Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is Islam tolerant?

Tim Rutten, the resident intellectual at the L.A. Times (to balance certain other contributors, a few of which I have met!), has a thoughtful review on Benazir Bhutto's "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West," which tried to defend Islam as inherently tolerant. Rutten concluded:

The most interesting part of Bhutto's book is her argument with Samuel Huntington and the rest of the "Clash of Civilizations" crowd, who said that a confrontation between the West and militant Islam was inevitable after the Cold War was resolved. Historical inevitability always is a dicey prospect, but Bhutto goes well beyond the typical responses by Muslim political leaders. She argues that a substantial part of the work to be done to avoid such a clash must occur in the Islamic world, where a case needs to be made forcefully for more tolerant strains of Islam that are friendly to modernism and civil society. It says something about the state of affairs in the Islamic world that this is a daring, even singular, position for a political leader to take.

That said, Bhutto's contention that Islam is inherently democratic and innately sympathetic to political democracy is a bit of a stretch. Turkey is the only (fitfully) functioning democracy in the Islamic world, and there the heirs to Atatürk's iron-fisted secularism are fighting a rear-guard action. Bhutto cites Jordan and Yemen as democratic successes, but that's a bit of a stretch as well. Similarly, her categorical assertion that development and education are antidotes to Islamic fundamentalism ignores the fact that the most virulent jihadis appear to come from educated, middle- and upper middle-class families. (Consider the Sept. 11 hijackers.) Bhutto's argument for a program of scholarships enabling Muslim students to study in the West neglects to take into account that Khled Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's 9/11 mastermind, and Sayyid Qutb, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and ideological godfather to contemporary jihadism, both were educated in the United States -- and went away our implacable enemies.

Bhutto obviously was right to assert that the West cannot treat conflict with the Islamic world as inevitable. Like every form of hopelessness, that's a destructive -- and self-defeating -- idea. It will take more than simple goodwill and a talismanic invocation of "democracy" to make it otherwise, however. There is a place to begin the discussion, however. It's with an observation and question:

Every economically significant Western country now is home to a substantial Muslim minority, pursuing their lives and practicing their religion according to the dictates of their individual consciences. Not a single Islamic nation is home to a substantial Jewish or Christian minority, though historically many were.


The whole review's here:,0,6111073.column


1 comment:

Scudbob said...

Unfortunately, the hard fought gains American labor made through World War II are slipping away. Neither party has done much over the last thirty years to stem the erosion of job protection, fair working conditions, or health care benefits. All the while, the always weak American labor movement has been ever more marginalized