It is one of the ironies of modern politics that the same word can be susceptible to more than one meaning, creating confusion for everyone.
One of the reasons for the confusion is that liberal values are generally shared by moderates on both the left and right of politics. Not by the far left -- Marxists, Leninists, Trotskyites, and Stalinists or Britain's Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – or by the far right – Germany's Alternativ für Deutschland, Hungary's Jobbik, Austria's Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or Greece's Golden Dawn.
Leftist values underpinned both the American and French revolutions, helping to create the liberal democracies that remain our chief defence against Communism at one end of the political spectrum and Fascism on the other. Most of those values are taken for granted by mainstream populations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and much of Europe. Writing in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, Ralph Raico describes classical liberalism as
"the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade. Up until around 1900, this ideology was generally known simply as liberalism."
One might also include civil rights; democratic institutions; equal justice under the law; separation of religion, state, judiciary and education, and international co-operation. Although there is, of course, more to liberal values than these, they are all enshrined in articles of the US Constitution and implied or stated in the constitutions and laws of other democracies.
The role of liberalism in the reformation of Europe following World War II is made clear by Oxford historian Professor Martin Conway:
Liberalism, liberal values and liberal institutions formed an integral part of that process of European consolidation. Fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, the liberal and democratic identity of Western Europe had been reinforced on almost all sides by the definition of the West as a place of freedom. Set against the oppression in the Communist East, by the slow development of a greater understanding of the moral horror of Nazism, and by the engagement of intellectuals and others with the new states (and social and political systems) emerging in the non-European world to the south.
So far, so good. As Conway goes on to explain, however, a new liberalism inspired by Marxist-inspired left-wing ideology, began to replace the more classical forms across Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Marxist glamorization has inspired many liberals to abandon their original principles and betray what were its own best values, values that are still proclaimed but have become overridden by quite opposite ideas.
One subtle shift has been the emergence of political correctness, a form of Cultural Marxism (the theory that culture more than politics drives inequality between races and classes in Western societies). Political correctness started as a reasonable exercise to protect vulnerable members of society -- blacks, women, Jews, gays, the disabled -- from offensive speech and action but ended as a modern totalitarianism that blocks free speech and open debate on just about everything.
Today's youth, particularly on university campuses, have adopted ways of thinking and behaving that contradict all the ideas that were the fundamentals of classic liberalism. There are many examples, but the one that stands out above the rest is support for radical Islam and hard-line Muslims.
The most famous instance in the UK was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's embrace of members of the terror outfits Hamas and Hezbollah, which he described as his "friends". It took him until the summer of 2016 to say that he regretted his engagement with the terrorists.
In several European countries, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of Italy, governments have banned fully or in part the wearing of the Islamic veil; above all, the niqab and burqa, the full-face forms. One might have thought that Western feminists would be in the vanguard of such movements, as it could not be clearer that Islamic law oppresses women far more than ever happened in the West. A British Muslim physician, Qanta Ahmed, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown have openly and repeatedly called for the abolition of all forms of veiling. Muslim women reformers across entire the Islamic world have called for an end to veils of all kinds. In Iran this year, young women have been demonstrating on the streets without their compulsory hijabs, and at least 29 have been arrested as the regime clamps down again.
If some Muslim women call for the removal of the veil, however, they are often criticized by Western Muslims. The Franco-British academic, Dr. Myriam François-Cerrah, a hijab-wearing Muslim convert, published a vitriolic attack on Alibhai-Brown. Cerrah's piece, which appeared in the left-of-centre New Statesman, was entitled "The Feminist Case for the Veil". Alibhai-Brown, who describes herself as "leftie liberal, anti-racist, feminist, Shia Muslim, part-Pakistani", had just published a book entitled Refusing the Veil, in which she argues that Muslim women must abandon veiling because it conceals abuse, propagates eating disorders, and restricts access to sunlight and exercise; that it is imposed on babies and young girls, allows women to be shamed for not covering up, and has become associated with extremist factions; that it demonizes men, oppresses feminism, and presents obstacles to performance and success; and that it even encourages racism, distorts Muslim values, and strips women of autonomy and individuality. François-Cerrah bizarrely describes the book as "a socially conservative book that is dressed up as a liberal feminist manifesto" -- that from someone with an Oxford PhD.
