I recently gave an interview to Bread and Roses, the TV magazine hosted by Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya, on Europe’s migration crisis, Muslim immigration, the open borders debate and the question of profiling. (The interview begins about 7 minutes in).
There were a few errors in what I said, so before anyone else points them out, let me do so myself: The EU-Libya migration deal was concluded in 2010; the new EU-Turkey deal proposes that all irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece be sent back but also that there is a ‘one for one’ resettlement of one Syrian from a Turkish refugee camp for every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey (the interview was recorded before the latest deal was agreed); and if Europe were to host refugees in the same proportion as Lebanon, there would be 100m.
The interview has raised much comment and criticism, especially about open borders and Muslim immigration. I was not suggesting that all borders should be thrown open tomorrow. Such a policy would be both naive and unfeasible, not least for democratic reasons. As I have argued before, ‘Liberal immigration policies can be enforced only by winning public support, not in spite of public opposition’. Open borders may, as I said in the interview, be an ideal, but any implementation depends on context and circumstances. What I was pointing out, however, is that most of the common arguments against open borders do not stack up, and that it is the closing of borders that often create the very problems that they are supposed to solve.
As for Muslim immigration, the idea that such immigration is incompatible with the liberal freedoms and values of European societies has become received wisdom even among liberals. Such critics ignore the fact that what constitutes ‘European values’ are deeply contested. As I asked one critic on Twitter, ‘Are your European values the same as those of Victor Orban or of Marine Le Pen?’ Such critics also ignore the fact that Muslims are as diverse in their values as non-Muslim Europeans are. I have long observed that multiculturalists often take the views of the reactionaries as authentic or representative of Muslim communities, and they ignore the diversity and conflicts within Muslim communities. Much the same could be said of the critics of Muslim immigration. I will hopefully write more about these issues in the coming weeks.
“Such critics also ignore the fact that Muslims are as diverse in their values as non-Muslim Europeans are.”
I thought Muslims share a certain religion and rely on the same holy text.
All Christians also share a certain religion and rely on the same holy text. But nobody (I hope) would deny that Christians are deeply divided in their views on everything from abortion to gay marriage, from the ordination of women to Western intervention in Iraq. The same is true of Muslims. Certainly, all monotheistic religions have a particular holy text. But that text has to be interpreted. And different people of the same faith often interpret it differently.
European socities can no longer be explained by religion, they are predominantly secular. I don´t know how it is in britain, but in Germany only a bit more than half of the people are church memebers, and of these the majority are not practising their religion. As far as I became aware traveling in Europe, there are problems with Muslims everywhere, In France, In Norway, in Switzerland, in Germany.
That’s a non-sequitur. You challenged the idea that Muslim communities are diverse on the grounds that they ‘share a certain religion and rely on the same holy text’. I pointed out that texts have to be interpreted, and that there are always widely different interpretations. This is as true of Muslims as it is of Christians. The fact that European societies are predominantly secular has no bearing on this issue. Those who are Christian have to interpret their holy texts, and have to do so whether they live in predominantly religious or a predominantly secular societies.
They may be secular, but Wester civilisation derives all that is good about it, law, justice, notions of freedom, notions of civil society, from our Judaeo-Christian heritage. And that still holds true in a secular world. These aspects of society struggle to exist in Islam.
“They may be secular, but Wester civilisation derives all that is good about it, law, justice, notions of freedom, notions of civil society, from our Judaeo-Christian heritage.”
Not quite: https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/christian-europe/
“Those who are Christian have to interpret their holy texts, and have to do so whether they live in predominantly religious or a predominantly secular societies.”
I still can´t ssee a conflict between Muslims and Christians in Europe. Both christian churches in Germany f.e. are supporting migration from muslim countries. The conflict I see is between a secular society and an expilcitly regious minority insisting on living according to religious rules, even if they are in conflict with secular law.
“What I was pointing out, however, is that most of the common arguments against open borders do not stack up, and that it is the closing of borders that often create the very problems that they are supposed to solve.”
I would be interested to understand more about these arguments. Do you plan to elaborate in further posts? If not, can you suggest a useful source?
I have not written too much on this, but if I have the time will do so. As sources, the writings of Philippe Legrain and the philosopher Joseph Carens are useful.
“As for Muslim immigration, the idea that such immigration is incompatible with the liberal freedoms and values of European societies has become received wisdom even among liberals.”
It’s not Muslim immigration per se, but rather mass Muslim immigration (http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2015/10/02/immigration-and-social-order/).
“Such critics ignore the fact that what constitutes ‘European values’ are deeply contested. As I asked one critic on Twitter, ‘Are your European values the same as those of Victor Orban or of Marine Le Pen?’”
“European values,” “British values,” “Western values” — all these clearly refer to liberal Enlightenment values. Sure, people like Viktor Orban might not be politically or socially liberal themselves, but even they implicitly recognize these values, if only via lip service. To wit, even the queer-unfriendly Orban recently accused Merkel of “importing terrorism, crime, anti-Semitism and homophobia” in an interview with the German mass-circulation daily Bild” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-limits-of-humanity-merkel-refugee-policies-have-failed-a-1079455.html).
“Such critics also ignore the fact that Muslims are as diverse in their values as non-Muslim Europeans are. I have long observed that multiculturalists often take the views of the reactionaries as authentic or representative of Muslim communities, and they ignore the diversity and conflicts within Muslim communities. Much the same could be said of the critics of Muslim immigration.”
