| ||Michael Gove, the (neo)-Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, reviews Bruce Bawer’s ‘Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom’, in this month’s Standpoint magazine. Standpoint is edited by the former Daily Telegraph leader writer and unabashed neo-con, Daniel Johnson. |
Gove appraises Bawer’s work as:
‘A polemic in defence of Enlightenment virtues, and in particular the indispensable US Constitution First Amendment liberty, freedom of speech, Surrender is written with a fierce urgency that compels attention. The manner in which freedom of speech has been relativised, circumscribed and betrayed in the face of extremism is powerfully documented. The specific challenge to democratic freedom posed by Islamist fundamentalism is presented with bracing clarity.’ ‘[Bawer] is spot-on in his anatomy of our similar loss of nerve following the publication of a series of provocative cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. On both occasions, extremists were testing their strength against ours. They took deliberate offence, threatened violence in order to intimidate us into apology or silence, and won. They proved that their commitment to their ideology of submission was more powerful than our commitment to our tradition of liberty.
Contrasting the media and ‘liberal’ commentariat’s treatment of Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Gove commends Bawer’s ‘excellent analysis’ and his ‘submit[ting] to close and unsparing critical attention the coverage enjoyed by the Islamist thinker Tariq Ramadan and the reception given to the writings of the Muslim apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
‘Bawer shows how distinguished Western writers, who would unhesitatingly call themselves liberal, have sought to relativise or excuse Ramadan's support for stoning, and for clerics who endorse wife-beating, while at the same time damning Hirsi Ali as a "fundamentalist" for speaking out so vigorously against the forced suppression of women.’
Gove believes Bawer is ‘quite right that the desire not to give offence to certain cultural traditions or ideological religious positions has led far too many people who ought to know better to acquiesce in, or pass over, hideous prejudice towards women and gay men.’
But Bawer’s ‘fundamental flaw’ according to Gove, is ‘‘broadening his critique beyond Islamist extremism, and its appeasers, to the whole of Islam itself. Bawer argues on page 62 of his book that "while there is such a thing as moderate and liberal Christianity, there is no such thing as a moderate or liberal Islam."’
Bawer writes: "there are millions of good-hearted individuals who identify themselves as Muslims and who have no enmity in their hearts for their non-Muslim neighbours and co-workers. Some of these Muslims are religiously observant, but their moderation is not an attribute of the brand of Islam to which they officially subscribe...liberal Islam does not yet exist in practice."
But Gove contends that the idea that ‘liberal Islam is a chimera does not reflect my own experience.’
A notable exception, Gove argues is ‘Sufism, the dominant strain of Sunni Islam among British Muslims’ which is ‘explicitly moderate in theology and practice’.
‘There are many millions of Sufi Muslims who derive great spiritual enrichment from their gentle and contemplative faith and who are horrified at the crimes committed in the name of Islam by extremists’, Gove argues.
‘By instinct, most Sufis, and other moderates including traditionalist Shias, do not get involved in politics because they are quietists and wish to see a, properly liberal, separation between throne and altar. They are totally opposed to the ideology we know of as Islamism, which seeks to make any territory in which Muslims live an explicitly Islamic state bound by the austere and unforgiving rule of Sharia.’
Gove attests that there are ‘pious, believing, sincere and faithful Muslims’. Those who ‘detest fundamentalism and disagree with the ideology of Islamism, who reject the worldview of the Muslim Brotherhood and Tariq Ramadan, who regard Sayyid Qutb and Jamaat-i-Islami with disdain, they are the natural allies of all those of us who want to defend liberal values from extremists. People like Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, or Tarek Heggy, Taj Hargey or Khurshid Ahmed, of the British Muslim Forum, or the Sufi Muslim Council, or the American Shia writer, Reza Aslan are all liberal Muslims whose lifestyles and worldviews are threatened by extremism just as much as mine or Bawer's.’
Labels are all important to this train of thinking. In Bawer’s mind, Tariq Ramadan is mistaken by Europeans for a ‘liberal’, while Ayaan Hirsi Ali is mistakenly treated as a ‘fundamentalist’. Similarly, Ed Husain, Khurshid Ahmed (formerly of the British Muslim Forum), Taj Hargey, the Sufi Muslim Council etc. are all ‘liberals’ and ‘Islamists’ are all extremists.
It would seem that for Gove, in order to qualify as a ‘liberal’ one need only espouse a firm separation between ‘throne and altar’. But you see, such is not liberalism at all, but secularism.
Liberalism cannot dismiss the composite factors that shape the individual, whether these factors are culture, language, race or religion, no matter what its pretence to dealing with the ‘abstract individual’. Such abstractions do not reflect reality. Something well documented and debated in the ongoing dialogue between theorists of liberalism and communitarianism.
It is secularism as a concept that seeks to divorce religion from the public sphere in the form of institutional separation (disestablishment) and societal separation (keeping religion out of the non institutional public sphere, eg politics).
The camps that Gove is devising are, therefore, between those for whom politics and religion are intertwined (to various degrees) and those who advocate a strict separation between religion and politics. This categorisation is not thus, of ‘liberals’ and ‘extremists’, but between secular and non secular Muslims. In this context, his backing of the secularists at the Quilliam Foundation, the Sufi Muslim Council, Taj Hargey etc., makes perfect sense.
The second mis-description applied in Gove’s review is in his labelling those for whom religion and politics is inseparable as ‘Islamists’, and suggesting that they pose a threat to the liberty that Bawer and he stand in support and defence of.
Gove proclaims that only Sufi Muslims are liberals, and as such pose no threat to the liberties of others.
Such politicking is not without a nefarious intent. It is designed to obscure and vilify the actual thinking and practices of Muslims whose lives, private and public, are informed by Islam.
By designating them the ‘enemies of liberty’, and championing secular Muslims as ‘liberals’, Gove attempts to misrepresent non secular Muslims and undermine their right to shape their identity and politics around their belief that religion is not, and can never be, a strictly private affair.
The arguments advanced in Gove's review are to be expected from someone who is on the advisory board of the Quilliam Foundation. It merely adds to the nonsense we've come to expect from those who put their full weight behind QF, and similar outfits, and their determination to depoliticise Muslims by framing their political activities as subversive.
Michael Gove is of course author of Celsius 7/7, which ranks right up there with Melanie Phillips' Londonistan for histrionics. He was also a speaker at the QF's anniversary event and is a member of the Shadow Cabinet. One wonders what his inclusion in a future Conservative government will spell for British Muslims who are indisposed to a forced secularisation.
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