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 Topic: Islam and the Universal Acid of Liberalism

 (Read 7871 times)
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  • Islam and the Universal Acid of Liberalism
     OP - April 18, 2013, 09:41 AM


    Islam and the Universal Acid of Liberalism






    The notion that ‘liberalism needs to be put in the dock’ is not an unusual one amongst the religious. Liberalism has many discontents, and it is not unusual for social problems to be blamed on excessive freedom and liberalism by those of a conservative disposition.

    The discontent that some Muslims feel towards liberalism has its roots in the basic undermining of their conception of Islam that liberalism presents.

    Freedom of conscience, tolerance, pluralism, independence for women, the privileging of the rights of the individual over the rights of the community, free expression and the inalienable right to criticise religion are hallmarks of liberalism.

    To those Muslims who believe that rights do not originate from men and women in a continuous, never ending process of social correction, but that they originate solely from Allah,  liberalism is a threat.

    Any rights that contradict those which humans are generously ‘granted’ by Allah and his supposedly immutable laws, or that threaten the dominion of his scripture enshrined ethics, are essentially subversive to this conception of Islam.

    Daniel Dennett described Darwinism as a ‘universal acid’ that ate through every presumption about life and society it came in contact with. It was a revolutionary idea.

    Liberalism is also a universal acid in this sense, as far as a particular conception of Islam is concerned.

    The simple idea that rights emerge from men and women, not from Allah, and that these laws are enacted through secular law rather than through reference to fixed religious texts like the Quran and Hadith,  is like a universal acid to literalist Islam.

    And this viewing of liberalism as an affront to Islam manifests itself on an organisational, institutional level in many ways. It is encapsulated in the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, which seeks to assert a conception of Human Rights that are subservient to Islamic beliefs and teachings. This attitude and sensibility permeates the thinking of many Muslims.

    When a literalist Muslim attacks liberalism they are not doing so out of a belief in the idea of progress or egalitarianism. They do so because the universal acids of liberalism fill them with horror, because it threatens the truth claims that are made for Islam.

    Liberalism enables a self-critical society to investigate its flaws in order to better itself. To a Muslim who believes that 'liberalism must be put in the dock', this becomes a crude tool of criticism in an attempt to avoid the universal acid being turned upon literalist Islam itself.

    For example, a liberal secular society collects statistics about sexual crimes, and crime in general, and encourages the discussion and open acknowledgement of these issues in order to combat them and prevent them, and importantly to work against stigmatisation of victims.

    Liberalism enables a society to solve and address social ills through transparency and openly debating and acknowledging injustice and dysfunction.

    By comparison, a committed Islamic literalist views this as a weakness, and as material for him or her to use to abuse and attack liberal secular society, exploiting cynically the open acknowledgement of  social problems  as fodder for da’wah (evangelism).  

    From here, they depict open, liberal and secular societies as being imperfect, and then assert that these imperfections are caused by liberalism, and that Islam and its values are superior to liberal secular society. And that the solution to the 'evils' of liberalism is conversion to Islam, and the assertion of Islamic values in society.

    In a religious context, however, very often various social taboos  cripple those who seek to openly address social problems. This enables literalist believers to deny the existence of social dysfunction, and construct a utopian, specious image of purity and flawlessness in rhetorical contrast to the liberal society that acknowledges its flaws in order to address them.

    For example, this often prevents the open examination of forms of abuse through the collating and publishing of statistics and the ensuing transparent debate and struggle to challenge these social ills in societies where religious taboos prevail.

    Some Muslim literalists who seek to demonise liberalism dream of transforming a liberal, open society into a closed, insular, shame based one that is in accord with the taboos of Islam, bringing triumph for the faith, and a brushing under the carpet of all social problems in the light of the denial culture that underpins shame based insular religiosity.

    Transparent, open, liberal secular democracies seek to improve, to never accept they are perfect but  strive to be more understanding of what its problems are, all the better to solve them, and help  individuals and victims.

    A literalist believes that perfection has already been achieved in their version of Islam, and progress is defined simply by what facilitates the spread of the faith and the assertion of its values.

    One way of looking at the practise of da'wah, or Islamic evangelism and apologetics in liberal secular societies, is that it as a cry of fear and panic, the positioning of King Canute on the shore, trying to hold back the tide of the sea.

    Dennett says of the Universal Acid of Darwinism: "it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways".

    As a religion Islam cannot hide or immunise itself from these processes in liberal secular societies, no matter how hard some Muslims try to impose taboos against criticism on ex-Muslims and rational non Muslims.

    For a literalist Muslim who believes in the eternal immutability of Islam, that it is superior to all else, and that being a submitter to Islam is synonymous with being fully human in a world challenged by deviancy and disbelief, the universal acid of secular liberalism is something troublesome, profoundly ominous and frightening.

    When literalist Islam comes up against not just a collective like itself in the shape of another religion against which it can simply shout its claims louder and with more vehemence,  but is faced with a philosophy and society that elevates personal freedom, that privileges the rights of the individual, free inquiry, free conscience and expression, it faces a different challenge.

    When it faces a belief that elevates as good and ideal the very concepts that it deems to be deviant and fatal, like the honest criticism of organised religious dogma, the freedom to renounce religion, to pursue science and art without care for the taboo boundaries of religion, to believe in the equality of men and women and people of all backgrounds, a belief that nonchalantly and universally critiques and even laughs at the claims laughs that Islam makes for itself - how does literal Islam protect itself from this?

    From this perspective, the energy of literalist Islam is not a challenge to liberal secularism. It is the energy and noise of an idea in the process of meeting the Universal Acids that will change it unavoidably, ideas which will no longer  be accorded the privileged status they have enjoyed for 1400 years.

    The Universal Acids have already met Islam, and are doing their work.


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