I’m a gay Muslim. Unlike non-Muslim Europeans, the vast majority of Muslims today still affirm the traditional consensus of Islam apropos homosexuality. Are there dissenting voices? Sure. But they are just that: dissenting voices, who are in the minority. As such, they are no more “representative of Muslim communities” than Islamist violence is. To point that out is not to “ignore the diversity and conflicts within Muslim communities”; precisely the opposite is true. There are rules and there are exceptions. Intellectual honesty requires one not to confuse the two.
To say that Muslim communities are diverse is not to suggest that Muslims are predominantly liberal, any more than to say that French Catholics or American evangelicals are diverse in their views is to suggest that they, too, are predomnantly liberal. Nor have I ever said that liberal Muslims are ‘representative of Muslim communities’ any more than I would say that liberal Catholics or liberal evangelicals are representative of those communities. Faith groups tend to have conservative social values, some more than others. But the point I’m making is that nobody (today at least) would suggest that to be a French Catholic or an American evangelical is incompatible with living in a liberal democracy.
Having said that, it is often the case that Muslim communities have more liberal views than people may imagine. Consider France, which has the largest population of Middle Eastern and North African origin in Europe. According to a
2011 study by l’Institut Français d’Opinion Publique (Ifop), 81% of practicing Muslims accept that women should have equal rights in divorce, 42% approve of the use of contraception before the age of 18, 38% support the right to abortion, and 31% approve of sex before marriage. I don’t have at hand the equivalent figures for practicing Catholics, but I would be willing to wager that they are not that different.
But more: the majority of those of North African origin in France are not practicing Muslims (only 40% call themselves ‘observant’ Muslims). 94% of those of North African origin accept that women should have equal rights in divorce, 64% approve of the use of contraception before the age of 18, 71% support the right to abortion, and 63% approve of sex before marriage.
This group is important because there is an automatic assumption that migrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries must be Muslims and, moreover, Muslims with reactionary views. But actually many of them are leaving their countries because they want to get away from Islamic rule.
Two caveats here: first French Muslim views tend to be more liberal than those in, say, Britain. The reasons for this are complex, and partly to do with issues such as the place of religion in the respective societies and the kinds of social policies pursued in each country.
The second caveat is that the one issue on which French Muslims are deeply conservative is homosexuality – 77% of practicing Muslims disapprove. And, worldwide, in most Muslim majority countries there is great hostility to homosexuality. But Muslims, while globally being more hostile to gays, are not alone in this. In France, the Catholic Church made common cause with Muslim organizations to oppose gay marriage. In Poland, nearly half the population disapprove of homosexuality, as is the case in Israel. In Russia the figure stands at 74%. In America, on the other hand, 39% of Muslims think that ‘homosexuality should be encouraged by society’ (45% don’t). Meanwhile 33% of US Republicans oppose anti-discrimination laws for gays .
The point I am making, once again, is not that Muslims are all liberals, but that they are not all reactionaries, and that in many ways their views are not that different from those of other conservative faith groups. But when people talk of the conservative views of Muslims all too often they fail to acknowledge either the diversity that does exist or the similarities with other conservative faith groups.
Finally, you suggest that
Well, actually for many people they don’t. For many ‘Europe’ is seen as a Christian continent, and the values that they see as ‘European’ are often deeply conservative, and conflicting with liberal Enlightenment values. We should not assume that a liberal view of Enlightenment values is what everyone takes to be ‘European values’ or ‘Western values’.
“But the point I’m making is that nobody (today at least) would suggest that to be a French Catholic or an American evangelical is incompatible with living in a liberal democracy.” #CategoryConfusion
Well, that’s because the primary issue with immigration is immigration, not religion. A French Catholic or an American evangelical or, for that matter, a British Muslim convert can be as conservative as they want precisely because they are already French, American, and British, respectively. That is to say, because they are children of the same civilization (http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2015/12/17/moral-sensibility-and-modernity/), their civic loyalties are generally taken for granted, hence the West’s blind spots with regards to homegrown terrorism, for instance. As journalist Peter Bergen has pointed out, four out of five Muslim terrorist incidents in America were committed by native-born, not immigrants. To be sure, religion can certainly inflame the immigration debate, but it is only the oil, not the fire. The fire is a nation’s sovereignty, its right to self-determination. As the US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote: “I always say, as you know, that if my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It’s my job.” Above all else, that is what animates Trump voters, for example. After all, they don’t just want to keep out Muslims, but Mexicans too, who, surely you will recall, are just about as Christian as they are.
“But Muslims, while globally being more hostile to gays, are not alone in this. In France, the Catholic Church made common cause with Muslim organizations to oppose gay marriage.” #FalseEquivalence
I wish Muslims all over the world would only “oppose gay marriage” or “anti-discrimination laws for gays.” But no, what they oppose is not merely my right to liberty that is the latter or pursuit of happiness that is the former; it is my right to life itself.
The debate however, is about whether or not Muslims with their views are compatible with the values of liberal Western societies. If the values of Christian conservatives are compatible with the fact of living within liberal democratic societies, then so are those of Muslims. It is not so much #CategoryConfusion as advocacy, on your part, of discrimination against particular categories of people.
A very odd phrase, but one that expresses the heart of the problem. Your claim here is that what matters are not just the values that people hold but the ‘civilizations’ into which people are born. Why are Islam and the West seen as distinct ‘civilizations’? Because you have defined them as so. The history of Europe suggests no such essential distinction. As I put it in a talk entitled ‘The many roots of Christian Europe, the many sources of the Islamic world’:
‘The history of both Christianity and Islam, their relationship to each other and to other traditions, and the relationship between Christian and Islamic values and those of modern, liberal, secular societies is far more complex than so much contemporary debate allows.’
