Strained Relations between ‘Christendom’ and the ‘Dar al-Islam’
The idea that there exists today a Christendom such as existed in the pre-modern era is as fanciful as the suggestion that the followers of Mohammed have established a truly global Caliphate.
Nonetheless, to cast the recent rioters against portayals of Mohammed perceived as insulting and their political leaders as only mere descendants of clannish and tribal primitives is to fail to acknowledge the sophistication of Islamic culture over the centuries. Whatever difficulties we might have with a social order that enshrines, for example, a radical inequality between the sexes, and even between the pious and sceptical, it is still a culture that has possessed over many of the hallmarks of civilisation: art, science, literature, mathematics and philosophy.
If the conflict were really between liberty in the West and subjugation in the East there could be no meaningful dialogue such as might produce civilised diplomacy. If liberty is the right way, then it alone can inform our discussions, and we do seem firmly to believe that the West possesses a near monopoly of it. If Muslim scholars call, in the interests of Islam, for global prohibitions against ‘blasphemy’ that we are unwilling to accept, we appear to be demanding that their culture receive a doctrine of liberty that even we accept as inimical to it.
Culture finds some of its deepest and most enduring roots in raligion, ragerdless of what some some sceptics may say. We must acknowledge the religious character of the recent protests so as not to discount the obvious strength that has sustained Islamic cultures for well over a millennium. In so doing we ourselves must take religion seriously and acknowledge the religiosity of our own culture. We can no more reduce Islam to a primitive and credulous faith than reduce our own culture to a mere ‘rational’ liberty. To do otherwise would be to accept a total diplomatic impasse and the impossibility of any genuine meeting of minds.
Taking such an approach does not require that we accept the tenets of Islamic religion, or such parts of the culture as we might find reprehensible. But, at least in accepting the religious nature of our current difficulties we should be recognising a dignity in our opponents such as we enjoy ourselves.