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GoetheInstitute

22/03/2007

The "Islam in Europe" debate

Click here for an overview of press echos on the "Islam in Europe" debate at signandsight.com.

Who should the West support: moderate Islamists like Tariq Ramadan, or Islamic dissidents like Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Are the rights of the group higher than those of the individual? With a fiery polemic against Ian Buruma's "Murder in Amsterdam" and Timothy Garton Ash's review of this book in the New York Review of Books, Pascal Bruckner has kindled an international debate. By now Ian Buruma, Timothy Garton Ash, Necla Kelek, Paul Cliteur, Lars Gustafsson, Stuart Sim, Ulrike Ackermann and Adam Krzeminski have all stepped into the ring.


Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn't only look beautiful, she also invokes Voltaire. This is too much for Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who call her an "Enlightenment fundamentalist." But their idea of multiculturalism amounts to legal apartheid. By Pascal Bruckner
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Freedom cannot be decreed
Nobody is defending honour killing or female circumcision. Such crimes are matters of law enforcement. Trickier is the question of how to prevent mainstream Muslims from being infected with violent ideologies. Ian Buruma responds to Pascal Bruckner.
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Better Pascal than Pascal Bruckner
Neither live-and-let-die separatist multiculturalism nor the secularist republican monoculturalism preached by Bruckner work. Policies of integration cannot be based on the assumption that millions of Muslims will drop their faith when they come to Europe. Timothy Garton Ash responds to Pascal Bruckner.
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Mr Buruma's stereotypes
Islam is not as diverse as Ian Buruma maintains in his answer to Pascal Bruckner. On the contrary, it is an oppressive social reality, codified in the "Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam." Signed by 45 Muslim countries, this upholds the Sharia as the basis of the Islamic identity. By Necla Kelek
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Falling prey to relativism

Ian Buruma's "Murder in Amsterdam" is written from a postmodern mindset which puts radical Enlightenment on a par with radical Islamism. But this approach will do nothing to pacify the most radical elements - as the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, knows only too well. By Paul Cliteur
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The dogmatism of Enlightenment
I admire the achievements of the Enlightenment as much as Professor Cliteur appears to do, but I also believe that one of its greatest achievements is the rejection of dogmatism, of any kind. By Ian Buruma.
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The logic of tolerance
The demands of all "cultures" are not compatible. Of course monotheists, atheists and polytheists should be able to live peacefully side by side, but Sharia law and western democracy are incompatible. There is no way to talk away this incompatibility by vague reference to multiculturalism. By Lars Gustafsson
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Don't blame the postmodernists
It's dogmatism that's the real problem. At base, relativism is calling into question the notion of there being an absolute truth - precisely what all those of a fundamentalist disposition claim there is. Even worse, fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge that other views have any validity at all. You can't debate with them - about multiculturalism or anything else. By Stuart Sim
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In praise of dissidence
In the positions they take on the ongoing multiculturalism debate, Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash are reminicent of those well-meaning Western intellectuals who were willing to criticise Stalinism but not communism. They dream of "change through rapprochement" but they lose their bearings somewhere along the "third way." By Ulrike Ackermann
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Multiculturalism is not cultural relativism!