What matters to me are values, not illusory civilizational categories. I oppose illiberal values, whether they are expressed by Christians, Muslims or atheists. And I oppose discrimination, whether by Christians, Muslims or atheists, against people merely because they are deemed to be of a different ‘civilization’.
First, this is disingenuous; the claim you are defending is that the presence in large numbers of people belonging to a specific religion – Islam – is incompatible with the existence of liberal democratic societies.
Second, it is true that the form in the West of the discussion of the defence of a ‘nation’s sovereignty’ has often become that of defending the nation against mass immigration. But as I have pointed out many times, immigration has not caused an erosion of sovereignty but has become symbolic of a democratic deficit and of the sense of people becoming politically voiceless and marginalized.
Of course I am not making a moral equivalence between people who kill gays and people who are religiously or ideologically hostile to gays. The discussion, however, was about values. You were questioning my claim that ‘what are called “European values” are deeply contested’, insisting instead that
I was pointing out that this is not the case, and that illiberal hostility to gays is very part of the European political and religious landscape.
“Why are Islam and the West seen as distinct ‘civilizations’? Because you have defined them as so. The history of Europe suggests no such essential distinction.”
Why are humans and animals seen as distinct “creatures”? Because you have defined them as so. The history of creation suggests no such essential distinction. See what I did there? The history of Europe is just that: history. The present is glaring in its clarity. That you do not like what you see is your prerogative. What is not, however, is objective reality. http://muslimlawprof.org/2016/01/recommended-reading-from-dhimmitude-to-democracy-by-usama-hasan/
“First, this is disingenuous; the claim you are defending is that the presence in large numbers of people belonging to a specific religion – Islam – is incompatible with the existence of liberal democratic societies.”
No, that’s just math. http://philpapers.org/rec/EDMCHM
“I was pointing out that this is not the case, and that illiberal hostility to gays is very part of the European political and religious landscape.”
And I was merely pointing out your breathless obscurantism and your remarkable ability to conflate illiberal Muslims and their Western counterparts as if their illiberal brands were virtually identical in both degree and popularity. https://youtu.be/dxyVD0-6Z1E
So, your answer as to why Islam and the West should be seen as distinct civilizations is ‘Because they are’. Not very helpful, but it does make my point for me.
And I am pointing out your remarkable ability to conflate ‘illiberal Muslims’ with those who would kill gays. Which once more makes my point for me.
“So, your answer as to why Islam and the West should be seen as distinct civilizations is ‘Because they are’.”
Again, because they are: because there are 57 countries in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and yet not one of them is a liberal democracy; and because there are numerous people on both sides who see that reality and, unlike you, accept it, which you would know if you had actually read Remi Brague, or Mark Lilla, or Roger Scruton, or Martha Nussbaum, or Marilynne Robinson, or Susan Neiman, or Amina Wadud, or Karima Bennoune, or Fatema Mernissi, or Irshad Manji, or Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim, or Khaled Abou El Fadl, or Tariq Ramadan, or Hamza Yusuf, or Abdul Hakim Murad, or Seyyed Hossein Nasr, or Salman Sayyid, or Joseph Massad, or Sherman Jackson, or Jonathan Brown, or, well, I can go on, really. This is the topic of my doctoral dissertation, after all. The bibliography really is quite endless. https://youtu.be/e403Hn3L9CU?t=59m5s
“And I am pointing out your remarkable ability to conflate ‘illiberal Muslims’ with those who would kill gays.”
If you are an illiberal, traditional, mainstream Muslim, you follow the schools of law. If you follow the schools of law, you either support the traditional consensus of the Shafi’is, the Malikis, the Hanbalis, and the Jaafaris which mandates capital punishment for homosexuality, or the traditional Hanafi dissent which mandates only corporal punishment. Now, of course, traditionally vigilantism is forbidden by the schools of law and you don’t, therefore, typically see Muslims going around randomly killing the gays themselves. Only an Islamic court conviction can justly necessitate an Islamic state to justly kill the gays. That is why my father did not kill me himself as “that would be unjust” (his words) and that is why I have the privilege of being here pointlessly arguing with you who clearly do not know what you are talking about. So, yes, it is completely true that illiberal Muslims, as long as they follow the schools of law, would not personally go out and kill the gays (or apostates or blasphemers) themselves. But that is only because they can’t, not because they won’t, as to follow the traditional position (i.e. gays ought to die) also requires them to properly follow the traditional procedures (i.e. but only after they are tried). In other words, if they could, they totally would. Now, I am no fan of illiberal Jews or illiberal Christians or illiberal anything, but I am a fan of facts, and the fact is, as much as it grieves me that Benedict XVI thinks that homosexuality is “ordered to an intrinsic moral evil” and that my very ability to love “must be seen as an objective disorder” by the Catholic Church, even he concedes that it is “deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action.” You see, an illiberal Christian is no illiberal Muslim. “Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs.” Not even close. “The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in work, in action and in law.” That you just do not seem willing or able to grasp that most basic of distinctions is why this will be my last visit to your blog. Have fun misleading others to ruin with your spineless brand of liberalism. https://youtu.be/cShGtgSMmjQ?t=10s
This reveals the problem with the simplicity of your argument. For a start, there are OIC countries that are democracies: Tunisia, Senegal, Benin, Albania, and Suriname, for instance. Others such as Guyana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are formally democratic states but in which democratic processes are flawed. Then there are those countries in the OIC which are undemocratic but in which the failures of democracy has nothing to do with Islam: Mozambique, for instance, where authoritarian rule was imposed by the Soviet-inspired liberation movement Frelimo; or Egypt, Syria and Iraq where authoritarian rule has been imposed by secular rulers and, in the case of Egypt, supported by the West. And then there are cases such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain in which powerful families have seized control and imposed an authoritarian, Wahhabist rule. When local opposition movements, especially in Bahrain, and mostly Muslim, rose in anger in 2011, inspired by the so-called ‘Arab spring’ insurgencies, they were brutally suppressed, with support from the West. For the US, in particular, Saudi Arabia is too important a geopolitical ally, and Bahrain too important as the home of the US Sixth Fleet, to take too seriously the fact that large sections of the Muslim population in those countries want freedom. Finally, it is worth adding that there are Muslim majority countries outside the OIC – Bosnia and Kosovo, for instance – which are democracies.
