Liberalism (in the broad sense) is the ideology that turns what non-liberals prefer into its opposite, then insists that they acknowledge no difference.
Here’s Issandr el Amrani writing on “What Islamists want vs. what liberals want” – bracketed letters and emphasis added:
This is turning to be a pretty obvious basic difference: [a] Islamists want to impose their way of life on everybody else. [b] Liberals want to give everyone an individual choice about their lives, and will not restrict [c] the Islamists from doing what they want to do.
The above is an especially compact re-statement of the Ibish formulation, expressing a self-contradictory position that is effectively universal and definitional for ideological liberalism.
Assuming 1) that all of the terms are meaningful, and 2) that their relationship to each other is governed by consistency (non-contradiction), the statement breaks down as follows:
[a] = what Islamists want to do.
[b] = not what Islamists want to do.
In short: [b] = ¬ [a]
Therefore, if [a] and [b] are both meaningful (i.e., assuming they represent anything at all, in mathematical terms do not both equal zero, as per primary assumption #1 above):
[b] ≠ [a]
[c] = what Islamists want to do.
what Islamists want to do = what Islamists want to do
[a] = [c]
According to Amrani, however, [b] also = [c]: Under liberalism, Islamists still get to be Islamists: liberals will not “restrict” Islamists; the liberal way of life and the Islamist way of life can co-exist; they do not necessarily contradict each other.
But, if [b] ≠ [a], and [a] = [c], then [b] ≠ [c].
Something has been lost in the movement from the first proposition to the last one. This loss of content should be, but somehow is not, obvious in the difference between the two bold-faced terms. Or perhaps the liberal prefers simply not to recognize or admit this loss of content. Yet this unacknowledged content is the entire basis of the conflict under discussion. The liberal logic or pseudo-logic simply presumes the adequacy to all others of the liberal’s self-preference.
Somehow, this loss of content or difference by which an [a] non-equivalent to [b] becomes a [c] that is equivalent to [b] is not obvious to Amrani, or Ibish, or, in effect definitionally, to all liberal ideologues commenting on the conflict between Western liberalism and Islamism or Islamist democracy, or between Philadelphia and Cairo. To everyone else (at least prior to the ultimate reconciliation of liberalism and Islamism, under which both “a” and “b” could be expressed as equivalent and non-zero), it is double-think.
The larger argument is not that less-liberal Egypt would therefore be better than more-liberal Egypt. The argument is that this blind spot may help to explain why the liberals achieve real results that liberals themselves find unsatisfactory.
The argument is not that there would be no meaningful difference between a more-liberal Egypt and a more-illiberal Egypt, but the differences will always be mixed and complex, never some simple victory of uniquely exclusive Islamism over uniquely inclusive liberalism, as Amrani’s simplistic and self-contradictory formulation seems to imply.
We’ll set aside embedded presumptions for now: Liberalism is the ideology that turns what non-liberals prefer into its opposite, then insists that they acknowledge no difference. Very typically, systematically, the real existing liberal-democratic state will further insist that its own insistence be understood as the non-liberal’s own freely assumed preference. This self-contradictory insistence is experienced as restrictive, oppressive, and irrational.
The sleight-of-hand relies critically on the substitution of an individual for a collective subject – which substitution happens to be another way of describing the liberal project. Without explanation, the “individual choice” in [b] becomes plural or collective in [c] as “the Islamists.” What Amrani means is actually “Muslims as individuals,” “Muslims as liberalized Islamists,” “Muslims under a non-Islamist conception of Islam.”
The Islamists seek a collectively Islamic society. The liberals seek a society of individuals. Taken as absolutes, both of these are impossibilities: There is no society except as a society of individuals, but neither is there a society that actually constitutes a society that is merely a collection of individuals. (A population is not a society. It is “people” apart from a social concept.)
There is no liberal society that does not impose restrictions on its citizens comprehensively: That is the point of the examples given by Gehad Haddad regarding bikinis on public or private beaches that Amrani ridicules. Some acceptably liberal democratic societies impose restrictions on speech, dress, conduct, etc., that others do not. One liberal democratic society accepts nudity in public places; another does not. One liberal democratic society gives special consideration to ethnic or religious groups and traditions; another does not. In one liberal democratic society the right to bear arms shall not be infringed; in another an armed populace is considered a danger to liberty; no liberal democratic society is indifferent to the question; all impose restrictions in some way.
There is no liberal democratic society that exists or can exist without restrictions or special considerations of these and other types. All liberal societies restrict some speech, some conduct, some property rights.
Similarly, no society, whether or not it calls itself liberal, exists as a society without a collective principle of some type. The collective principle of no collective principle is all that liberalism generates on its own: In addition to being a paradox, it is an empty abstraction. The particular liberal society therefore must revert to antithetical premises for its positive content (its positive freedom, what its freedom is going to be “for”); not to its pure liberalism, but to its interconnected and not always perfectly clearly defined ethnic, geographical, religious and moral, etc., qualities: its “way of life.”
In our era of nation-states recognized under a loosely liberal-democratic international legal regime, this way of life is taken to be primarily, on the level of first conceptual and juridical priority, a national way of life. What distinguishes one nation from another is the relative priority given to each pre- or non-liberal element of its national character: In this sense how the nation defines its idea of the national is what defines it as a nation. How Americans understand American-ness is what defines them as Americans. How the Japanese define themselves as Japanese defines what it means to be Japanese, and so on.
Given the dependence on non-liberal content in all real existing liberal democratic states, it is more accurate to say that the liberal seeks to impose or advance an open-ended liberalizing process on a given conceptually pre-existent, pre- or non-liberal community, polity, society, or nation. This process always meets resistance, and in fact depends on the sources of that same resistance, in a sense on the resistance itself, for whatever actual positive content, the actual life-world, in or of the society that emerges.
As for Egypt as for any nation, the final result of this process, in relationship to which all nations today must define themselves, will never actually be final. Non-finality is another foundational liberal precept. The liberal democratic nation must always be constituted as a self-altering, self-realizing ineradicably mixed regime, with each element of the mix itself an ongoing negotiation between loosely speaking “liberal” or “progressive” and “traditional” or “conservative” sub-elements – all the way down to the level of the human particle, the particular individual resolving alternatives concretely in his or her own life.
So basically if the liberals in this case admitted that since the Islamists want Islamism as a collective condition & not one individually chosen that liberalism in fact doesn’t reconcile itself with Islamism or similar politically religious ideologies, their stance would be “what Islamists want is not individual liberty, therefore f*ck ’em”.
Which would 1) be true*! but 2) result in the liberals losing.
Though it’s not like they’re actually winning now, TBH. I don’t see a way for them to either, as marginalized as they’ve been. When the Islamists are the only ones organized then them ending up in charge is inevitable. Maybe they have to try majority absolutism on first before they get to liberalism.
(* – That said, I’m aware that Egypt’s “liberals” are unlikely to be anywhere near as liberal as I picture liberalism meaning. But hey, I’m not Egyptian, that’s on them)