THE other day when he was asked to react to the attempted car-bomb attacks on London, the city's mayor, Ken Livingstone, called for tolerance.
Fair enough, you might say. But at whom was his call for tolerance directed? You are probably thinking, if you are a logical sort, that the call must have been directed at the fanatics who had come within an ace of killing and maiming possibly hundreds of people. But you would be mistaken.
Instead Ken directed his call at his fellow, non-Muslim, Englishmen. He said that in the past Jews, the Irish and gays had been persecuted in England and now it was the turn of Muslims. Ken is obviously the sort of fellow who, had he been mayor of London during the blitz, would have been blaming the Treaty of Versailles and not Hitler for the bombs raining down on his city.
The War on Terror, if that term can still be used, is revealing strange ideological fissures in Western societies. I came across these fissures in person last September when I took part in about eight radio discussions in the days after Pope Benedict had quoted the Byzantine emperor who had less-than-flattering things to say about Islam.
The line-up on those shows was me playing my usual role as the Catholic commentator, a Muslim representative, and frequently a representative of what I suppose we'll have to call the secular left.
On almost every one of these shows the secular left representative did his or her best to impersonate Ken Livingstone. First there was the usual ritualistic condemnation of the extremists, but this was then followed by a much more detailed discussion of why we are to blame for whatever Muslims extremists do to us.
To all intents and purposes this placed the secular leftist firmly on the side of the Muslim representative, several of whom had decidedly alarming ideas. At least one was a supporter of suicide bombings, sorry, 'martyrdom operations'. Another was in favour of the imposition of Sharia law in Ireland should the opportunity ever arise.
On yet another show the secular leftist thought it would be a very good idea if Muslims living in the West were allowed to live by Sharia law. Then there was the caller, a self-declared gay, who said the Pope deserved whatever he got because the Pope 'hates' homosexuals.
See what I mean about those "strange ideological fissures"? Essentially you had the guardians of tolerance siding with people who would crush homosexuals under walls if they could, and who would turn women into property given half a chance. And why this horrid sympathy? It is because the secular left's hatred of Western civilisation, and certainly Christianity, America and Israel, is such that they will side with anyone, no matter how unsavoury, who shares that hatred.
Needless to say, all of this is grist to the mill of those fanatics who would love to inflict a 9/11 on the West every day of the week. They tell us our civilisation is hateful and they hear an answering echo from the left who have decided that Muslims are a victim group whose acts of violence are simply proof of their victim status.
In The Irish Times the other day we had Vincent Browne calling for the West to give into virtually all of the demands of al-Qa'ida, Hamas, Hizbollah, the Iranians, and I suppose the Taliban as well. He imagines that if America pulled the plug on the Saudi royal family, if Turkey is allowed into the EU, if Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders, and if the West generally stops interfering in the affairs of Muslims countries, then all will be well. But he is dead wrong.
If all these things happen, Muslim rage would continue to burn because Browne, like the left in general, misdiagnoses the real cause of that rage. It is not Western foreign policy, although this undoubtedly adds fuel to the fire, the real cause is the terrible political, economic and social immobility of much of the Muslim world.
Even if Western foreign policy changes along the lines desired by a Vincent Browne or a Ken Livingstone, the root causes of Muslim rage and violence will remain much as they are, and so will the underlying realities of those countries. For example, the choice facing a Palestinian living on the West Bank or the Gaza Strip will still be either the fundamentalism of Hamas or the terrible corruption and authoritarianism of Fatah.
The choice facing a citizen of Saudi Arabia will still be the theocracy of the Saudi Royal Family or the even worse theocracy of al-Qa'ida and Osama bin Laden. The choice facing an Egyptian will remain the dictatorship of the present government or the theocracy of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Until such time as the political, economic and social choices available to Muslims, especially in the Arab world, increases, so long will Muslim anger burn and not all the self-loathing of the Western intelligentsia will change that fact one iota.