Islam and Modernity: The interrupted Dialogue

The paradox of recent western intellectual interest for Islam is that it is embedded in contradiction; there is a strong call for the secularisation of Islam and, at the same time, a deliberate verging on Racism and hysteria from self appointed western liberals and secularists, making the dialogue, between Islam and modernity, Islam and secularism, illusory, if not impossible.

Some may argue that there was never a dialogue between Islam and modernity. This is a gross misinterpretation of history, and of the geography of Islam and its multiplicity. History tells us that Islam was the west's intellectual portal to modernity and that Arabic translations of Greek philosophers formed the basis for the first true enlightenment, well before the 18th century enlightenment . There is little common ground between these different Muslim individuals: a Saudi Muslim, a Syrian Muslim, a Palestinian Muslim, an Iranian Muslim, an Indian, a Lebanese, an Indonesian, a Turkish Muslim, and so on...
Some may argue that it is Muslim immigration to the west, and the lack of integration to their host countries, that is the problem behind the 'clash of civilisation'. However, demographic data show us that Muslims in the west and in most Muslim countries have completed their demographic transition toward a more secular society, they have high levels for the education of their children, boys and girls included, lower fertility and birth rates, better birth control, and so on...

The current question for a dialogue between Islam and the West is best formulated by Parvez Manzoor:

The unspeakable horrors of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ have put a big question mark on the future of Islam’s dialogue with modernity. The total collapse of moral order in the gruesome chain of kidnappings and decapitations in Fallujah and the annulment of war ethics and sanctioning of sadistic savagery in Abu-Ghuraib are hardly likely to promote further conversation. Any Muslim reflection on modernity as a universal insight into the human condition has therefore little meaning in a world where the Muslim has to run constantly for cover. Modernity’s claim for authority has now been eclipsed by the imperial demands for compliance and acquiescence – not only politically but also ideologically, not only militarily but also morally. What cogency then can an Islamic critique of modernity have, when the authority of modernity now simply reads as the power of Empire?

Mr. Manzoor concludes that the best way to resume the dialogue is through Faith and a dialogue on Transcendance. While I do not agree, as an atheist, that Faith is the best route for Tolerance and dialogue between religions, I am forced to admit that secular western intellectuals have been unheard advocating a dialogue. On the contrary, they have been embracing the imperial enterprise of the west on Muslim countries in the name of values, values, they insist, are part of the Judeo-Christian culture, promoted by nobody else than Zionist Jews and Christians alike ,on the basis of the fact that the US was founded only on Judeo-Christian principles. It is as if History starts with the foundation of the Americas and the new empire. If we are to take History seriously, one may speak of a Judeo-Muslim-Christian culture before promoting this false dichotomy between Judeo-Christian values and Islamic values, because this is the history of the people of the Middle East and Europe. There was no such a dichotomy before the new empire, the US, was even born. However, self appointed liberals are espousing this dichotomy in the name of western secularism whose only assumption is a false and contradictory one; the assumption that Christianity and Judaism are secular religions while Islam is not. Therefore, Islam should secularise or cease to exist. No self appointed secular is ready to recognise that Judaism and Christianity were never forced to secularise at a fast pace and without economic development and individual freedoms. So, our self appointed western secularists call islamic regimes who opress their people as moderate while they oppose any Islamic liberation movement from the inside. This is the contradiction at the heart of secular western critiques of Islam and one that is understood by Ordinary Muslims as a call for submission; Submission to the secular 'God' instead of submission to their faith. This is definitely an imperial enterprise supported by secularists either with their full knowledge or with an implicit bias toward the cultural roots of their own religion, in which case they are not true secularists.

I have therefore to admit, in the face of the failure of modern western secularism to promote Tolerance, a failure for which secularism is not the only responsible ( and this could be the subject of yet another lenghty post), that a dialogue on Transcendance and Faith is all we are left with in order to end this modern war of religions.

It is in this spirit that the atheist in me, and the midlle eastern Christian from a minority culture in the ME, recognises the role of Faith in society to end the non sensical ongoing religious war. And it is in this spirit that I wish my fellow bloggers and readers, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and people from other Faith or non faith, a happy Christmas and peace for the new year.

Tariq Ali: Mullahs and Heretics, a secular history of Islam

Turkey's secularism and the resurgence of eligion in the public sphere in the UK, the US, and France.

No comments:

Since March 29th 2006