For Bruce Bawer, like Barry Goldwater, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Surrender is a passionate, fluent, compelling, arresting and troubling work with many virtues. And one great flaw.
A polemic in defence of Enlightenment virtues, and in particular the indispensable US Constitution First Amendment liberty, freedom of speech, Surrender is written with a fierce urgency that compels attention. The manner in which freedom of speech has been relativised, circumscribed and betrayed in the face of extremism is powerfully documented. The specific challenge to democratic freedom posed by Islamist fundamentalism is presented with bracing clarity. But Bawer's call to arms in defence of freedom is, in this reviewer's eyes, tragically compromised by his failure properly to identify who the enemies of liberty truly are.
That's not to say Bawer is off beam or wrong-headed in many of the individual targets he picks. He is right to focus on the fatal lack of resolution the West's political classes showed when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie. He is spot-on in his anatomy of our similar loss of nerve following the publication of a series of provocative cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. On both occasions, extremists were testing their strength against ours. They took deliberate offence, threatened violence in order to intimidate us into apology or silence, and won. They proved that their commitment to their ideology of submission was more powerful than our commitment to our tradition of liberty.
Bawer is also excellent in his analysis of how Western thinkers and writers have reacted to two very different children of Islam. He submits to close and unsparing critical attention the coverage enjoyed by the Islamist thinker Tariq Ramadan and the reception given to the writings of the Muslim apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Bawer shows how distinguished Western writers, who would unhesitatingly call themselves liberal, have sought to relativise or excuse Ramadan's support for stoning, and for clerics who endorse wife-beating, while at the same time damning Hirsi Ali as a "fundamentalist" for speaking out so vigorously against the forced suppression of women. Bawer is quite right that the desire not to give offence to certain cultural traditions or ideological religious positions has led far too many people who ought to know better to acquiesce in, or pass over, hideous prejudice towards women and gay men.