1 October
2012

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.

5 Responses to Strained Relations between ‘Christendom’ and the ‘Dar al-Islam’

Englishman says: 7 October 2012 at 12:22 pm

The inferiority complex that always considers the ‘West’ as guilty or accountable for any deterioration in relations with the Islamic world simply galls. I probably agree with most of the analysis in the article but not with the synthesis.

The article attributes the ‘cultural’ clashes between Islam and Christianity to a loss in the West of the sense of the importance of religion. Certainly, secularisation is rife, but surely such an attribution fails to address the central issue, which the author tends to minimise, that the ‘West’ is not only founded on political liberty, but specifically on an underlying religious liberty.

It is true that liberty in the Western – or Christian – sense is not present in Islamic culture. But it is precisely this fact that makes the political West, based on underlying religious freedom, incompatible with political Islam, based on a religious belief and practice that excludes any other and encompasses all aspects of life. Liberty is an attribute of rational man to the extent that to renounce liberty is to renounce reason, something that the religion of Islam is prepared to accept, but that the ‘West’ cannot. And this incompatibility stems from religious or theological reasons: in the ‘West’, God is rational, not so in Islam.

This statement in no way implies the imposition of beliefs on others, for in relation to the truth, no man’s liberty, whether ‘Western’ or Islamic, can do anything other than adhere to it, or not. All men are utterly dependent upon the truth; no man’s liberty can alter or add to the truth, but only discover and adhere to it.

Between the ‘West’ and Islam, therefore, all that remains, is to agree to differ, which is not by any means an insignificant agreement. Agreeing to differ is not incompatible with the quest for truth. And the quest for truth requires mutual respect for those engaged in it.

But unfortunately, not even this agreement is not possible to achieve with Islam, due precisely to the absolute refusal of Islam to recognise that man is created with liberty and with reason, in the image and likeness of God. That is to say, rather than a failure in the ‘West’ to recognise the importance of religion, conflicts potentially arise from the failure on the part of Islam to recognise the nature of God, which surely is the starting point for any religion. Islam may have contributed to culture, although such a contribution should be situated in a historical context, but it is undoubtedly true that from their false religion stems their false treatment of man.

The ‘West’ is under the obligation to defend itself unflinchingly and without any complex whatsoever. It can make known to Islam as diplomatically as it wishes that it is prepared to agree to differ, but under no circumstances is it prepared to concede even the slightest breach of human liberty on the part of Islam, including the religion of Islam. Because liberty is the political foundation stone of the ‘West’ and without it, the ‘West’ simply evaporates and ultimately disappears, and so, may I say, does the religion that was the foundation stone for bringing Europe together as a continent.

Reply
thomasmoreinstitute says: 9 October 2012 at 12:29 pm

Englishman,

Thank you for taking to time to comment on our post at such length.

Certainly, if we ‘agree to differ’ this is not an insignificant achievement, but to do so we should have to acknowledge something we share in the first place.

We can happily defend each other’s right to support different political parties, but we can do so only because we extend to each other rights we believe ourselves to possess.

But, if I understand you aright, you are saying that the Islamic understanding (or misunderstanding) of freedom is based on its conception of God, which leads to a certain conception (or failure to conceive) of liberty. You then say that the religion that was the ‘foundation stone for bringing Europe together’ rests on liberty ‘because liberty is the political foundation stone of the “West”…’ (my emphasis: please correct if this is not the case). In the one case religion precedes liberty, and in the other liberty precedes religion. It would seem that in such presentation of the ideas there are no grounds for discussion. Either Islamic countries accept a Western conception of Liberty or we accept Islamic ideas of what constitutes blasphemy; its a zero-sum game.

Our aim was to identify some way in which things need not be painted so black and white. For the modern, supposedly ‘neutral’, state blasphemy does not exist except within the semi-private sphere of religion, just as ideas about freedom of religion as we might understand them do not exist in Islam. However, if Western democracies were in fact to acknowledge their Christian roots, there might then be grounds for them at least to conceive the coherence within a wider social framework of some specifically religious limitations on free speech. They might, moreover, be able to articulate why liberty itself should be so valuable as a key means to a particular end, viz., a loving relationship with God. Shorn of the West’s Christian heritage liberty is surely just one value among many that we may choose to adopt, but, placed in the context of Man’s relationship with God it offers greater clarity as to why, in the West, we should place emphasis on preserving liberty, rather than on avoiding blasphemy.

Moreover, just as ‘religion’ may not be in fact the sole reason for ‘religious’ riots in Islamic countries, nor is Christianity the only reason why very different people in the West adopt liberty as a key value. But where there are seemingly two irreconcilable dogmas about ‘liberty’ and ‘blasphemy’, religion itself should permit argument for the liberty without belittling our interlocutors.

Reply
Englishman says: 10 October 2012 at 3:28 pm

Gratuitously to offend the religion of others can be an offence just as offending people on other grounds can be an offence.

But such laws do not call for any restrictions on liberty, but rather to use it for the good instead of for the bad.

Reply
thomasmoreinstitute says: 15 October 2012 at 10:08 am

Englishman,

Of course, but if one is to have a discussion with Islamic countries about blasphemy it is useful to conceive of blasphemy as something undesirable, or indeed as ‘something’ in the first instance. This is very difficult for any kind of Secularist institution including governments.

Moreover, the Christian tradition has contributed substantially to the modern Western conception of liberty in part summed up by Augustine’s (ancient) interpretation of 1 John: ‘love and do what you will’.

By attending to religion (both Christian and Muslim), Western politicians would be able to account for their position on liberty without compromising it. They could conceive of blasphemy as a thing, while also giving an account of why it should not be outlawed in the way it is in some Muslim countries. Again Secularist institutions will struggle to do the same beyond a ‘cost-benefit’ analysis of restrictions on free speech which would probably focus on social tension and civil unrest. By such a materialistic account there is an argument to restrict free speech simply to help ensure the saftey of our diplomatic staff in Muslim countries. I wonder if this relates to your initial impatience with ‘Western guilt’.

Appealing to our Christian heritage would allow us to support the notion that even in a Muslim majority country free speech ought to be maintained in matters of religion and that, in spite of the violence of the protests, we cannot change our position on liberty and free speech. To frame this as a matter of religion would allow the issue to be presented as a much more serious matter than one of social and civil pragmatism.

Reply
Dominic Burbidge says: 23 October 2012 at 9:22 pm

A good article. If it is the case that “we appear to be demanding that their culture receive a doctrine of liberty that even we accept as inimical to it”, then what would the author consider a more common value that the West and Islam can find mutually supportive?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*

Please prove you\'re not a robot *