This complex set of facts and developments you reduce to the simplistic black-and-white ‘Islam is incompatible with liberal democracy’ claim. (incidentally, and before try to use this as another of your red herring arguments, I know you mentioned ‘liberal democracies’. But there are actually very few of these, whether Muslim or not. According to the latest Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, there are just 20 ‘full democracies’. Many, including many in Western Europe, are what the EIU index calls ‘flawed democracies’. The category of ‘authoritarian regimes’ contains, of course, a high number of Muslim countries; it also contains many non-Muslim countries mainly in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.)
If you were to look at Buddhist-majority countries, most – including Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Laos – are not democracies. Using your logic, should we say that Buddhism is inherently undemocratic, or that Buddhists values are incompatible with those of Western liberal democracy? The majority of African nations are not democratic. Neither are they Muslim-majority nations. So are we to say being African makes one undemocratic, and that being African is incompatible with the act of living in Western liberal democracies?
Well, let us look at the facts. Uganda is 89% Christian. It also, in 2014, passed one of the most vicious anti-gay laws in the world, not that different from those in places such as Saudi Arabia or Iran. The death penalty for homosexuality was eventually, after considerable pressure from the West, removed from the law, and replaced by life imprisonment. (The law was struck down by the Constitutional Court in August 2014 not because it undermined fundamental rights but for the narrow, technical issue of the quorum in parliament; it may yet be revived). There is considerable evidence that American evangelicals played a major role in encouraging and pushing Ugandan Christians to take such a hardline stance. And they have done so in many other countries too.
Other Christian-majority countries in which homosexuality is illegal include Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Liberia. On the other hand, there are Muslim-majority countries in which homosexuality is legal – including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Niger and Suriname. It is worth adding, incidentally, that most of the laws against homosexuality in African nations were established during the colonial period by the colonial powers. Facts to you seem to be anything that buttresses your black and white view of the world; facts such as these that cut against that view are simply ignored.
In all religions, the texts and traditions have to be interpreted. And they are interpreted in different ways at different times and at any one time differently by different strands of the same faith. In the past, Muslims often had more liberal views of sex and sexuality than many do today, and often more liberal views than many strands of Christianity. Today, Islamists and Wahhabists have seized control in many parts of the world helped not least by Saudi funding, and promoted hardline views on such issues. Anyone who is interested in facts would be looking to explain these historical changes rather than insisting on a black-and-white, unchanging view of Muslims and the West.
The Muslim scholar Mazen El Makkouk once said: “Sometimes it helps to boil things down. In my field . . . you can’t even think unless you’ve done some boiling down first: otherwise, how do you know what it is that you’re dealing with? What matters about these generalizations is how productive they are: do they make you understand something else? But making generalizations isn’t as easy as it might seem. Because you can only generalize if you already understand.” Which clearly you don’t, because you see a few exceptions and then move to pretend the rules no longer stand. Yes, there are numerous non-Muslim countries that are not liberal democracies, but their failure is one of politics, not of political theory. To wit, my mother is Thai. When I came out to her, she was devastated. But when she told my Thai, Buddhist grandfather about it, you know what he did? He laughed. And you know what he said? “Are you so Muslim now that you’re not even a mother anymore?” You see, my logic is just fine. Because facts. And the fact is, there is nothing inherently problematic about being Buddhist (or being African) that would stand in the way of being liberal and democratic. Sure, conservative Christians might rail against liberalism every now and then but the verdict of history is clear: they’ve lost, and the few of them that haven’t will lose, too. You know why? Because Jesus never established a Christian state. Because he never said a thing about homosexuality or a woman’s period. Because he never had slaves or wives. Because he never fought wars against the Romans or the Persians. In short, because his message, like the Buddha’s, was moral, not political. That is clearly not the case with Islam, with its comprehensive moral, legal, and theo-political norms. Sure, homosexuality might be legal in a few Muslim states but that is not because Muslims there have creatively developed an Islamic moral theology that reconciles homosexuality with Islam, but in spite of it. Yes, “most of the laws against homosexuality in African nations were established during the colonial period by the colonial powers” but are we still in the colonial period? I thought they were free now. That is to say, they elect to keep those laws, so you can’t keep blaming the West for everything. Female genital mutilation, for instance, predated Islam, and so did female infanticide, and yet only the former has survived and thrived even in Muslim societies like Malaysia and Indonesia, where the practice never existed prior to the Islamization of these societies. Why is that? Does it perhaps have anything to do with the fact that while the latter is forbidden by the Islamic tradition, the former is considered obligatory by the Shafi’is and meritorious by the Malikis, the Hanbalis, the Hanafis, and the Jaafaris? You see, when you choose to keep something, you have to own it. It’s on you now. You may call that black and white; I just call it common sense. As the journalist Padraig Reidy once said: “It actually is that simple. I wonder sometimes if the likes of [you] and others tie themselves in knots over these things because the simplicity itself is unappealing: “Where’s the angle?” they think. “Where’s the fresh perspective I can bring?” “What’s the clever thing to say here?”” And you, sir, are very clever, indeed.
