Islam and the Left. Dialogue or cold war?

Over at Reset, an extended debate between Nadian Urbanati, Michael Walzer and Michael Walzer and Charles Taylor on Islam, the Left, and Tariq Ramadan (via Normblog). Urbanati:25urbeng

The philosophy of dialogue is based on these premises, both of which manicheanism radically rejects. To resume our main topic, on this rejection is based radicalism, both inside the Islamic culture and inside the Western one. The politics of “block thinking” – or the assumption that there are monolithic and hence unchangeable cultures — is risky since it tends to thrust all the members of the culture in question (be it Islamic and Western) into the arms of those radical minorities that do really want their culture to be a unitary block under their leadership. Positions such as those endorsed by Paul Berman (which I would define as one of Manichean Occidentalism) in addition to being reductionist and somehow deceptive is also politically dangerous since that it may unwillingly help the cause of Osama bin Laden’s extremism. Goankar and Taylor write that the best “antidote” to “block thinking” must be found precisely in the concept of Walzer’s “internal criticism”, hence in the invitation to thinking that within every society or group or culture there do however exist principles, forms of expression, words, ideas or symbols that allow people to start criticising or reforming or questioning some given representative interpretations of their own culture.


25walzeng What should Western leftists be doing with regard to Islam today? We should be strong critics of jihadist radicalism—and since we are, most of us, infidels and secularists, we are bound to be disconnected critics, focused on issues like life and liberty, which have universal resonance. We should befriend Muslim critics of religious zealotry, both inside Muslim countries and in exile, and try to understand the reasons for their critique and the experience out of which it comes. We should be happy to talk to Islamic intellectuals and academics—though we are not bound to “dialogue” with people whose public position is that we should be killed (or who make apologies for the zealots who hold that position). We should be tolerant of Islam in exactly the same way that we are tolerant of Christianity and Judaism—even as we maintain a general critique of, or skepticism about, religious belief. We should be connected critics of Western intellectuals who make excuses for religious zealotry and crusading fervor (Paul Berman provides an excellent model of how to engage in this critique).


I consider the Berman-type position both incredibly imperceptive and extremely dangerous.18taylengbis It ignores a) the incredible diversity of Islamic modes of devotion and spirituality; b) that the present jihadism is only one form of these, and very dubious from the standpoint of Koran and Hadith (that you become a ghazi killing women and chilfdren, or a shaheed by killing yourself in order to kill women and children), c) that this jihadism is a modern amalgam in which the faith is mainly lived out in the register of modern identity politics of the polarized kind, complete with the identification of a radically opposed enemy, and in the language of honour, humiliation, annihilation of the enemy, etc, leaving no place for the God who is always addressed in the Koran as “the compassionate, the merciful” (al raham, al rahmin), d) that people can get recruited in and out of this amalgam depending on the prevailing climate of group conflict, e) that the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric serves to entrench the feeling of an all-englobing conflict, and hence tends to facilitate the recruitment of believing Muslims into the jihadist amalgam. In other words Huntington is helping Bin Laden’s recruitment drive, as is the whole gang of neocon numbskulls running the Us.