Jesco Delorme defends Ian Buruma, Timothy Garton Ash and Stuart Sim against charges of cultural relativisim. Looking for criteria on which to base the legitimate demands of minorities, he sketches the physiognomy of liberalism and accuses Buruma's critics of constrictive political thinking.
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The view from the Vistula
Comparisons of Islam and communism like those drawn by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ulrike Ackermann are gross oversimplifications. But just as many factors played into the fall of communism, the Gordian knot of Islam and Europe needs "fundamentalist" as well as "culturalist" solutions. By Adam Krzeminski
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Why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is wrong
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's ideas on the incompatibility of Islamic faith and the emancipation of women are reductionist and dogmatic. Only openness to migrants' decisions can help Western society steer clear of cultural fundamentalism. By Halleh Ghorashi
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Europeanisation, not Islamisation
The debate on Europe and Islam should stop profiling people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Tariq Ramadan, and focus on Euro-Islam as a bridge between civilisations. Europe has a civilising identity and the right to preserve it. This is not anti-Muslim, because the idea of Europe is inclusive. Europe respects the identity of immigrants yet expects them to adapt without surrendering their sense of self. By Bassam Tibi
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A reply to Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash
It's not enough to condemn terrorism. The religion that engenders it and on which it is based, right or wrong, must also be reformed. Some final remarks on the multiculturalism debate by Pascal Bruckner.
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Alarm bells in Muslim hearts
How sex-obsessed is a culture that teaches a woman that she is basically a walking, sitting or reclining set of genitals? How over-aroused is a society in which men are expected to have no qualms about pouncing on any woman who happens to walk by, unless a divinely ordained dress code forbids them to do so? Dutch writer Margriet de Moor looks at Islam in the light of Europe and Europe in the light of Islam.
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A final rejoinder
This need not be a case of either Hirsi Ali or Tariq Ramadan. Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma set Pascal Bruckner straight on a few last points.
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Further links of note:

Amartya Sen describes the perfidies of multiculturalism in his book "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny." Here is an excerpt published in The New Republic in 2006: "The vocal defense of multiculturalism that we frequently hear these days is very often nothing more than a plea for plural monoculturalism. If a young girl in a conservative immigrant family wants to go out on a date with an English boy, that would certainly be a multicultural initiative. In contrast, the attempt by her guardians to stop her from doing this (a common enough occurrence) is hardly a multicultural move, since it seeks to keep the cultures separate. And yet it is the parents' prohibition, which contributes to plural monoculturalism, that seems to garner the loudest and most vocal defense from alleged multiculturalists, on the ground of the importance of honoring traditional cultures - as if the cultural freedom of the young woman were of no relevance whatever, and as if the distinct cultures must somehow remain in secluded boxes."

In Prospect, Francis Fukuyama analyzes the problems Western democracies have in dealing with Muslim minorities. Together with Olivier Roy, he believes that radical Islamic ideology is less a manifestation of traditional Muslim culture and more of modern identity politics. When it comes to identity, European societies in particular have little to offer. "The rise of relativism has made it harder for postmodern people to assert positive values and therefore the kinds of shared beliefs that they demand of migrants as a condition for citizenship. Postmodern elites, particularly those in Europe, feel that they have evolved beyond identities defined by religion and nation and have arrived at a superior place. But aside from their celebration of endless diversity and tolerance, postmodern people find it difficult to agree on the substance of the good life to which they aspire in common. Immigration forces upon us in a particularly acute way discussion of the question 'Who are we?', posed by Samuel Huntington. If postmodern societies are to move towards a more serious discussion of identity, they will need to uncover those positive virtues that define what it means to be a member of the wider society. If they do not, they may be overwhelmed by people who are more sure about who they are."

An antipole to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, himself also the subject of controversy: is he a progressive universalist or dangerous religious zealot, as Caroline Fourest warns in her book "Frere Tariq" (Paris, Grasset, 2004)? At the end of a lengthy portrait in The New York Times Magazine, Ian Buruma comes to the following conclusion (online at the International Herald Tribune): "Advocating a revolt against Western materialism on the basis of superior spiritual values is an old project, which has had many fathers but has never been particularly friendly to liberal democracy. Ramadan’s brand of Islamic socialism, promoted with such media-friendly vitality, in conferences, interviews, books, talks, sermons and lectures, has won him a variety of new friends, especially in Britain and France. (...) Ramadan offers a different way, which insists that a reasoned but traditionalist approach to Islam offers values that are as universal as those of the European Enlightenment. From what I understand of Ramadan’s enterprise, these values are neither secular, nor always liberal, but they are not part of a holy war against Western democracy either. His politics offer an alternative to violence, which, in the end, is reason enough to engage with him, critically, but without fear."