So what does your generalization tell us? Does it tell us why throughout the histories of both Islam and Christianity there have been both liberal and illiberal strands in both faiths? No. Does it tell us why throughout much of its history what was normative in Islam was often more liberal than what was normative in Christianity? No. Does it tell us why Islamic attitudes to sex, sexuality and other social mores were very different to the predominant attitudes today, so much so that the nineteenth century Western view of the Ottoman Empire was as louche and decadent? No. Does it tell us why, as Shahab Ahmed puts it in his book What is Islam?, throughout Islamic history many social activities were ‘prohibited in legal discourse, but positively valued in non-legal discourse – especially amongst social and political elites’? No. Does it tell us why us why the Mu’tazilah and Rationalist movements, and philosophers such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd flourished from the ninth century on, and why they disappeared? No. Does it tell us about the popularity of the ziddiqs, and of poets such al-Ma’arri, who developed an atheist sensibility within the Islamic world more than half a millennium before such movements and such figures began to reshape the Christian world? No. Does it tell us why Wahhabism was an outlook on the very fringes of the Islamic world until it became a means for the Saud family to justify its seizure of power? No. Does it tell us why Islamism is a peculiarly twentieth century phenomenon? No. Does it tell us why fundamentalist strands have developed in all religions over the past thirty years? No. Does it tell us why just half a century ago, pious Muslims saw no problem in drinking alcohol, or why women rarely wore the hijab, let alone the niqab or burqa? No. Does it tell us why some of the most important groups challenging Wahhabism and Islamism, and fighting for a democratic future, are themselves Muslim? No. And so on.
What your generalization does tell us is your desperation to establish a fundamental distinction between Islam and the West and your willingness to brush away all inconvenient facts that stand in the way. When someone points out those inconvenient facts to you, you simply dismiss them as ‘exceptions’. Or try to obscure the issues by throwing around a few insults.
You suggest that Christians have no problem with liberal modernity
The trouble is, Christians who think that homosexuality is a sin, or should be killed, base their arguments on Biblical texts, mainly Leviticus, Matthew, Romans and Corinthians. Of course, those who argue for gay equality also find their sources in the Bible.
For centuries, too, Christians justified the burning of witches and the enforcement of slavery on Biblical grounds (Exodus: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’; Leviticus: ‘You may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you’). Few Christians believe that today. That’s not because the text has changed but because they now interpret it differently.
Much the same is true of Muslims. Muslims read the same Qur’an today as they did 1400 years ago. Yet they read it very differently, even those who think they read it ‘literally’. Jihadis, moderates and liberals all read the same book and come to very different moral conclusions. Each interprets the Holy Book differently. ‘To interpret it differently’ means bringing to their reading already formed moral views about women’s rights, homosexuality, apostasy, just war and punishments, and finding in the Qur’an values that justify those views. Without already possessing a moral framework, it would be impossible to interpret the book in the first place.
As societies change so do moral values, and believers’ interpretations of God’s will. Religious injunctions may appear absolute and inviolable but how humans understand them has shifted and changed over time. One should not mistake what is normative in canonical or legal works for what is universal, and be blind to how texts and traditions have been interpreted over time. Aatish Taseer, whose father Salmaan Taseer was governor of Punjab province, and who was assassinated by one his bodyguards for speaking out against blasphemy laws, wrote of the rage that let to his father’s death and to hundreds of thousands seeing his killer as a hero: ‘The form of Islam that has appeared in our time — and that killed my father and so many others — is not, as some like to claim, medieval… It is modern in the most basic sense: It is utterly new.’ And there is much truth in that.
Of course, I do not expect you to agree with any of this, because it does not fit in with your generalization. That, however, says more about your generalization than it does about the facts.
Oh, Kenan, do you even know how to read? Every ignorant moron knows that every religion is, in varying degrees, illiberal in the premodern period, which is why I thought it was clear that everything I said here was only about the present (cf. “Unlike non-Muslim Europeans, the vast majority of Muslims today”), not the past (cf. “The history of Europe is just that: history. The present is glaring in its clarity.”). I do not get to teach a class in Islamic intellectual history by being an essentialist (it’s “zindiqs,” by the way, not “ziddiqs). Civilizations are like races: they are distinct, yes (otherwise Rachel Dolezal would never have been a household name), but that does not mean there is no overlap (and I never said there was; hello, I’m of mixed blood myself). Finally, I am a Muslim (cf. “I’m a gay Muslim.”), just another fact which has clearly escaped your violent misreading of everything I’ve said here. And not just in name: I actually like praying five times a day; I just happen to be liberal and gay. That is to say, those people “challenging Wahhabism and Islamism, and fighting for a democratic future,” who “are themselves Muslim,” I am one of them. That you have so sorely mistaken my critique for malice only betrays your own prejudices. Oh, Kenan, be well.
Yes, I know you wrote right at the outset that you were a gay Muslim. But the fact that you are, is neither here nor there. I was challenging your arguments, not you as a person (which is why I never brought the issue into the discussion). Whether you are Muslim or non-Muslim, gay or straight, I would challenge your arguments in exactly the same way.
You claim that ‘I thought it was clear that everything I said here was only about the present’. Actually you are quite happy to drag in history when it suits you (‘Because Jesus never established a Christian state. Because he never said a thing about homosexuality or a woman’s period. Because he never had slaves or wives. Because he never fought wars against the Romans or the Persians’). In any case, the claim that in a discussion such as this, one can talk about the present without also talking of history (how we have arrived here) is part of the problem.
