J'Accuse Identity Politics

by Peter Baldwin, Chair Blackheath Philosophy Forum

J’Accuse? A bit dramatic, you might say? The title is obviously inspired by the French writer Émile Zola’s denunciation of the anti-Semitic Dreyfus trial at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Am I seriously suggesting that the ideology we nowadays term ‘identity politics’ is a form of bigotry? Yes, I am saying exactly that, and I intend to lay out the case for this claim in a series of polemical articles to be posted on successive Fridays between now and the end of the year.

I find identity politics not just wrong headed, but morally repugnant, and am frankly appalled that it has come to largely define the worldview of those who regard themselves as ‘left-wing’ or ‘progressive’. I will argue that far from being progressive in any meaningful sense, identity politics is profoundly reactionary, and in key respects is the antithesis of what it purports to be.

Take the matters of race and racism, the topic of my first polemical article, which will be posted on the site on Friday 23 November.

If you attended the talk that I gave to the Blackheath Philosophy Forum on 21 April, you may recall I opened by playing a video of a speech to the American Humanist Association by a young American woman, Sarah Haider, from a Pakistani-Muslim background.

Sarah Haider took the extraordinarily courageous step of not only defecting from Islam, thereby becoming an ‘apostate’, an offence warranting the death penalty according to all the main schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence. She went on to found an organisation, the Ex-Muslims of North America, to provide support to others making the same choice. This group has to operate as a virtual secret society - this in the land of the First Amendment!

In former times, someone like this could expect to be championed by the Left. After all, the right to change religions is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the ability to debate and contest religious doctrines is an important Enlightenment legacy, until recently generally accepted in Western societies. A young woman ‘of colour’ acting in this way, exercising her sovereign right to dissent from the reactionary religious milieu into which she was born would surely be celebrated, wouldn’t she?

Quite the contrary. In her speech, Haider states she expected to be attacked by Muslim groups, but was taken aback on receiving equally hostile responses from her erstwhile colleagues on the political Left. This included epithets like ‘house Arab’, ‘Uncle Tom’, and a particularly sinister one that has recently started cropping up in academic discourse: ‘native informant’.

Do you see the racism here?

To clarify this we need to understand what the essence of identity politics is. In a long article on identity politics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the feminist theorist Sonia Kruks defines it this way:

What makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier, pre-identarian forms of the politics of recognition is its demand for recognition on the basis of the very grounds on which recognition has previously been denied: it is qua women, qua blacks, qua lesbians that groups demand recognition. The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of 'universal humankind' on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect 'in spite of' one's differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different.

So, its seems, Sarah Haider is born different, and is expected to see herself as such. She is not, first and foremost, a human being, with freewill and inalienable rights. As Kruks says, the identarians explicitly reject the universalist vision of humanity; and when she, talks of ‘respect for oneself as different’, she is affirming group rights based on identity, not the right of each individual to dissent from the group, to have their own point of view.

Rather, our essence is defined by our membership of one or more identity groups defined along lines race, gender, sexual preference, as so on. We are expected to speak, act and be recognized on this basis, and to stick to the relevant script of victimhood or oppression that designate us as either oppressor or oppressed.

How dare this young woman think she has the right to defect from, and to speak against, her identity! Doesn’t she know that this is a privilege reserved only for ‘white people’? The Left would have no problem with a white person from Utah rejecting Mormonism.

How racist, how incredibly reactionary, is that?

This is sadly typical of the treatment meted out to those who fail to stick to identarian scripts, whether they be those who defect from their Muslim identity, or black Americans who question whether Black Lives Matter has really benefited them, or Aboriginal Australians like Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine who condemn the violence endemic in traditional culture, or feminists who have reservations about the demands of the transgender lobby. All are denounced as ‘racists’, or ‘transphobes’, or whatever.

In my talk on 21 April I gave numerous examples of such dissenters being denounced on social and mainstream media, shouted down and no-platformed when they try to speak, their employment threatened, threatened with prosecution, and in some cases subjected to threats or actual physical violence. This is the system of thought control we call political correctness in action, aptly labelled ‘velvet totalitarianism’ (though nowadays not always so velvet), the compliance and enforcement arm of the identarian ideology.

In contrast, modern ‘progressives’ celebrate figures like the leader of the anti-Trump Women’s March Linda Sarsour who, like Haider, was born into a Muslim family but who affirms and defends Sharia law, the regime in Saudi Arabia, and the virulently anti-Semitic Nation of Islam headed by Louis Farrakhan, and who viciously and unapologetically defames people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Linda Sarsour

These are some of the points I made in my 21 April talk. In the articles to come, I will conduct a much more comprehensive polemic against identity politics, framed as a five-point indictment, with a weekly article devoted to each count:

Count 1: Identity politics is racist read article

In past times, progressives aspired to transcend race. Nowadays the identarian Left is absolutely obsessed about race, and determined to perpetuate racial distinctions and grievances. In this article I will argue that, far from representing the height of anti-racism, identity politics is in fact racist in multiple respects. It is an equal opportunity oppressor, harming both the ‘people of colour’ it claims to champion and the ‘white people’ it vilifies.

Count 2: Identity politics is the enemy of free speech read article

In former times, the non-communist Left was in the forefront of efforts to defend and extend freedom of speech. Nowadays the system of mind control we label ‘political correctness’ strives to silence, persecute, and if possible prosecute those who seriously challenge its tenets. This even extends to legitimizing violence on the ground that speech acts can actually constitute, rather than just provoke, violence – thereby justifying counter-violence.

Count 3: Identity politics is counter-productive for the oppressed read article

The social justice warriors inspired by identity politics claim to be acting in the interests of the oppressed. But do they, in reality? I will argue that, in one important case after another, the activism of the SJWs is not just useless, but seriously counter-productive. A profound indifference to consequences pervades the writings of the theorists who justify this kind of activism.

Count 4: Identity politics is profoundly reactionary read article

The Left used to proudly trace its lineage back to the radical wing of the Enlightenment., with its emphasis on argumentative rationality, open debate and the scientific method. This included the ability to freely debate religion. However the identarians now see religion first and foremost as an aspect of culture, that must be protected from ‘offense’ and disputation, leading to a serious erosion of free speech, and the defence of appalling ‘cultural’ practices like female genital mutilation. In the hierarchy of correctnesses, culture trumps all.

Count 5: Identity politics is a threat to civilization as we know (and generally like) it to be posted 4 January

With its denunciation of the civilization that has developed in the West as an unremitting litany of racism, colonialism, slavery and oppression, while ignoring its enormous virtues, not least its ability to evolve and self-correct, identity politics has severely undermined our civilizational self-confidence. This at a time when powerful currents are emerging to challenge the relatively liberal and tolerant societies of the West, threatening many of the societal values the identarians claim to cherish.

J'Accuse Identity Politics
Identity Politics is racist
Identity Politics is the enemy of free speech
Identity politics harms the oppressed
Identity politics is profoundly reactionary
Identity politics threatens civilization as we know it
The insanity of universal humanism
Andrew Tulloch commented on 2018-11-21 00:53
Arnd Liebenberg commented on 2018-11-22 04:33
JOHN OVERALL commented on 2018-11-21 07:00
Peter Crawford commented on 2018-11-21 05:35
Yvette Gilroy commented on 2018-11-21 06:16
Politics and Civilization: Online Debates
Article in The Australian 16 September 2016
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