Thursday, November 18, 2004

Reforming Islam from within and without: Irshan Manji

Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble With Islam, in an Op-Ed today's Times.

She highlights the difference in the experience of religious minorities in North America vs. in Europe. In North America, the idea of people of faith who are liberals or reformers is seen as acceptable. In Europe, however, it is seen as a contradiction in terms:

Because [North America] has long been a society of immigrants seeking religious tolerance, religion itself is not seen as irrational - even if what some people do with it might be, as in the case of terrorism. Which means Muslims in North America tend to be judged less by what we wear than by what we do - or don't do, like speaking out against Islamist violence.

But there's something else going on. The mass immigration of Muslims is bringing faith back into the public realm and creating a post-Enlightenment modernity for Western Europe. This return of religion threatens secular humanism, the orthodoxy that has prevailed since the French Revolution. Paradoxically, because many Western Europeans feel that they're losing Enlightenment values amid the flood of "people of faith," they wind up sympathizing with those in the Muslim world who resent imported values that challenge their own. Both groups are identity protectionists.

We see such protectionism playing out in the debate about whether Turkey may join the European Union. Reflecting a sizable segment of public opinion, European Union commissioners have argued that Turkey is too "oriental." And let us stay that way, proclaim some Muslim puritans who fear the promiscuity of pluralistic values. But is Turkey all that different from Europe?

It's a longtime member of NATO. Its so-called Islamist government has updated the country's human rights statutes to conform to the standards of the European Union. It's home to an astonishingly free press. Recently, a left-wing newspaper questioned the Koran's origins, a right-wing newspaper wrote about gays and lesbians lobbying for sexual orientation to be included in anti-discrimination laws, and a centrist newspaper editorialized that the education system should be reformed to promote diversity.

In an odd way, Europe's brand of secularism is more narrow and 'protectionist' than what one finds in the United States or Canada, where Bush-ian "Godliness" and multiculturalism have achieved an uneasy balance. The result, uneasiness aside, is a a somewhat healthier blend.


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