The Federal State of Hesse and Salafism

July 8, 2014

The state of Hesse is looking for new ways to cope with Salafism. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) suggested that the state parliament should consult experts for analyzing and understanding threats emanating from Salafism. Salafism, as Wolfgang Greilich (FDP) said, “threatens the core of free and liberal-democratic society”. He suggested that the state should cooperate with religious communities, security services and schools on the question of what can be done against this menace. The attempt was questioned and criticized by the Left Party asking if there weren’t other relevant issues at stake if it comes to the endangerment of freedom.

On the Muslim Question by Anne Norton – review

Anne Norton rejects the ‘clash of civilisations’ view of Islam and the west, but offers little to replace it. Lawrence Rosen is the author of Varieties of Muslim Experience and The Culture of Islam offers the review of Anne Norton’s new publication On the Muslim Question.

 

Anne Norton thinks that the “Muslim question” is, if anything, a question about non-Muslims. She is straightforward in denying the claim that Islam and the west are involved in a “clash of civilisations”; castigating writers of various political persuasions who have, blatantly or inferentially, put forward this view. She thus criticises writers such as John Rawls (as well as those, such as Michael Walzer and Michael Ignatieff, who “have urged them on”) for saying that Muslims constantly seek empire and territory, for stereotyping Muslims’ political orientation as the antithesis of liberalism, and for promoting a false history that conceals liberalism’s own failings. In an effort to find more common ground, she underwrites Derrida’s assertion that Islam is “the other of democracy” because Muslim states could retain their distinctiveness while recognising Israel and promoting democratic values. And she surprisingly lauds Sayyid Qutb, the Islamic theorist executed by Nasser in Egypt, because “even this intolerant, fanatic man has something to teach us about human rights, human dignity, and equality”, given his support for private property and women in the workplace.

 

In a series of chapters on sexuality, freedom of speech and democracy, Norton recognises that valid differences of orientation exist. But she does not always help her own case by making assertions that are variously vague, trivial or wrong. For example, she says that terrorism is the precursor to democracy (as if the course of the Arab spring was inevitable), that randomness is “terrifying” (so much for evolutionists), that “Germany has no neo-Nazis” (when they number upwards of 5,000), that the publishers of the Danish cartoons “intended to provoke” (and not just insult) Muslims, that the veil is “profoundly erotic” (for elderly women?), or that calling your sports team the Redskins “honours an old enemy” (tell that to Native Americans).

 

But if the clash-of-civilisations approach is false, what options exist for addressing the differences presented by a Muslim minority in a western country? Having dismissed many of the arguments of western intellectuals about Islam, Norton indicates that neither outright assimilation nor distant toleration is to be preferred: rather she chooses the third option, moving “us” closer to “them”. Indeed, she seems to regard this as already having happened. True, some issues may be resolving themselves internally: many Muslim women have found common sartorial ground, older ones having given up the full veil, younger ones the miniskirt, both adopting a simple head scarf. And once we eliminate the clash-of-civilisations notion from our vocabulary, the mutual accommodations that already exist at the local level may only increase. But a common meeting ground is not always easily achieved.

 

Such a position may, however, come at the price of not really attending to the distinctiveness of the “other”. Norton knows little about Muslims: she gets her few references to Arabic wrong and never discusses the scholarship on Islam and Muslim cultures. In the absence of any understanding of Muslims in their own terms, moving closer to them risks being yet another exercise in self-congratulation: it yields few insights about us and none about them, and thus lacks both genuine understanding and real moral bite.

 

Muslims, like every minority, appreciate the need for camouflage in the face of muted suspicion, even if that need has diminished somewhat in the years since 9/11 and 7/7. But living as a chameleon may be harder now that we all notice each other noticing each other. Under such circumstances, anonymity, for many Muslims, may stifle their sense of valid difference and deprive non-Muslims of really seeing their neighbours. If that happens, we may avoid the “clash”, but it may come at the cost of an arrangement neither community should be eager to call “civilisation”.

 

After the Swiss referendum: underestimated identity problems

The surprisingly clear vote in favour of banning minarets expresses unease with various causes. The implications too will no doubt be controversial. One thing is for sure: Switzerland’s politicians have underestimated immaterial concerns.

More significant that the direct consequences of the vote are the indirect ones and the atmosphere it has caused. Switzerland is not in a situation in which its image abroad is of no import. In some quarters, the ban on minarets may be registered with a shrug or even applauded. On the whole, however, Switzerland’s reputation as a nation of liberal freedom and diversity and the credibility of its human rights policies will suffer.

The outcome of the referendum presumably also reflects moods and views which have little to do with the Muslims themselves, opening up much scope for interpretation and deductions. Was it actually immigration on the agenda? The lack of spiritual orientation? The uncontrolled events in the global and local economy? For the time being, this is all mere conjecture.

