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Regressive left

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The regressive left... leap(s) whenever any (not merely their own) liberal democratic government commits a policy error, while generally ignoring almost every fascist, theocratic or Muslim-led dictatorial regime and group in the world.
—Maajid Nawaz[1]

The regressive left is a term coined by anti-Islamist activist Maajid Nawaz[2] to describe a perceived segment of the left which ignores certain reactionary attitudes in the name of tolerance. Nawaz originally used it to refer to misguided leftist tolerance of conservative and fundamentalist Islam (underbelly and all) in contrast to their progressive stance against the scourge of conservative and fundamentalist Christianity, but the term has since been extended to encompass many (but curiously not all) leftist positions that appear contradictory to progressive values.

While the term originates from within the left, with progressives challenging regressives to stand up for their alleged leftist values in all matters, thus implying an internal criticism (the argument being that regressives are not consistently liberal), the term has also been picked up from the outside and has been used by conservatives (and others) as a snarl word directed at any leftist positions they don't happen to like, similar to the snarl usage of the term "social justice warrior". As is to be expected, rival camps revel in the infighting of their opponents.


Regressive vs progressive left: anger, posturing, and slogans vs reason, consistency, and compassion.
Stephen LawWikipedia's W.svg[3]

As a real problem within the left[edit]

—Regressive leftist[4] CJ Werleman literally equating Daniel Dennett with Osama bin Laden[5]

The concept of a reactionary left originated when cultural and moral relativism left the postmodernist lens of academia and entered popular political discourse.[citation needed] The concept most people define as "multiculturalism" today is the secular idea of cultural pluralism combined with this new, politically active relativism. Since relativism is a neutral academic stance, applying it to current political or ideological causes raises problems. A relativist observer holds that there is no objective standard by which one culture or moral system can be measured to be better than another.[citation needed] This position (if held absolutely) logically entails that liberal values such as free speech and equal rights are not objectively better than a rejection of them.[6]

For the relativist progressive, there are three possible courses—they can abandon relativism and advocate for change in all groups, at the potential risk of placing undue pressure on disadvantaged groups; they can reserve their criticisms for the dominant group alone by employing a tactical form of relativism which only applies to marginalized groups, that is, to not "punch down"; or they can simply insist no value can be known to be better than another and wing it according to whatever trendy movement is popular with them at the moment. The latter options are by some described as "the regressive left." Some liberals, such as Natalie Reed, argue postmodernists can avoid the pitfalls of relativism, and take firm positions on issues across social and cultural boundaries.[7]

Regardless of one's opinion on whether or not reactionary leftists exist, the concept does raise interesting questions about how progressive liberals should act in a pluralistic society. How should a feminist criticize patriarchy, while also being mindful that some disadvantaged groups have a patriarchal culture? How should an atheist take a strong position against religion, while also recognizing that minority religious groups are marginalized in society?

These questions are amplified for public figures, because any criticism of minority groups, even if legitimate, can play into the narratives of reactionaries.

As a conservative snarl word[edit]

It’s time to skewer the idea that, in looking out for British Muslims, the left is abandoning its traditional values. In fact it’s doing what it’s always tried to do – extending a hand to the most beleaguered among us, identifying those society says it’s OK to injure and insult, and saying: this isn’t fair.
—David Shariatmadari[8]

Conservatives and other reactionaries usually use the term as a snarl word. Most of them are just looking for a way to attack liberals for not sharing blatantly racist or xenophobic viewpoints, or otherwise trying to direct social malign onto disadvantaged groups.[9]

They are generally easy to spot with a litmus test as to whether or not they actually agree with any of the criticisms leveled against these liberals. For instance, a fundamentalist Christian holds strikingly similar views to a fundamentalist Muslim. There is no reason for said Christian to support feminist, atheist, or other social criticism of Islam. The only possible motivation for Christian conservatives to support such criticism is racism and/or religious intolerance—or, at best, to redirect the conversation away from Christianity.

Some liberals have been accused of using the term to mask reactionary attitudes, in particular New Atheists such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Their views have been called out as Islamophobic with regard to racial profiling, restricting Muslim immigration, expressing concerns about Muslim demographics[10] and justifying preemptive wars, among other far-right attitudes (ironically, shouldn't this make them the "real" regressive leftists?). Some also use it as a snarl word to deter/silence any criticism of Western foreign policy or of contributing factors to religious fundamentalism, such as the failure of secular nationalism, poor economic conditions, etc. Such "liberals" use the term to hold on to questionable opinions while still calling themselves liberals, by calling actual progressives the "regressive left." This is a form of Jonanism, the belief that everybody criticizing you belongs under one ideological tent. The idea is that other liberals are really conservatives in disguise, thus introducing an appeal to motive and shutting down discussion.

Public figures who love to use this term, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who advocated closing ALL mosques),[11] and Sam Harris (who wrote two articles literally titled "In Defense of Torture" and "In Defense of Profiling," in addition to suggesting certain beliefs are so extreme as to consider killing those supposed extremists)[12] [dubious] certainly don't seem to have a problem with holding "regressive" beliefs.

Prominent liberals in the media who have spoken out against Islamophobia are few and far between. Anyone familiar with popular anti-theist, neoconservative and far-right public forums knows well that Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky are invariably the two individuals singled out for ad hominem attacks that center around their being "intellectually dishonest," "terror apologists" and "obscurantists." The problem with this carefully crafted polemic is that there is not a single instance of either Greenwald or Chomsky having condoned violence or having opined on the doctrines of Islam. One is also hard-pressed to find an instance where the actual arguments made by Chomsky and Greenwald were refuted by their detractors; their modus operandi is attacking the player, not the ball.[13]
—Khwaja Khusro Tariq

Controversial Examples[edit]

Deepa Kumar[edit]

Kumar's slide, often attacked.
Kumar's later clarification.

During a speech at the University of Bath, Deepa Kumar, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University, put up a slide which listed 3 categories described as "New McCarthites," which included "Ex-Muslims and other 'native informants'." Pictures of this slide, taken out of its context, attracted negative attention in the easily rilled-up blogosphere. Kumar explained that her comments were taken out of context, and stated on twitter that she was not referring to all ex-Muslims, but rather "a particular group which is closely tied to the far-right."[14]

Kumar's smearing as a "regressive leftist" by people who never saw her presentation is especially dubious due to the most prominent group attacking her and facilitating the spreading of the out-of-context photo and other lies and half-truths in the blogosphere is the far-right college life website SoCawlege.[citation needed] This ironically makes any leftist who falls for their propaganda and proceeds to attack Kumar... a regressive leftist.[15]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]