And, no, civilizations are not like races. I don’t know whether the problem lies in your concept of races, or of civilizations, or of both. But since I don’t want to enter into another long, pointless discussion I will leave it at that.
I am happy for you that you are a gay, liberal Muslim and fighting for a democratic future. But that raises an interesting question. Why do you assume that others cannot be, too? And if you are able to make your Muslim values compatible with those of Western liberal modernity, why do you insist on a fundamental incompatibility between the two?
But thank you for the discussion, such as it was. I cannot, however, see much point in prolonging it any further.
“Actually you are quite happy to drag in history when it suits you (‘Because Jesus never established a Christian state. . . .”
Actually, no. I only invoked history to prove my point about why the present realities are so stark between Islam and the West (i.e. “Sure, conservative Christians might rail against liberalism every now and then but the verdict of history is clear: they’ve lost, and the few of them that haven’t will lose, too. You know why? Because Jesus never established a Christian state. . . .”). Your invocations of history, on the other hand, were consistently riddled with category confusion. Anthropology is not theology, Kenan, and the regulative is not the normative. That is why that whole paragraph from “Does it tell us why Islamic attitudes to sex, sexuality and other social mores were very different to the predominant attitudes today, so much so that the nineteenth century Western view of the Ottoman Empire was as louche and decadent?” to “Does it tell us why just half a century ago, pious Muslims saw no problem in drinking alcohol, or why women rarely wore the hijab, let alone the niqab or burqa?” is so beside the point, and you would know that if you were only trained in theology. Yes, Christians have historically justified all sorts of evil, reprehensible things by appealing to the Bible, but what they cannot do is say that Jesus did all those things himself, hence my “Jesus never” litany, for instance. That the reverse is true for Muslims is indisputable. That is why when Muslims stone people to death for adultery, for instance, they can legitimately claim to follow the example of the Prophet (sunna) simply because that is what he did, but when Christians stone people to death for the same thing, they can’t claim imitatio Christi when the example of Christ was famously this: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!” Now, you can go down the list of all the heinous things that Christians used to do but at the end of the day, as my systematic theology professor once said, “they amount to nothing in the light of Christ.” Now, at this point you can certainly bring up the Jews, sure, because they have a law too, right? But here’s the thing: unlike Muslim jurists, their legislative authority, as relegated to them by the Talmud, is boundless. As Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur tells the story: “Rabbi Yehoshua gets up and says to God: “This discussion does not concern You! You entrusted us with a law, a responsibility, now it is in our hands. Stay out of our discussions.” That is how the rabbis of the Talmud spoke to God, with a certain lack of respect, telling him: “Don’t intervene in the debates of men, because the responsibility you entrusted to us is in our hands.” This episode ends even more strangely, with the reaction of God. Hearing these words, states the Talmud, God began to laugh gently: “My children have beaten me!”” Tell that to a Muslim scholar and he will cry blasphemy. That is why Jews have had a state in Israel for decades and yet never once have they clamored for anyone who breaks the Mosaic law to be put to death. By contrast, the best that the most progressive mainstream traditionalist scholars like Tariq Ramadan could stomach is a moratorium, precisely because the Islamic tradition gives them no authority for revision, much less abolition.
“And, no, civilizations are not like races. I don’t know whether the problem lies in your concept of races, or of civilizations, or of both. But since I don’t want to enter into another long, pointless discussion I will leave it at that.”
They are but touche.
“Why do you assume that others cannot be, too? And if you are able to make your Muslim values compatible with those of Western liberal modernity, why do you insist on a fundamental incompatibility between the two?”
I do not assume, Kenan; I know. I’ve been to countless Muslim gatherings in the West and talked to numerous Muslim scholars who lecture at these gatherings. I’ve asked every question a gay Muslim man in his 20s could possibly ask his venerated elders and oh, how their facial expressions, body language, and overall demeanor change the moment I tell them I’m gay. Every single time. So trust me, I know. Or don’t trust me, I honestly don’t care, because I still know. Because I can feel it in my body: the pain, the agony of knowledge (“ignorance is bliss,” indeed). That is why like the Hebrew prophets, Muslims like me don’t sugarcoat. Because like Randall Jarrell’s Gertrude, I know and I remember: “Yet Gertrude could have replied, with justice, that she was far more of a moralist than Spinoza. Did he not say that he had “labored carefully not to mock, lament, and execrate, but to understand”? Gertrude had labored carefully to mock, lament, and execrate—to condemn utterly; and to do so it had also been necessary for her to understand, for her to have at the tips of her fingernails the Facts. The world divides into—Gertrude had read—facts; and the facts were what Gertrude knew. Were Memory truly, as the Greeks feigned, the Mother of the Muses, she would long ago have traded all nine of her daughters for Gertrude. Gertrude was knowing as Time. All cliches, slogans, fashions, turns of speech, details of dress, disguises of affection, tunnels or by-passes of ideology, gravestones of rationalization and cant lived in Gertrude as though in nutrient broth; and Gertrude nourished them unharmed, knowing all, believing none.” Except that I am, as a matter of fact, harmed, from the clinical depression to the physical bruises (hate crimes are no jokes). Except that I do still believe. How, you ask? Because, among other things, Alasdair MacIntyre: “Every tradition, whether it recognizes the fact or not, confronts the possibility that at some future time it will fall into a state of epistemological crisis, recognizable as such by its own standards of rational justification, which have themselves been vindicated up to that time as the best to emerge from the history of that particular tradition. All attempts to deploy the imaginative and inventive resources which