Ross Douthat writes a thoughtful piece at the NYT Blog on how to understand and engage with Muslim critics of radical Islamism. He rejects those Western thinkers who limit the category of “moderate Muslims” to those, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Irshad Manji, who endorse Western liberalism absolutely and without qualification. He writes:
This school of thought strikes me as misguided. Manji and Hirsi Ali are brave and admirable, but what they’re offering (Hirsi Ali especially) is ultimately a straightforward critique of Muslim traditions and belief, not a bridge between Islam and the liberal West that devout Muslims can cross with their religious faith intact. If such bridges are going to be built, much of the work will necessari
ly be done by figures who sometimes seem ambiguous and even two-faced, who have illiberal conversation partners and influences, and whose ideas are tailored to audiences in Cairo or Beirut or Baghdad as well as audiences in Europe and America. That’s how change — religious, ideological, whatever — nearly always works.
On the other side, Douthat is clear that making “these kind of distinctions doesn’t require us to suspend all judgment where would-be Islamic moderates are concerned” and that ” forays into more dubious territory should be greeted with swift pushback, rather than simply being accepted as a necessary part of the moderate Muslim package.”
The debate over the Muslim mosque and community center near Ground Zero has resulted in a number of different, passionate reactions. Once the media took up the subject, politicians and leaders from all over the US weighed in rather quickly.
On Friday, even President Obama shared his view in favor of the mosque, stating “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”
Not surprisingly, critics of the mosque pounced. And their response was strong enough to push the President and his staff to “recalibrate” his comments from Friday evening more than once. Although his remarks were initially received as a deliberate endorsement of the mosque construction, President Obama apparently meant only to speak in favor of the project’s legality—not in favor of “the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque [near Ground Zero].”
Regardless of how you interpret the President’s statements this weekend, his clarification here suggests a crucial distinction underlying this Ground Zero mosque debate: even in a society that emphasizes personal liberty and freedom of religion, there may be a difference between what is legally permissible and what is morally permissible. Read more
Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose betwe
The World Trade Centre Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said 'no' to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.
Photo by Flikr user J.O.H.N. Walker under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
A church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to host an “International Burn the Quran Day” on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Their reasons for the book burning are pretty straightforward:
We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times,” Pastor Terry Jones told CNN's Rick Sanchez earlier this week […]“Eternal fire is the only destination the Quran can lead people to, so we want to put the Quran in it's [sic] place — the fire!
I suspect most Americans would immediately find such sentiments revolting because of the value of freedom of religion promised by the Constitution. Yet, this is not so much a question of freedom of religion as much as a question of respect for other religions – and this respect is of course not guaranteed by law.
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wo arguments for why we owe this respect to religions other than our own. The first is a type of epistemic modesty – knowledge of the inherent fallibility of your beliefs. Because you might be wrong and others might be correct, you should respect what others believe.
However, men such as Pastor Jones obviously do not believe in this fallibility, so here a consequentialist argument may do better. Since religions are often held as deep, passionate, metaphysical convictions that are unlikely to be changed through argumentation, the diversity of religions is simply a fact of life for the foreseeable future. So even if Jones is correct and Islam is “of the devil,” Muslims are never going to be convinced. Still, since intolerance and lack of respect for religions often leads to violence, strife, or at least unhappiness, adhering to a general rule of respect for all religions would have the best consequences for all.
I believe either of these two arguments would show that a Quran burning event is unethical.
Photo by Flickr user SarahWynee used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Last week CNN reported on a Georgia graduate student who is suing her university for forcing her to undergo remedial classes or face expulsion from its counseling program.
Jennifer Keeton claims the university violated her right to free speech and practice of religion by forcing her to undergo this extra program of classes, which was largely targeted at improving her tolerance of LGBTQ individuals. Keeton objected to completing this remediation program because she claimed that it would have forced her to alter her religious beliefs. Are Keeton’s objections to the remedial program valid?
Going through a remedial program designed to increase her exposure to individuals who might not share her religious beliefs is not in itself a way of forcing her to change those beliefs. Such a program might bring her to question those beliefs, but equally, Keeton could emerge from this sensitivity training with her religious convictions intact. This is a weak objection to completing the program.
Isaac Chotiner at TNR.com remarks on the controvery over the mosque construction near Ground Zero:
The New York Times front page story today on opposition to the mosque near Ground Zero has the following comments:
–The mosque would be an “unnecessary provocation.” (Sarah Palin)
–”It’s not about religion, and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive.” (Newt Gingrich)
–Abe Foxman said in an interview on Friday that the organization came to the conclusion that the location was offensive to families of victims of Sept. 11.
