‘Islamophobia’ is a term that has existed since the nineteenth century. But in recent decades, argues Pascal Bruckner in his controversial new book, it has become a weapon used to silence criticism of Islam. The term allows those who brandish it in the name of Islam to ‘freeze’ the latter, making reform difficult. Whereas Christianity and Judaism have been rejuvenated over the centuries by external criticism, Islam has been shielded from critical examination and has remained impervious to change. This tendency is exacerbated by the hypocrisy of those Western defenders of Islam who, in the name of the principles of the Enlightenment, seek to muzzle its critics while at the same time demanding the right to chastise and criticize other religions. These developments, argues Bruckner, are counter-productive for Western democracies as they struggle with the twin challenges of immigration and terrorism. The return of religion in those democracies must not be equated with the defence of fanaticism, and the right to religious freedom must go hand in hand with freedom of expression, an openness to criticism, and a rejection of all forms of extremism.
There are already more than enough forms of racism; there is no need to imagine more. While all violence directed against Muslims is to be strongly condemned and punished, defining these acts as ‘Islamophobic’ rather than criminal does more to damage Islam and weaken the position of Muslims than to strengthen them.
The planet is sick. Human beings are guilty of damaging it. We have to pay. Today, that is the orthodoxy throughout the Western world. Distrust of progress and science, calls for individual and collective self-sacrifice to `save the planet' and cultivation of fear: behind the carbon commissars, a dangerous and counterproductive ecological catastrophism is gaining ground.
Modern society's susceptibility to this kind of thinking derives from what Bruckner calls "the seductive attraction of disaster," as exemplified by the popular appeal of disaster movies. But ecological catastrophism is harmful in that it draws attention away from other, more solvable problems and injustices in the world in order to focus on something that is portrayed as an Apocalypse.
Rather than preaching catastrophe and pessimism, we need to develop a democratic and generous ecology that addresses specific problems in a practical way.
Today we like to think that marriage is a free choice based on love: that we freely choose whom to marry and that we do so, not so much for survival or social advantage, but for love. The invention of marriage for love inverted the old relationship between love and marriage. In the past, marriage was sacred, and love, if it existed at all, was a consequence of marriage; today, love is sacred and marriage is secondary. But now marriage appears to be becoming increasingly superfluous. For the past forty years or so, the number of weddings has been declining, the number of divorces exploding and the number of unmarried individuals and couples growing, while single-parent families are becoming more numerous. Love has triumphed over marriage but now it is destroying it from inside. So has the ideal of marriage for love failed, and has love finally been liberated from the shackles of marriage?
In this brilliant and provocative book Pascal Bruckner argues that the old tension between love and marriage has not been resolved in favour of love, it has simply been displaced onto other levels. Even if it seems more straightforward, the contemporary landscape of love is far from euphoric: as in the past, infidelity, loss and betrayal are central to the plots of modern love, and the disenchantment is all the greater because marriages are voluntary and not imposed. But the collapse of the ideal of marriage for love is not necessarily a cause for remorse, because it demonstrates that love retains its subversive power. Love is not a glue to be put in the service of the institution of marriage: it is an explosive that blows up in our faces, dynamite pure and simple.
There is one fundamental thing that has changed in our societies since 1950: life has got longer. Over the last few generations, 20 or 30 years have been added to the duration of our lives. But after the age of 50, human beings experience a kind of suspension: no longer young, not really old, they are, as it were, weightless. It is a reprieve that leaves life open like a swinging door. The increase in life expectancy is a tremendous step forward that upsets everything: relations between generations, patterns of family life, the very meaning of our identity and our destiny. This reprieve is both exciting and frightening. The deadlines are getting shorter, the possibilities are shrinking, but there are still discoveries, surprises and upsetting love affairs. Time has become a paradoxical ally: instead of killing us, it carries us forward. What to do with this ambiguous gift? Is it only a question of living longer or living more intensely? To continue along the same path or to branch out and start again? What about remarriage, a new career? How to avoid the weariness of living, the melancholy of the twilight years, how to get through great joys and great pains? Nourished by both reflections and statistics, drawing on the sources of literature, the arts and history, this book proposes a philosophy of longevity based not on resignation but on resolution. In short, an art of living this life to the full. Is there not a profound joy in being alive at the age when our ancestors already had one foot in the grave?
This book is dedicated to all those who dream of a new spring in the autumn of life, and want to put off winter as long as they can.