When will Islamic dissidents get the same respect that Soviet and Maoist refuseniks received?
That was my first thought after dipping into the ongoing debate over the future of Islam in Europe. On one side you have Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash who says Europe needs to find a new way, a third way to relate to Muslims and vice versa. Garton Ash has been accused of advocating a kind of voluntary "multicultural apartheid," a doctrine of separate but equal, one standard for Muslims, one for the rest of Europeans, and never the twain shall meet. He and the Anglo-Dutch writer Ian Buruma, author of Murder in Amsterdam, save their harshest words for Islamic dissidents like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they accuse of being counter-productive "Enlightenment fundamentalists," as if advocating reason, human rights, and religious freedom were an extremist position. Such self-hating European intellectuals -- whose mantra is "where do we get off criticizing extremists, we whose fathers were colonizers and Nazis and fascists and Stasi" -- cannot imagine asking Muslims to assimilate into a wicked Western capitalist society. Neither can they completely support Islam with its misogynistic tendencies, its homophobia and intolerance, and the way it treats apostates (i.e., murders them). Thus, a third way is needed.
Only this proposed Third Way seems an awful lot like Jim Crow, with laws mandating exclusive beaches, public pools, and hospitals for Muslims only, to match the private madrassas where young Muslims are taught prejudice and hatred of the infidel West from Wahhabi imams and Saudi-funded textbooks.
This Third Way between Islam and the West that Garton Ash and Buruma tout is reminiscent of the middle ground some intellectuals sought between capitalism and socialism. Of course, few Muslims will be interested in any such compromise, especially as their numbers (and political influence) increase across Europe. And what Westerner will voluntarily give up his freedom?
My feeling is that the West needs to make a fundamental shift in the way it views Islam. Not fundamental Islam, not radical Islam.
Our mistake is in regarding Islam as a benign modern faith like Unitarian Universalism, rather than an ideology with a political agenda and global aspirations like medieval Christianity, or more recently, communism.
AND INDEED IT IS this eerie similarity with communism that German social scientist Ulrike Ackermann examines in a recent essay. The way Ackermann sees it, "the way we use kid gloves to criticize Islamism, but refuse to criticize Islam is reminiscent of the way intellectuals once criticized Stalinism, but not communism," when there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two. Other similarities include their murderous dispatching of critics and political opponents and their antithesis toward freedom, consumerism and individualism. Both ideologies exhibit internationalist tendencies. And just as any poor East Berliner who attempted to scramble over the wall or swim the Spree would be shot, anyone attempting to leave Islam should expect a visit from the holy hangman.
More important are the differences. Those who escaped or were exiled from the Soviet Bloc -- with few exceptions, notably the apostate Trotsky -- were generally left in peace. Directors who made films about communism, like Caspar Wrede and his masterpiece One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, were seldom hunted down and mutilated like Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about his experiences under Stalinism he was tossed in the clink and later exiled to the U.S. But when Salman Rushdie, Ibn Warraq, Irshad Manji and Aayan Hirsi Ali write about Islam they receive the death sentence, one with a billion possible executioners.
In a recent speech Hirsi Ali called on the West to take Islam as seriously as it took communism during the Cold War:
Our opponents want to use violence to silence us. They claim that we are spiritually and mentally unreliable and shouldn't be taken seriously. Communism's defenders used the same methods....Despite the self-censorship of many who idealised and defended communism in the West and despite the brutal censorship in the East, the battle was won. Today the open society is being challenged by Islamism.
Not surprisingly, many communist dissidents -- Natan Sharansky, Vaclav Havel, and Adam Michnik -- supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And once again European intellectuals, many of whom during the 1980s had reservations about Walesa and Michnik who seemed to be fighting on behalf of petit bourgeois capitalism, are lined up on the wrong side of history.
I am all for a third way, a third way in which for every mosque built in America there is a reciprocal church or synagogue or branch office of the Secular Humanist Society erected in Saudi Arabia. For every Saudi-funded madrassa established in London, a British-funded grammar school opens in Mecca. However, I will not compromise on some things. I will not accept that death is the appropriate punishment for converting from Islam to Christianity. Or that non-Muslims and women should accept second-class citizen status, and that homosexuals should be executed.
Islam today is identical to Medieval Christianity. Today's imams stir up their rabble against the infidel the same as medieval priests stirred up the peasants to go after the village Jews or to roast a witch or march off on a crusade. Any Third Way will have to involve modernizing Islam. Otherwise it will remain as backward as reversible type. Otherwise, I'm not interested.
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