Pearsall's Books

This blog is defunct! Check out my new music blog at

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The strange case of Islamophilia

Continuing on (roughly) from my previous post, I've been thinking recently about the strange Islamophilia that has taken hold of so much of liberal thinking in recent years, especially in Britain. People who hold to this position believe (or at least publically believe) that Islam Is A Religion Of Peace, and that any sort of critical thinking or opposition to it is 'Islamophobic,' the new buzzword for what they see as irrational fear of Islam. Conveniently for them, they then equate Islamophobia to racism, today's greatest secular sin.

I don't need to go over again why I think it is muddled thinking to equate opposition to someone's religion to opposition to their skin color. I am more interested in why elements of the Left have gone so week-kneed at the thought of Allah. I suppose it comes from the fact that for much of the modern left the only principle that still matters is the worship of diversity.

I consider myself liberal-minded. By this, I subscribe to what I consider to be the key tenets of classical liberalism - democratic institutions, a strong civic culture, a robust support for free expression and freedom of conscience, free markets within a regulatory framework strong enough to control the excesses of capitalism, an interest in reducing inequality, a concern for the environment, and a basic respect and kindness towards people from backgrounds different from me. Fundamentally, I believe in the project of Western Civilization: in preserving the best elements of our past while always striving to progress further. I also believe that there are things that I personally, as well as Westerners more generally, can learn from other cultures, that life is a give-and-take process. Yet, I don't believe in 'embracing diversity' as some kind of mystical panacea for the problems of the world. The almost cult-like devotion of some on the Left to 'embracing diversity' means that, in practice, some very definitely illiberal stuff get championed out of sense of duty to the gods of multiculturalism.

Yes, I am talking about Islamic orthodoxy. One of the things that I have found strange in the post-September 11th world has been the iron-clad certainty of many liberals that Islam Is A Religion of Peace, and that is that. No need to discuss further. I have read members of the liberal commentariat bemoan the fact that Westerners don't understand enough about Islam, and that if they took the time to learn about it they wouldn't be so hostile to it. And that if the people can't become enlightened enough to share their perspective, then new laws against religious hatred must be brought in to protect Islam. I find these assertions utterly bizarre, precisely because these same sorts of commentators are generally aghast at the influence of Christian Conservatives in American politics. This sort of moral equivalence in the name of diversity is utterly intellectually bankrupt.

The funny thing is that I have spent some time trying to learn more about Islam over the last three years. Starting from the same orthodoxy point of 'it's a religion of peace!' I have read books, articles, watched documentaries and more about the history of the Muslim world, the factions and their various beliefs within Islam. I have tried to keep abreast of current goings on within the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. So, while I would hardly call myself an expert on the subject, I consider myself pretty well informed as compared to the average Westerner. After spending a certain amount of my time learning what I could about Islam, its ideas, its cultures, and its histories, I have to say that my opinion of orthodox Islam is considerably more nuanced than it was, and can freely admit that I have found a lot that wasn't to my liking.

Although obviously you cannot speak of Islam as a monolithic construct (there's certainly a huge amount of heterogeneity within its billion-plus adherents) I think it's entirely fair to make judgments about its main structures and some of its key ideological precepts that are held, to some degree, by all believers. My main problem with Islam lies in the fact that it, more than the other Abrahamic traditions, fuses spirituality and politics into a total system for life. I am by nature against systematic views of the world, stand-alone systems of belief that purport to explain all of life through one prism. And Islam, clearly, can function as one.

This is expressed most fully in the Sharia, Islamic law. I find the idea that there could be an entire body of law laid down by God for all eternity, able to provide answers to all of life's questions, pretty unconvincing. The idea that there is a correct 'Islamic' way to approach all aspects of life, no matter how mundane, is simply absurd, to my eyes at least. Yet few of Islam's non-believing defenders ever discuss this. Why?

|| RPH || 8:41 PM || |