Europe’s waning liberalism: by John Esposito

Last year, at a European meeting of intelligence officials from the US and Europe, a Swiss participant commented on a proposed referendum on minarets. He was sure it would go nowhere since, as he said, Switzerland is a very pluralistic society; its Muslim population is relatively small and there are few mosques with minarets.
Enlightened Switzerland has now become part of an “Enlightened Liberal Europe” that is increasingly not all that liberal. The stunning Swiss vote – 57 percent – approving a referendum to ban minarets, should not have been all that surprising, considering the growing power of Islamophobia.

In both Europe and the US, right-wing politicians, political commentators, media personalities, and religious leaders continue to feed a growing suspicion of mainstream Muslims by fuelling a fear that Islam, and not just Muslim extremism, is a threat. (…)

Muslims in the West After 9/11

This book is the first systematic attempt to study the situation of European and American Muslims after 9/11, and to present a comprehensive analysis of their religious, political, and legal situations.

Since 9/11, and particularly since the Madrid and London bombings of 2004 and 2005, the Muslim presence in Europe and the United States has become a major political concern. Many have raised questions regarding potential links between Western Muslims, radical Islam, and terrorism. Whatever the justification of such concerns, it is insufficient to address the subject of Muslims in the West from an exclusively counter-terrorist perspective. Based on empirical studies of Muslims in the US and Western Europe, this edited volume posits the situation of Muslim minorities in a broader reflection on the status of liberalism in Western foreign policies. It also explores the changes in immigration policies, multiculturalism and secularism that have been shaped by the new international context of the ‘war on terror’.

Hanif Kureishi’s story of Islamist temptation, “The Black Album”, adapted for stage

The British writer Hanif Kureishi decided to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rushdie affair by adapting for the stage his 1995 second novel “The Black Album”. The novel is set in 1988/89 and the Rushdie affair and radicalization of young Muslims are its central themes.

The Black Album charts the cultural and political development of impressionable Asian teenager Shahid, who moves from suburbia to college in London and is subsequently torn between two disparate lifestyles and loyalties – the Western liberalism of his lecturer Deedee, with whom he has a relationship, and the fundamentalism of his new Muslim friends led by the charismatic Riaz.

In the course of the story, the Islamist group burn a copy of Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”, of which Shahid is appalled.

The play is being discussed in the context of whether or not Rushdie’s critics have succeeded. British lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik claims that the critics have lost the battle – as Rushdie is still being published –, but won the war, because it has become much more widespread not to offend another religion. The Black Album is on tour throughout the country, showing at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Oct 20 to 24 and Liverpool Playhouse from October 27 to 31, among other places.

Theatre Review: Hanif Kureishi’s play “The Black Album” at Cottesloe Theatre, London

Hanif Kureishi has turned his own vibrant 1995 novel into a play. The result is a busy, hectic affair that raises all kinds of issues about religious and political faith, fatwas and censorship and the purpose of art. But, as so often with adaptations, you get the bones without the thickness of texture that was part of the original’s charm.

The Black Album, for all its allusions to Prince, is actually a very literary book: there’s more than a hint of Balzac’s Lost Illusions in its story of Shahid, a young Sevenoaks Asian who, in 1989, is exposed to the temptations of London. The play follows the novel in showing Shahid torn between conflicting values.

As a student he is eagerly adopted by a fundamentalist Muslim brotherhood led by the charismatic Riaz. But he also embarks on a passionate affair with a lecturer, Deedee Osgood, who in her devotion to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll embodies the seductions of liberalism.

Matters come to a head with the campaign against The Satanic Verses where Shahid is forced into deciding where his allegiance lies. The play throws up a whole heap of ideas: Muslim orthodoxy confronts Marxist-Leninist ideology and there is even a debate about postmodernist teaching versus canonical criticism.

The Black Album, a co-production between the National Theatre and Tara Arts
Cottesloe, London SE1 9PX, until 7 October 2009
Website here

Extremist found guilty of firebomb plot against publisher of ‘The Jewel of Medina’

Abbas Taj, 30, a mini-cab driver, was found guilty of conspiracy to firebomb the home of Martin Rynja, the publisher of The Jewel Of Medina. He was to be the getaway driver, but was stopped in his car and arrested by armed police near Angel Tube station in the early hours in September last year, just after he and two other men had set fire to the premises. The other two have been convicted last month.

The novel is about the Prophet Mohammed and the life of his child bride, Aisha, and has stirred quite some controversy. Its publication was cancelled by one major publisher in the United States over fears that it could offend Muslims. In Serbia the book was withdrawn after protests from local Islamic leaders but was subsequently returned to bookshelves. Speaking last October, Mr Rynja said that the novel was not offensive and added that he felt its publication was part of a liberal democracy.

The case is one of many examples where liberalism and pluralism clash with the extremist opinion of a few who employ vigilante justice to enforce objectives.

Ramadan radio raps Muslim ignorance of Islam

A nightly radio phone-in show in Paris has opened up a forum for French Muslim youth to ask questions about religious practice. The show is hosted by Ahmed el Keiy, a lawyer-turned-journalist, who invites imams to help answer questions a wide range of topics, from perfume and hair gel, to prayer. Citing a lack of men and women who know how to teach religion properly, illiterate elders, and do-it-yourself Islam, the radio show encourages callers to find a medium between total liberalism and extremism.