Can Islam Be Reconciled with Liberal Democracy?

In Islamic Exceptionalism, Shadi Hamid examines recent attempts to establish modern states in the Muslim Middle East and argues that, while liberal democracy and Islam may simply be incompatible, it might be possible to reach some sort of compromise. Malise Ruthven writes in his review (free registration required):

Hamid persuasively challenges the idea—advanced by the activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, among others—that Islam must undergo a reformation akin to the Christian one. As he writes, “lessons learned in Europe” are not necessarily applicable in the Middle East. There is a curious absence in his book, however: Iran, which for nearly 40 years has served as the clearest testing ground for political Islam. . . .

In Iran, which arguably boasts the world’s only Islamist government, clerical governance has led to a steep decline in religious observance; in 2011, the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance lamented that after more than 30 years of theocratic rule, only 3 percent of Iranians attend Friday prayers. (Prior to the revolution, the figure was almost 50 percent.) And yet Iranian society and governance have not liberalized in any meaningful ways. . . .

This poses a problem for Hamid’s view: put simply, the argument that political Islam can evolve into Muslim democracy would be more persuasive if the world’s most prominent Islamist country offered more impressive evidence of that possibility.

Perhaps a better way to rebut the idea that the Islamic world can follow only the European path toward modernity—that is, by way of reformation—would be to note that even Europe didn’t really follow that path, at least as it is often portrayed. The Enlightenment was the outcome not only of the Reformation but also of centuries of violent religious conflict, after which sensible people concluded that they were not improving their lots by killing one another in the name of God. That is the grim lesson that Muslims in the contemporary Middle East may yet find themselves learning from European history.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, History & Ideas, Iran, Islam, Islamism, liberal democracy, Middle East, Reformation

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University