That a clearly successful and independent woman such as Cerrah, who happens to be a Muslim convert, should attack this book so viciously is a clear testimony to just how the veil debate has created a serious rift within Western societies and has become a cause for concern, not just for non-Muslims, but for many Muslims, as well.
Other politically correct feminists also support universal wearing of the veil. In July 2015, a leading French feminist, Christine Delphy, published an opinion piece in the London Guardian in which she proclaimed that the French ban on veils and the tradition of French laïcité (secularism) were racist and that true feminists respect even the patriarchal customs of other races and religions.
Writing in New York's Jewish Tablet magazine in 2015, Heather Rogers relates how she at first dismissed criticism of misogyny within Muslim communities because "Westerners have no right to tell Muslims how to live" and downplayed arguments about the rate of Islamic honour killings. It was only on later reflection, she said, that she began to pose questions such as, "Why aren't more non-Muslim feminists speaking up about violence against women in Muslim-majority countries?" She then gives an example of how liberal feminists distort matters:
"In searching the Internet, I begin to find the vestiges of a discussion of the subject among Leftists, which suggests some reasons why many non-Muslim feminists choose to stay silent. One controversy is to do with an essay Adele Wilde-Blavatsky wrote in 2012 for The Feminist Wire, an online women's studies journal. Her piece says the hijab is a symbol of male oppression. A storm ensued. One response, signed by 77 academics, writers, and activists, said the essay was an assertion of Wilde-Blavatsky's 'white feminist privilege and power.' Instead of facilitating a discussion, however, The Feminist Wire editorial collective took down the comments, pulling the essay off along with them."
Referring to Muslim women in Iran and Turkey who struggle to break free of the restrictions imposed on them, Khadija Khan exposes the hypocrisy of Western women – those who support outright extremist Muslims who advocate for Islamic law, Sharia, which discriminates against women, such as Linda Sarsour:
These women -- who are trapped in despotic Middle Eastern dictatorships, and who face possible prosecution and having their lives ruined -- were given no attention by the... women marchers in the U.S. Evidently, feminists in the West were too busy wearing hijabs in solidarity with Sarsour and other promoters of Islamic law (sharia), which advises husbands to beat their wives and that in court, a woman's testimony is worth half a man's testimony; that daughters can receive only half the inheritance of a son, and that if a woman is raped, she will need four male Muslim witnesses, supposedly at the scene, to prove that she was not committing adultery.
Sometimes defence of the veil by Muslims who regard themselves as feminists can be self-contradictory. In 2014, the Daily Telegraph reported on a series of comments on social media, in which a number of Muslim women explained why they choose to cover their heads or faces. One user writes:
"I like to use it to promote feminism, however it is very hard to express it because of how people view it. There ARE a lot of women who are forced to wear it, and I think that's really wrong, no matter how religious or what country. The hijab is forced in some places in the world, or by certain people – especially men in many cases. I will not deny this. This is not feminism. I want to take this hijab and make it my own. First choose if I even want to cover or not. Define WHY and HOW. I will choose what colors I will wear. What materials. Not just black and white. I control if I want to use hijab pins, rhinestones, lace, or brooches. When I will wear it, how I will tie it. When I choose to take it off. It is my right. Also I will choose WHY I wear it. NOT wear it because someone told me to. These points combined promote feminism within women."
What sort of feminism admits is it that women are forced by men to wear the veil, but believe that wearing it is an expression of women's liberty just because she controls the colour and materials of her hijab? It sounds like a prisoner who thinks he is free because he is allowed to choose the design of his chains.
Another woman, who says she is a lawyer, writes:
"The biggest benefit that I enjoy by wearing [the hijab] is that people deal with me as an individual and not just according to my looks."
Why, though, would wearing a hijab make anyone more of an individual? If she has an attractive face, men will still take her looks into account, hijab or not. Worse, photographs of groups of Muslim women wearing full burqas and niqabs show them looking virtually identical, with their individuality totally erased.
There are, thankfully, some genuinely liberal feminists who see through this imposture. Award-winning journalist Abigail Esman recently published an article entitled, "The West Embraces the Hijab as Muslim Women Risk Their Lives for the Right to Choose":
[T]he West's concern seems to be far more about perceived "Islamophobia" than misogyny...
In fact, the new celebration of the hijab seems to be about celebrating all those things that we in the West generally condemn: pushing a new "must" trend for women in fashion and behavior... and above all, increasing the very real risks to those Muslim women who choose not to wear a head-covering by making models and icons of those who do.
Last year, an Irish journalist and government media advisor, Carol Hunt, condemned the double standards in an article for the Irish Times, "Why is feminism so quiet about Muslim women who refuse to wear the hijab":
So why then, do liberal, feminist calls for equality stop at borders? I am at a loss to understand why equality is purely for one particular group of people and not for others. If I believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then surely that shouldn't change no matter who I am or where I live....
She continues, arguing that some feminists and gay rights activists choose to support fundamentalist Muslims (who are anti-woman and anti-gay) instead of Muslim reformers:
In December 2015, the feminist and LGBTQ societies in Goldsmith University in London allied with the college's fundamentalist Islamic society, against the ex-Muslim human rights campaigner, Maryam Namazie. Namazie is a trenchant opponent of the sort of discrimination that is now unacceptable in Christianity but somehow admirable in Islam. Similarly, Maajid Nawaz, who works tirelessly defending Muslim communities in Europe, Pakistan and elsewhere from the "diktats of Islamist theocrats", found himself on a liberal list as an "Anti-Muslim" extremist.
Again, referring to the ex-Muslim feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Hunt continues:
She [Ali] asks why do we loudly defend a woman's right to wear the hijab but when it comes to supporting Muslim girls who refuse to wear it, feminism is strangely quiet? Women who wish to wear a veil should be able to, without criticism or social pressure to do so. But elevating the wearing of the hijab to a symbol of feminism struggle is twisted in the extreme.
Yet this is what happened earlier this year when women all over the US marched against the Trump ideology – at their head in New York was religious fundamentalist, "home-girl in a hijab", Linda Sarsour, a pro-Sharia advocate and an apologist for the atrocious Saudi regime.
What sort of benevolent bigotry is this? Meanwhile, liberal Muslims suffer, not just alienation and punishment from within their own culture, but a very loud silence from those of us who are terrified that by speaking out we may be dubbed Islamophobic or on the same side as the likes of Trump, Farage, et al.
Somali-born ex-Muslim author Ayaan Hirsi Ali "asks why do we loudly defend a woman's right to wear the hijab but when it comes to supporting Muslim girls who refuse to wear it, feminism is strangely quiet?" (Image source: Gage Skidmore)
In a recent piece for the Gatestone Institute, American author Bruce Bawer spotted the root of the problem. Giving examples of feminist support for Islamic practices that harm women, he focuses on Sweden:
Sweden's preferred type [of feminism] is not about universal sisterhood and the spreading of sexual equality around the globe. No, it is "intersectional" feminism. What is "intersectional" feminism? It is a species of feminism that, in accordance with the relatively new academic concept of "intersectionality," accepts a hierarchy whereby other "victim groups" -- such as "people of color" and Muslims -- are higher up on the grievance ladder than women, and whereby women who belong to those other groups enjoy an even more exalted status as victims than white female Christians or Jews.
What this means is that, although genuine feminists have made strides for women's rights in Western countries, they have helped set back the rights of young Muslim women to break free from the oppressive codes of an Islam defined and controlled by Muslim men. And that is only one level of leftist self-harm, as I shall explain in the second part of this article.
Dr. Denis MacEoin is a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at a British university and the author of books, articles and entries for encyclopedias such as The Encyclopedia of Islam.
 For a long list, see Ida Lichter, Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression, Amherst, 2009.