the adherents of the tradition can provide may founder, either merely by doing nothing to remedy the condition of sterility and incoherence into which the enquiry has fallen or by also revealing or creating new problems and revealing new flaws and new limitations. Time may elapse, and no further resources or solutions emerge. For the adherents of a tradition which is now in this state of fundamental and radical crisis may at this point encounter in a new way the claims of some particular rival tradition, perhaps one with which they have for some time coexisted, perhaps one which they are now encountering for the first time. They now come or had already come to understand the beliefs and way of life of this other alien tradition, and to do so they have or have had to learn . . . the language of the alien tradition as a new and second first language.” And that is how I did it: by adopting liberalism as my “new and second first language.” Which is why, in mainstream Muslim circles, I am held to be guilty of innovation (bid’a). You see, it’s not I who “insist on a fundamental incompatibility between the two”; they do. I am merely faithfully transmitting to you what they say, what they tell me right to my face. “The worst things are those that are new,” they like to tell me. “Every novelty is an innovation, every innovation is an error, and every error leads to hellfire,” as the Prophet is reported to have said. Indeed, as Bernard Lewis has perceptively observed: “The gravamen of a charge of bid’a against a doctrine was not, primarily, that it was false but that it was new — a breach of custom and tradition, respect for which is reinforced by the belief in the finality and perfection of the Muslim revelation. There is thus an important distinction between the Christian notion of heresy and the Muslim notion of bid’a. Heresy is a theological transgression, a wrong choice or stress in doctrine. Innovation is a social more than a theological offence.” You see what I’m up against? That is why I said illiberal Muslims are nothing like their Jewish or Christian counterparts. Because they’re not: not because I want them to be; not because I insist that they are. Because really, why on earth would I do that? I’m gay, not a masochist.
“But thank you for the discussion, such as it was. I cannot, however, see much point in prolonging it any further.”
OK, here we go again. I will keep this as short as I can.
‘I only invoke history to…’ means that you do invoke history; hence my point that ‘you are quite happy to drag in history when it suits you’. You can’t have it both ways.
My point exactly. One should not be so caught up with theology that one ignores the way that people, Muslims, Christians, others, actually live their lives. As I’ve already put in a previous comment, ‘One should not mistake what is normative in canonical or legal works for what is universal, and be blind to how texts and traditions have been interpreted over time.’ And which is precisely why history and the history of changing attitudes and behaviours and moralities is so important.
Surely what that suggest is that what matters is not your focus on what Jesus did, but how Christians actually justify their acts and beliefs and norms.
But you don’t. You consider yourself pious but have a different view. If you are able to take a different view so are others. So, the question is not ‘Why cannot Islamic views on homosexuality, women’s rights, democracy, etc be any different?’ (because your own example shows it can be) but ‘Why is it not different today?’ And that takes beyond simply theology to history, sociology and anthropology. Your views are, indeed, in a minority today, but that does not mean that this is because Muslims are fundamentally illiberal and always have to be. Even today, social attitudes depends on social context. Bosnian Muslims are far more liberal than Pakistani Muslims. British Muslims are more conservative than French Muslims. According to a Pew poll, 39% of US Muslims think ‘homosexuality should be encouraged by society’. And so on.
You are confusing here that which is and that which can be. I am not denying that a great illiberalism has taken hold of Islam. What I am challenging is the idea that this has always been and always will the case.
There are, as you must know, openly gay imams in the USA, France, and elsewhere. Again, to point this out is not to suggest that their views are representative or any more than that of a tiny minority. Nor is it to deny that they – like you – face great hostility from fellow Muslims. But what it does show is that such debates and developments are taking place. What is the norm now was not the norm half a century ago, nor need it be the norm half a century from now.
I have great admiration for your strength of will and fortitude. But, again, your experience is not an argument that what the majority of Muslims believe now they have always believed or will always believe.
My father was Muslim and I grew up (in Britain) in Muslim communities, though I gave up my faith early. My parents’ generation saw themselves as pious, but piety meant something different to them. Men would drink, women never wore a hijab, they attended mosque only when the ‘Friday feeling’ took them. My own generation was largely secular; those who were religious had liberal social views, including on gay rights. It was in the late 1980s/early 1990s that this changed, and a starker, more hardline, more illiberal form of Islam gained hold. The question, in other words, goes well beyond that of theology; it is about the social, political and intellectual changes that have led such hardline, illiberal forms of faith to take hold.
Again, thanks for the discussion. Keep well.
“‘I only invoke history to…’ means that you do invoke history; hence my point that ‘you are quite happy to drag in history when it suits you’. You can’t have it both ways.”
You invoked history first to argue that Islam and the West are not distinct civilizations. I only did it to respond in kind: to argue that while there have been changes throughout history and overlaps between the two, Islam and the West remain two distinct civilizations, whose ancient roots continue to provide powerful reference points which are themselves distinct. That is why it is easier for my Christian boyfriend and his family to be liberal in this present day and age than it is for Muslims like me and my family to be so, because when they look back at what Jesus did, they don’t see what I see when I look back at what the Prophet did. That’s not having it both ways; that’s looking at two different things and being honest about seeing two different things.
“And which is precisely why history and the history of changing attitudes and behaviours and moralities is so important.”
