#LibDemIftar Shows the Vacuity of English Liberalism | Daniel Klein

In recent times Tory- or Brexit-voting Brits have often found themselves the object of speculative psychological analysis, treated like some remarkable, horrifying new species and poked, prodded and argued over by observers. Less often is the magnifying glass turned back on its handlers, and above all on liberal, suburban England.

Yet it is exactly this society, my own, that must strike any fair observer as uncanny, the symptoms of its dysfunction peeking out from behind its quiet shell.

This week’s oddly endearing spectacle – ‘Lib Dem Ramadan’ – might strike you as a cack-handed attempt to garner votes and gain woke credibility, and you’d be right. But it’s indicative too of the sadly conflicted state of English liberalism itself.

In a  tweet Cambridge Council’s Ian Manning managed, albeit unknowingly, to sum up this strange predicament with an image of such pure Lib Dem energy, such tragic pathos, that you simply had to stop and admire his handiwork. The enthusiastically relayed snap of some plain boiled eggs and (hazardously undercooked) bacon – top marks for protein, though, Ian! – highlighted the councillor’s #LibDemIftar charity effort, in which non-Muslim Lib Dems, including the party leader Ed Davey, adopt the practice of fasting during the holy month.

The image captured it all – the bleak culinary wasteland in which too many Anglo-Saxons still reside, the fawning attempt to mimic a seemingly richer culture still possessed of collective tradition, and the condescension that such mimicry constitutes ‘solidarity’, as if Muslims choosing to fast were in fact subjects of an involuntary oppression.

It somehow falls to the least brashly patriotic amongst us to be the most unmistakably English, and, in this case, to the most eager-to-please ‘Islamophiles’ to be the most indiscreetly infidel.

No surprise, then, that behind the soft, innocent faces of England’s liberal town-dwellers lurks an entitled judgemental unmatched on the right.

Liberal England’s unacknowledged prejudice against the minorities they patronise is that they, more so even than their conservative opponents, view these fellow citizens as other and as alien. It’s especially clear in their lack of equivalent engagement with other faith practices, least of all Christian ones, which being their own inheritance English liberals expose to unremitting ridicule. No fasting for Lent here.

Liberals are eager to share the correctives to their own previously held (but never acknowledged) retrograde attitudes, happily assuming everyone else to be just as ignorant as they themselves were five minutes earlier. Such correctives are typically over-compensatory falsehoods, bearing the reverse imprint of their puritanical preachers’ original prejudice: ‘Jesus was a person of colour, didn’t you know?’ ‘St. George was a Turk!’

Plenty have virtuous intent, but carefully avoid the real work of introspection. Their expertise is instead in the issuance of stern, long-faced apologies to their patronised minorities, along with resolutions to ‘educate themselves further’. No wonder the hurt and confusion they’ve routinely suffered in recent years, as reality failed to conform to their misguided expectations.

The natural liberal environment – an interminable sprawl of semidetached culs-de-sac – conjures up an all-encompassing dull benignity, inconvenient realities outside of which its native sons struggle to recognise, even as they fan out into the world on the search for worthy causes.

But though you may find troubling the coercive energy inherent in the idea that solidarity equals emulation, Muslims aren’t to blame for their faith’s appealing vitality and self-respect. It is natural to want to share the practices that enrich one’s life, and even for a universalist creed to seek out converts.

The Lib Dems’ fasting effort was intended as a gesture of magnanimous acceptance, but it reveals more about own spiritual disorientation, and underlying longing not just for abstract meaning but for its actualisation in real life. As participants were keen to point out, long days spent without food forge empathy with the hungry and starving, and teach an admirable self-discipline.

Multicultural ‘faith tourism’ offers post-Christian liberals an opportunity to connect with what they have lost. So when they aren’t deselecting Roman Catholic candidates, and generally advancing the ruin of traditional institutions, the Lib Dems are fastidiously participating in ancient religious practices mandated by revealed scripture.

But the mosques needn’t brace themselves for a mass middle class influx just yet. Liberal England is yet to learn that it is Islam’s conservatism, not some inherent exotic superiority, that generates its virtues. Instead, Islam garners the encouragement denied to Christianity exactly because it is viewed through a condescending prism. It is embraced more for what is it not than for what it is.

As heartfeltly as England’s liberals seek to promote ‘tolerance and understanding’ between differing faiths, they lack a stable footing from which to engage, not knowing what it is like to make a comparable commitment of their own. Even ‘inter-faith’ all too often stands for the exchange of vacant niceties. But in truth it will be those who are confident in themselves, not those seeking self-negation through others, that make for the best friends.

Photo by dekoning_peter on Flickr. 

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