Back in 2007, which is a long time in blog-o-spheric terms, I wrote a post for W4 called "Incommensurable Evils." My point there was that Islam and decadent Western leftism are incommensurable. To try to decide which is worse is a classic apples and oranges comparison. One is worse in some ways while another is worse in other ways, and that's about all that there is to be said. It's anybody's guess (I didn't get into this question) which one is going to "win" in Europe and/or in America, or whether some better (or worse) alternative will rise up and conquer both. I don't deal in speculative history of that kind, so I'm not going to make any bets.
Since the question of obscenity has come up in the thread below in relation to the recent terrorism in Paris, I think it's worth reiterating the incommensurable evils point.
There is one group of people who think of Islam as, in some important sense, better than decadent Western leftism. They are wrong. These include Dinesh D'Souza, probably Peter Kreeft, apparently Bill Donohue, whom we were discussing in the thread, and, based on the dialogue in the comments on my post back in 2007, apparently no less a thinker than Jim Kalb.
They are wrong, as I argued in that post. It is a mistake to try to make up an abstract version of Islam divorced from its history, its traditions, and its practice, a kind of vague, benign monotheism (and let's not talk about Mohammad and his own actual practice), to credit this with whatever we think is good in historical Islam while holding it free of blame for evils perpetrated by historical Islam, and then to declare this "Islam" the winner in some moral contest with actual, historical leftism.
There is another set of people who think that, in an important sense, modern decadent liberalism is better than Islam. I'm afraid that to a large extent this group includes Robert Spencer, who has done so much good in researching the historical texts and teachings of Islam. Although I don't have the links at this time, I have previously disagreed with Spencer when he held that it was a bad thing for a Muslim taxi driver to ask two homosexuals engaging in public display of affection to get out of his vehicle. There was also a time when Spencer distanced himself from a pro-family, anti-Islam group because he learned that they were strongly opposed to the homosexual agenda and had done work exposing the disgusting horrors of "gay days" at Disney's theme park. I think that was a big mistake.
Similarly, when I expressed admiration (which I do not retract) for the courage and insouciance of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in not giving in to Muslim bullies, I did not in any way mean to condone those of their cartoons that were obscene. (Not all of them, and not even all of the ones that made the Muslims most angry, were obscene. As I said below, making fun of Mohammad and portraying him in a picture is a huge offense all by itself, and the obscenity issue is in an important sense orthogonal to Muslim demands of respect for "the Prophet.")
That point takes us directly to the question of alliances. Because it is impossible to say that either of these sets of evils is worse than the other, it becomes extremely delicate to know when, whether, and how to make alliances.
The first group of people--the ones who think Islam is better than modern liberalism--would definitely have us make alliances with Muslims. Presumably with all the good and non-violent Muslims. This, in fact, was the whole point of Kreeft's cringe-worthy phrase "ecumenical jihad." Of course, if their goal is to make alliances with Muslims against decadence, for modesty, etc., then they won't want to offend them. They may even use phrases like "the Prophet" un-ironically. (Sometime I should put up a post on all the reasons why using "the Prophet" for Mohammad is not the same as using the phrase "Jesus Christ.") They will be very concerned to tell us all how bad it is to be disrespectful of Islam. They will be quick to claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Our intended alliances make a difference to what we are willing to say in a whole variety of contexts. Nobody who intends to go out and seek some sort of alliance in politics with Muslims is going to want them to be able to Google up "Islamophobic" comments by that person or group.
Similarly, the second group has its whole focus on opposing Islam and Islamicization and is therefore hoping to make alliances with atheists and leftists. For that purpose, they are going to be concerned not to upset those groups by making comments or other alliances that will be considered "homophobic" or even socially conservative.
The incommensurable evils position should lead us to have problems with both of these approaches. We conservatives shouldn't downplay our opposition to, say, the homosexual agenda because it might upset atheists whom we want to sign on to the anti-Islam cause. By the same token we shouldn't avoid opposition to Islam or pretend that Islam is peaceful, nor should we call for respect for Islam in the wake of Muslim terrorism, hoping to get together with Muslims to oppose Western decadence.
Both of these approaches are inimical to seeing things as they are, and seeing things as they are has never been more important, especially to those of us who want to do something good for what remains of Western civilization.
The extremely delicate part of all of this is that there will inevitably be moments when we should emphasize the badness of one of these ideologies more than the other. If I'm opposing a homosexual ordinance in my home town or trying to shut down a girlie joint, and if I see some Muslims at the town council meeting speaking out, I'm not going to go out of my way to drive them away. If I'm collecting signatures for some related petition, I'll collect their signatures. By the same token, it is my own opinion, reflected in the comments thread below, that opposition to obscenity is very much beside the point when it comes to talking about recent events in Paris. Moreover, it is not an endorsement of obscenity to praise the cartoonists' unbending opposition to Islam and refusal to back down.
Does this mean that I'm advocating making alliances with Muslims or with decadent atheists at times after all? I don't think so. I don't think that in either of those scenarios (hypothetical or real) what I'm advocating could be described as "making an alliance." It is rather a matter, a sometimes difficult matter, of knowing which evil to emphasize when. It's most of all a matter of knowing what not to say--knowing not to say that x is better than y or that x isn't really "so bad." It's also a matter of knowing what to say at some point or another--that is, being willing to offend either side at some time or other when that is what's called for.
For this purpose, it's a very good thing not to be running a single-issue organization or web site. W4, of course, has always and from the beginning explicitly stood against both the jihad and the forces of modern leftism, so we have never been single-issue. This puts us in an unusual position in which we try, to the best of our ability, to recognize a lack of perspective or tunnel vision either on the part of those who downplay the evils of Islam to oppose the evils of leftism or who downplay the evils of leftism to oppose the evils of Islam. Fighting incommensurable evils demands no less.