Breitbart Was Right: Culture is King

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The Statue of Liberty in New York
The Statue of Liberty in New York (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The late Andrew Breitbart, founder of the news site Breitbart, believed in the dictum that “politics is downstream from culture.”

What this means is that while individual politicians may come and go, surrounding cultural attitudes to religion and politics are more important than any set of policies, since those attitudes will end up producing the politicians who go on to implement the policies.

We can see this plainly. If the culture shifts (to take a random example) against the notion that gun ownership is an acceptable form of self defense, then politics will change to reflect that and the constitution will be amended.

Right now the Left has one overarching cultural narrative. That narrative dominates and impacts all its attitudes, radical Islam included.


The Narrative of Smashing White Supremacy Shapes the Left

The Left sees itself as champion of progress and positive change. The enemy of the Left is the white supremacist/capitalist Christian conservative archetype, drawn from centuries of European history, apocryphally known as “The Man.” 

In the United States in the modern period, it is exemplified in the person of George Wallace, four time governor of Alabama who vigorously opposed the civil rights movement. The Left see it as its duty, and it’s core reason for existing, to oppose and dismantle their notion of white supremacist brutality.

This narrative is not just a political position. It is a lifestyle. (You can even buy fun and chic smash white supremacy t-shirts and mugs!) It’s an entire outlook defined around opposing the nebulous and hard-to-define concept of white supremacy and patriarchy.

Therefore many on the Left people are unable to consider the issue of radical Islam as anything other than an attempt by revanchist white supremacists to target yet another minority group.

This is not to say that racism isn’t real, or that the Left is bereft of any legitimate arguments. It is and they have. It is just that because the narrative is such an embedded part of left-wing identity that they see all issues through this single frame.


To Win, We Have to Change the Conversation.

Going into an argument about radical Islam and trying to convince Leftist that concerns about radical Islam are not racist is always going to be a losing proposition. It puts you immediately on the defensive and continually reinforces the connection between you and racism.

That’s because you’re still talking about race as the primary issue.

Race is a contributing factor, just like economics, biology, masculinity and social marginalization are all contributing factors. But that does not make it the main factor.

Radical Islam is it’s own problem, with its own set of causes and its own solutions. Just because everything is connected and problems are multifaceted that doesn’t mean that everything boils down to one central grand narrative of Team Righteousness destroying the Evil Capitalist Oppressor.

Perpetuating a cultural frame of division and strife between racial groups will bleed over into policies that increase antagonism between racial groups and draw us no closer to fixing the problem of radical Islam.


The First Amendment is the Real Issue

The real struggle on issues of radical Islam, unlike the preferred left-wing narrative of racism (people who hate black/brown people versus people who don’t) is people who support the First Amendment versus people who don’t.

People who support the First Amendment want religion out of politics and want the state out of religion. This is a cultural framing that emphasizes freedom.

The logical consequences of this framing are:

  • Religious leaders should not be able to impose their beliefs onto the rest of the public by allowing religious law to influence state law.
  • Governments ought not infringe on the rights of religious groups to worship freely as they see fit.
  • Governments ought to support heretics, blasphemers and other religious dissidents within religious communities who wish to leave.
  • Governments ought not discriminate against anyone due to theological beliefs that have no political consequences.
  • Religions should not be protected from criticism since they are just ideas and all ideas must be open to critique in a free society.
  • Criticism of a religion is not taken as an attack on the identity of a religious person or an injunction to cease a religious practice, but merely an opinion.
  • Religious communities should self-police to prevent more extreme members from imposing their beliefs onto others and upsetting the balance of the social order.
  • People should be treated as individuals and not held responsible for the actions of other distantly-connected members of their religious group.
  • People with grievances against the state should feel comfortable and empowered in voicing those grievances as publicly as they wish.
  • Whether someone is Muslim or Christian is not seen as indicative of their political beliefs as a whole.
  • That America’s values are positive, inclusive and build a strong and free society.

What’s different about this framing is that it actually meets the needs of people from across the political spectrum. This framing doesn’t present anyone as the enemy other than religious theocrats and oppressive states. It draws people in around a point of common unity. It promotes pride in America and its values, rather than opposition to it.

Muslims, along with all other faith groups, are afforded a strong commitment to upholding their rights to practice their faith freely. Within each faith, those who have doubts or questions or want to walk away are afforded the cultural space and support to be on their own unique spiritual journey. People gain the dignity to be treated as individuals, while their faiths are not afforded special status or earmarked as being immune from criticism.

A culture where we see the debate around Islamism as a First Amendment issue, rather than as a race issue or a foreign policy issue or a Muslim issue, is a culture that can produce win-win solutions that work for everyone.



Why the First Amendment is the Best Amendment: Part 1

Al Jazeera Wants You to Hate Thanksgiving

Yet Another 10 Uncomfortable Truths About Radical Islam


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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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