Are these not the exact same sentiments that were voiced by people who thought that Salman Rushdie should not have published The Satanic Verses, and that Danish newspapers should not have run cartoons featuring The Prophet Muhammad? The idea that people have some sort of right not to be offended is one the many silly and pernicious things about these arguments
Photo by Flickr user pnoeric used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
How appropriate is animus toward the new Ground Zero mosque?
A few months ago, news emerged of plans for a mosque and Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero. In the ensuing and continuing saga, Sarah Palin is but one of the latest to weigh in, tweeting “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in the interest of healing.”
John Esposito at CNN framed the moral question well: “Why should Muslims who are building a center be any more suspect than Jews who build a synagogue or center or Christians who build a church or conference center?”
What underlies the Palin position is the conflation of Islam, Islamism, and radicalism.
It seems rather improbable that the new mosque in practice will become a magnet for extremists. But the opposition to the mosque is concerned as much with the fear of terror as with the symbolism of a building that represents what is perceived as an alien and hostile culture. Read more
On The New York Times’ The Stone, its new philosophy commentary series, University of Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum wrote in response to Spain’s recent, narrow rejection of a ban on public wearing of the Muslim burqa.She gives a quick history of what Western political philosophy has said on the topics of equal rights and free exercise before examining five arguments commonly made in support of this sort of ban.
Her responses to the arguments are certainly convincing.Nussbaum effectively demonstrates the inconsistency or hypocrisy in Western resistance to burqas, and anyone who reads the piece is more likely to dislike the idea of banning burqas.
But her most compelling point is also the most unique: Westerners cannot seem to recognize the inconsistency of their arguments against burqas because they are Westerners, burqa-wearing is not traditionally Western, and burqa-wearers are not viewed as traditionally Western.
In a recent post, Jake brought our attention to an intriguing article on the politics of Islam, penned by Marc Lynch in Foreign Affairs. Lynch, who is responding to the neo-conservative author Paul Berman, accuses the latter of offering an overly simplistic rendering of the debate over modern Islam and its relationship to the Western tradition. Instead of imagining a continuous Islamist spectrum ranging from shifty but presentable Muslim intellectuals to preachers of hate and terrorists, Lynch argues that we should see the tussle that exists within the Islamic world as one between moderate and radical forces.
Lynch’s take is interesting and provides us with a fertile framework of analysis, but I’d like to indicate a few problems it raises. At the centre of his argument lies a great dilemma for liberalism. On the one hand, it seems to be in the interest of Western liberals to support moderate forces within Islam and side with intellectuals such as Tariq Ramadan in order to defeat the more regressive and violent strands, both on grounds of greater ideological affinity and strategic interest.
Yet, on the other hand, the “moderates” in question reject liberal values and promote views that are hostile – albeit less violently hostile than those of their Salafist opponents – to the West, such that reinforcing them is to work against the long-term interests of Western nations, not only in terms of foreign policy but also in terms of the relationship between Muslims living in the West and mainstream society.
The day before the Fourth of July, Tara Rowe from The Political Gameoffered her readers a guest post on relationship between one’s faith and one’s interpretation of political issues and of the US Constitution.In the end, it is a screed against America’s religious right and people like Glenn Beck, full of generalizations and frustration—but it raises some interesting questions despite all of the arguably unfair assumptions it makes.
Leonard Hitchcock, the guest poster, criticizes many conservatives for concluding “that political issues are really religious ones” and focuses on the religious reverence for the Constitution as sacred, God-given, and therefore immutable Scripture.Hitchcock, then, is working under the assumptions that political issues are not (and cannot be) religious issues and that one’s handling of the Constitution should show no sign of faith.
Are these conjectures correct?
America has had a history of idolization and myth-making when it comes to things like the Founders and founding documents ever since Lincoln’s time, so it might be incorrect of Hitchcock to portray the religious right’s behavior as new or unique.
And if we define one’s political view as part of one’s general worldview, and faith is a part of one’s worldview, then surely politics and faith will talk to each other at least on occasion.
But to what extent should one be allowed to claim the high ground on a political question by pointing to faith—something that does not lend itself to debate in the way politics does?
What happens to political discourse when religion is used as a sort of ‘Win’ button in political arguments?
Photo by Flickr user kc7fys used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.