I agree, that is important, but it actually makes my point for me. Do you know why all those things that you mentioned, from the rationalist movements during the high middle ages to the relatively liberal social attitudes in the late modern period never managed to last in the Muslim world while the reverse is only too painfully true in the West? Because time and again, those “advocating universal values,” as Maged Atiya has pointed out, tend to lose out eventually owing to the Islamic civilization’s sunna-oriented, bid’a-averse preference of “authentic decline to foreign improvement.” The West may have ninety nine problems but structural, civilizational aversion to intellectual innovation is not one of them, and that one particular distinction is why in the West, substantive changes not only occur organically but last organically, despite equally organic opposition from its more conservative forces. That’s how you get to the Enlightenment from the scholasticism, to gay marriage from Leviticus: not because there are a few gay priests or rabbis here and there but because there are literally thousands of straight allies in the clergy and the rabbinate, many of whom over the years have stood and marched, written and spoken out in support of their gay brethren. Meanwhile, can you name an ayatollah or a mullah or a mufti or a sheikh or a mawlana who is straight and loves the gays? Pardon my impudence, but my point simply is that attitudes and behaviors — what people do — may change for a time but whether it will change over time — whether it will last — depends entirely on whether moralities and modalities of faith — what people believe they ought to do — change with them, not in spite of them not changing. I have Muslim friends who drink, for instance, but it’s not because they think it’s not a sin anymore, but in spite of it. That’s meaningless to me, which is why I suppose we must simply agree to disagree. Maybe it’s the generational or vocational divide, but presently I simply do not share your optimism. I do, however, appreciate it all the same. Thank you.
I am greatly tempted to respond, particularly to the claim that
which, in my view, gravely simplifies, and misstates, the history of both Europe and of the Islamic world, and of the relationship between them; but this discussion has gone for too long without much forward movement, and I cannot see that continuing will change that much. So I will desist. But thanks for the discussion and keep safe.
Just curious, but I’ve seen a lot of poll results being touted around that apparently show that large proportions of average Muslims around the world support radical Islamist views (not just on homosexuality), or answered yes to violence being used for these aims. (I’m paraphrasing, I can dig them up later if needed.)
Also, the ‘liberal’ position on divorce isn’t just for women to merely have equal rights. To put it briefly most traditional laws, including Islamic, allow a woman to be entitled to the husband’s money in marriage and divorce, which is why women had less power to divorce. If you give women the male rights without dismantling the traditional female entitlements, you have a system where women have the power to frivolously divorce and gain settlement money from the man every time, while men often languish in jail.
So UKIP are the equivalent of Pegida and Front National?
As well as everyone who voted?
No, this is what I wrote in my preface to a book on European populism:
It’s not clear whether you heard the interview Sam Harris did with Maryam Namazie. During the “profiling” bit, where she had been against it, she suddenly declared that it was ok to profile all Salafis because then “you would be profiling Islamists”. In context of the full conversation that was pure bad logic. As Harris said, “You’re against profiling Muslims, but say it’s ok to profile a sub-set that could run into hundreds of millions.” I note that she didn’t bring that up.
You seem to be saying that because profiling is letting the terrorists win, then we should do nothing. I’m not entirely sure how all of those terror threats in the UK over the last number of years got thwarted, but I doubt it was 100% public reporting of suspicions or pure coincidental stumbling across a plot.
No, I am saying that profiling Muslims as a group is, from a security point of view, useless, first because profiling ‘anyone who could conceivably be Muslim’ (Sam Harris’ words) would actually mean profiling just about everyone, since telling who is a Muslim by appearance is impossible; and second because 99.9% Muslims are not jihadists anyway. Bruce Schneier’s debate with Sam Harris sets out well the argument against the security value of profiling.
I don’t understand what you mean by migrant crisis. According to you we just need to open the borders and Europe will be flooded with millions of migrants and everything would be hunky dory. So what does in your world view constitute this migrant crisis?
I have to correct myself. According to you blocking migration does not work anyway. So we are flooded with millions of migrants and according to your worldview this has only positive economic effects. So we gonna be even more rich than before. So there actually is not a migration crisis but a migration boom.
You are being disingenuous again. When it comes to migration you say that “Anxieties about immigration are an expression of a wider sense of political voicelessness and disengagement. Until that underlying political problem is tackled, the arrival of migrants on Europe’s shores will continue to be seen as a crisis.“ (https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/democracy-morality-and-the-migrant-crisis/)
So you can’t actually convince people that immigration is good rather you must solve the underlying problems. But then you turn around when it comes to Caldwell and Kaufmann you claim that “Lacking the conviction that it is possible to win peoples of different backgrounds to a common set of secular, humanist values he, like Caldwell and Steyn, declares that demography is destiny.“ (https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/from-the-archives-kaufmann-on-religion/)
So whenever you fail to convince somebody it is due to underlying problems but whenever others say they can’t convince somebody it is their failure.
It is the same with your stance on free speech (I like your stance on free speech). You try arguments, but you are not convincing.
Lastly: You acknowledge at least partly the general trend of radicalization in the Muslim world:
Today, Islamists and Wahhabists have seized control in many parts of the world helped not least by Saudi funding, and promoted hardline views on such issues. (https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/talking-migration-muslims-and-morality/)
Islam in Sri Lanka is also changing. It used to be a relatively open, relaxed faith. Yet I was struck by how many women there now wear the burqa, something unimaginable a couple of decades ago. Many Sri Lankan Muslims, it appears, have gone to Gulf states as laborers, and returned bearing a sterner strain of Islam. (https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/the-case-for-freedom-where-it-is-most-fragile/)
It is not from first generation Muslims, but from the generation that has come of age since the late 1980s, a generation that, ironically, is far more integrated than the first generation, that the Islamists and reactionaries draw most of the support. (https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/populism-what-why-how/)
But what is your suggestion? Do you have any realistic workable set of policies or concrete pieces legislation.