are to be violently dealt with and expelled.

After all, to quote John Milton in Areopagitica yet again, the “perfection” of the commonwealth “consists in this, that out of many moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproportional arises the goodly and the graceful symmetry that commends the whole pile and structure”: in other words, the stones used in the building of the structure will necessarily be different, each one with its own peculiarities, each one with its own story, but that difference must only be moderate. Dissimilitudes must be brotherly – we must agree on being brothers, part of the same family, part of the same team, part of the same conglomerate. This means that we must be ready to act against those who do not share these ideas and who are ready to tear apart this society. Milton, in fact, limits his social utopia:

I mean [to include in my ideal society] not tolerated Popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpats all religions and civill supremacies, so it self should be extirpat, provided first that all charitable and compassionat means be us’d to win and regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or maners no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw it self: but those neighboring differences, or rather indifferences, are what I speak of, whether in some point of doctrine or of discipline, which though they may be many, yet need not interrupt the unity of Spirit, if we could but find among us the bond of peace.

There are incompatible forms of ideological development which, as they tend to extirpate all that stands in their way, must be extirpated, promptly. Of course, Israel is far, far from being Milton’s utopic politeia, but we may learn something very pertinent from it nevertheless – those who are actively performing against the well-being of the commonwealth, those who do not share my ideals of liberal tolerance and pluralist discussion, those who come armed (metaphorically an literally) to defend some “open superstition,” must be extirpated. We must turn ourselves from tolerant and non-violent by-standers, spectators of a reality that is falling apart in front of our own very eyes, passively horrified by our changing society, into intolerant enforces of rules that will protect the game we have started. There has to be a common game shared by all, and given the differences here in the Middle East and the horrific consequences of the truth-claims motivating each group, that game has to be secular – a common denominator where all will be allowed to express faith in respect of the rights of others. Those who do not share this tolerance, will be not tolerated – because “no law can possibly permit” these deviations, these destructive intestine forces to perform freely, for that leads, necessarily, to a state of affairs in which the law “unlaws itself.” We must become intolerant enforcers of a democratic and liberal commonwealth.

*Yaakov Mascetti holds a Ph.D. and teaches at the Department of Comparative Literature, Bar Ilan University.