In The Spectator, philosopher John Gray feels that British society should do away with the notion of a "liberal monoculture," in which Muslims adopt Western values. The best scenario imaginable would be peaceful co-habitation, but sharing the same perspectives seems illusory. "Large-scale flows of people and ideas, the impact of the media and continuous cultural innovation have made Britain far more deeply pluralistic than it used to be. This anarchic vitality seems to me to be one of the more attractive aspects of globalisation but, whatever one may feel, it is here to stay. Britain has become home to an unprecedented mixture of styles of life and views of the world. There are fundamentalists of all varieties, large unobtrusive enclaves of traditional life and countless people who take a mix-and-match approach to the diversity of traditions. Why should Muslims be singled out for deviating from a national consensus that is now largely mythical?"

In The Observer, Andrew Anthony reviews "Infidel", the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which has now come out in English. He portrays her - not without admiration - as someone who "is not one to look for the mincer." However Anthony wonders whether such plain talk does not alienate Muslims even more fro Western society: "Hirsi Ali is too smooth of skin and composure to bristle, but it is obviously an accusation she finds irritating. 'Tariq Ramadan is filled with contempt for Muslims because he believes they have no faculties of reason,' she replies in a beguilingly friendly tone, as though she had remarked that he had an excellent taste in shirts. 'If I say that terrorism is created in the name of Islam suddenly they take up terrorism? He gives me so much more power than I have. Why don't my remarks make him turn to terrorism? Because he's above that. Like many believers in multiculturalism, he puts himself on a higher plane. The other thing is that it's not about your style, it's about your content. Are my propositions right or wrong?" To the accusation that she addresses herself primarily to white liberals, Hirsi Ali counters that it's important to address them because they need to overcome the self-censoring effects of post-colonial guilt. "'If you want to feel guilty,' snaps Hirsi Ali, 'feel guilty that you didn't bring John Stuart Mill and left us only with the Koran. It doesn't help to say my forefathers oppressed your forefathers, and remain guilty forever.'"

In the Washington Post historian and journalist Anne Applebaum writes an op-ed on the multiculturalism debate. Although Ayaan Hirsi Ali has now left Europe, Applebaum writes, "she continues to provoke Europeans, sometimes without saying anything at all.... Curiously, what seems to rankle Europeans most is the enthusiasm with which Hirsi Ali has adopted their own secularism and the fervor with which she has embraced their own Western values. Though this continent's intellectuals routinely disparage the pope as an irrelevant dinosaur, Hirsi Ali's rejection of religion in favor of reason, intellect and emancipation seems to make everyone nervous."

In The Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash makes a new contribution to the perlentaucher/signandsight.com multiculturalism debate. In his arguments he responds to Ulrike Ackermann's comparison between communist blog dissidents and critics of Islam such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ackermann had accused Garton Ash and Ian Buruma of showing no solidarity. "This charge is based on a misunderstanding of the principle of solidarity which prevailed in the struggle against communism and should do so now. That principle is: total solidarity in the defence of people unjustly persecuted, total freedom to disagree with their views."

In The New Republic Paul Berman writes a mammoth essay about Tariq Ramadan. He asks all the questions that Ian Buruma omitted to address, or addressed only superficially in his Ramadan portrait for The New York Times. With extreme patience and exactitude (the printed version is 47 pages long!) he examines clues, contradictions and possible interpretations. At the end he comes to the "Islam in Europe" debate launched by signandsight.com and its sister site Perlentaucher, and identifies a "reactionary turn in the intellectual world." The comment refers to authors - among them Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash - who have polemicised against Ayaan Hirsi Ali. "Something like a campaign against Hirsi Ali could never have taken place a few years ago. A sustained attack on an authentic liberal dissident crying out against injustices in remote parts of the world and even in the back streets of Western Europe, a sustained attack that appears nearly to have erased the very mention of women's oppression and the struggle for women's rights from discussion - no, this could not have happened yesterday, except on the extreme right. This is a new event."

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