Fanatics Without Borders

Fanatics Without Borders

Instant communication has conquered space and time. The gap between the far away and the near-at-hand has dwindled. Only a few years ago, this phenomenon thrilled us. We grew enchanted with our new ways of life, our newly ubiquitous culture. Moved, we watched as technology placed itself at the service of ethics. There seemed to be a miraculous harmony between the cosmopolitanism of global media and demands for a global politics. The demand for legal recognition of inalienable similarities among all human beings came with our denunciations of the “sovereign” right of tyrants to massacre minorities and opponents behind the refuge of their borders. The notion of democracy seemed to bore indiscreetly through the thickest of walls. An abolition of distance seemed to lead, quite naturally, toward a growing closeness and friendliness among peoples.

Now we face the globalization of hatred. An unexpected guest has crashed the party of those “without borders”: after the doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, and reporters, it’s the hour of fanatics without borders. Within the worldwide civil society that we were wishing into existence, opposition to humanitarian intervention is becoming more and more peremptory and strident. From Pakistan to Algeria, a minuscule minority of those protesting against the cartoons in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, would know where to find Denmark on a map. But what use is geography? In the Internet age, everybody is everywhere and the whole world is anywhere. We are all angels, and there’s the horror.

Who is responsible for this crisis? “The cartoonists and journalists who did not know how to temper the use of free speech with a respect for beliefs,” say the majority of Western heads of state, and a number of intellectuals are right with them. These sages forget that respect for beliefs and freedom of speech are two sides of the same coin.

Those who are fighting against free speech in the name of respect for their faith despise the beliefs of others, and they make it very clearly known. The newspapers of Tehran, of Damascus, of Cairo vomit vindictive caricatures that savage shamelessly orthodox Jews and demonize the Talmud.


Freedom of expression and respect for the beliefs of others begins with a painful renunciation of the absolute authority of your own particular convictions. And it’s against this renunciation that Islamic fundamentalist elites and masses raise their holy rage. The picture that lit the fuse shows Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. Insulting picture, they tell us. A hurtful connection, an offensive connection, a defamatory connection between the Prophet and terrorism. Certainly. But this link wasn’t suggested by Danish cartoonists, it was forged by the Jihadists. Why were there no demonstrations in the Arab/Muslim worlds against the bloody attacks in New York, Madrid, Mombasa, Bali, and elsewhere? Moreover, the pictures of ...

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

For insights and analysis from the longest-running democratic socialist magazine in the United States, sign up for our newsletter: