Monday, May 27, 2013

Quotes from "Can Liberalism Tolerate Islam?" (by Abdal-Hakim Murad)

Here, I think, the official finger rests on the Achilles heel of secular liberal ethics. If we must be intolerant of intolerance, then can liberalism tolerate anything other than itself? If Europe defines citizenship in terms of adherence to a set moral template, with all else defined as intolerable, how can Europe ever positively experience real difference, which more often than not is bound up with good, or bad, religion? 
An icon of European exclusiveness was supplied in 2004 when the Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione was forced to resign as a European commissioner when it emerged that he supported the Vatican’s line on homosexuality. Despite his insistence that his belief in the sinfulness of the practice would not affect the decisions he took in public life, the consensus of European officialdom obliged him to resign. The Italian Justice Minister, Roberto Castelli, objected in a futile way, by calling the ban ‘a decision which shows the real face of Europe, a face which we do not like. It’s fundamentalist, which is absolutely not on.’ But his view provoked only frowns. 
Muslims have watched with concern this striking proof of how categorically Europe has walked away from its traditional Christian values and authorities. It is interesting, also, as proof that European citizenship appears to be a matter of conformity to certain sacrosanct social beliefs, in this case, the historically anti-Christian belief that conscientious opposition to homosexual practice is so wicked that those who hold such beliefs must be excluded from public office. As Buttiglione himself remarked, ‘The new soft totalitarianism which is advancing wants to be a state religion. It is an atheistic, nihilistic religion, but it is a religion that is obligatory for all.’ 
It is possible that this imposition of social beliefs will become more intense, despite its apparent clash with principles of freedom of conscience. In 2009, Nick Clegg (now the British Deputy Prime Minister), said that children attending faith schools should be taught that homosexuality is ‘normal and harmless’. Special lessons, he opined, should be required of such schools to encourage tolerance for this practice. 
It seems reasonable to predict that the concretisation of such social beliefs and their imposition through law and a media monoculture will continue. Many will recognise in this a reversion to historic European norms, alien to Islam, of imposing a standard belief pattern on the king’s subjects. Cuius regio, eius religio. Liberalism of a particular socially prescriptive kind seems to be filling the void left by religion, and, Europe being the historic land of the divine right of kings, religion here is often more closely bound up with politics than in traditional Muslim states. In this case, the condemnation of sodomy functions as a blasphemy, or a ‘speech violation’. Other blasphemies include, for instance, the idea that men and women are suited for different tasks, that the death penalty is a just punishment for murder, that parents may use corporal punishment to discipline their children, and that unbelievers are less pleasing to God than believers. The list is quite a long one, and it seems to be growing. [...] 
If Europe is once again finding a kind of unity in its allergy to Muslimness, can Muslims find any allies in this landscape? Tariq Ramadan, in his book To be a European Muslim, implies that a marriage is possible with environmentalist and left-wing groups who are dismayed by the rise of anti-immigrant feeling. Pim Fortuyn’s assassin was, after all, a militant left-wing vegetarian who wished to defend Holland’s Muslims from Fortuyn’s plans for a liberal persecution. And many of the emerging British and European Muslim organisations seem to sympathise with Ramadan’s approach. After all, when marching against the invasion of Iraq, or campaigning against arms sales to brutal elites in the Middle East, one usually finds oneself sharing an umbrella with Fabian or CND types, not the Young Conservatives. Hence the popularity of the likes of George Galloway among Muslims. 
Such an alliance, however, is likely to be, at best, a tempestuous marriage of convenience. Muslims and the left may converge on Iraq, or Israel, or globalisation, but on domestic matters they stand at opposite poles. The Green movement, and virtually all on the Left, are fiercely pro-homosexual and feminist. It seems clear, then, that European Muslims are unlikely to forge a stable relationship with the Left. [...] 
Yet we should note that the pressure being brought to bear on Muslim communities relates to social, not doctrinal, beliefs. No-one in Brussels is greatly concerned about Muslim doctrines of the divine attributes, or prophetic intercession; but they do care about whether or not Muslims believe in feminism. This places Muslim believers in a historically new position. It should be possible to forge close friendships with other Europeans who also have the courage to blaspheme against the Brussels magisterium. We may differ with conservative Catholics and Jews over doctrine, but we are all facing very similar challenges to our social vision. Signor Buttiglione could easily have been a Muslim, not a Catholic, martyr. 
Here, I believe, a burden of responsibility rests upon the shoulders of Muslim leaders. It is in our interests to seek and hold friends. We are not alone in our conscientious rejection of many liberal orthodoxies. The statement by Bishop Michel Santer of the French church condemning the official punishments imposed on women who wear the niqab is an important sign of the possibility of cooperation. The challenge is going to be for Muslim, Christian and Jewish conservatives to set aside their strong traditional hesitations about other faith communities, and to discover the multitude of things they hold in common. To date, clearly, the interfaith industry has failed to catalyse this, partly because it tends to be directed by liberal religionists. We are more and more willing, it seems, to discuss less and less, and to conform more and more to the moral consensus of a secular and individualistic world. 
However an alliance sacrée between orthodox believers in different religions would, I think, deflate the potentially xenophobic and Islamophobic possibilities implicit in the process of European self-definition.
-Abdal Hakim Murad. March, 20, 2011.


Part 2: