Feb 13, 2006

Stop worrying about the hearts and minds

Of moderate Muslims, says Reuel Marc Gerecht. Westerners like Clinton and Chirac are encouraging feelings of victimization and treating Muslims like children.
For better or worse, expatriate and foreign-educated Middle Easterners have helped to shape decisively the secular and religious cultures that have dominated their homelands since World War II. Many of the best and brightest of the Middle East now live abroad. Many have sought greater freedom of expression and personal liberty in the West. Is it Presidents Clinton and Chirac's desire that Muslim satirists never develop because their work would be insensitive to less irreverent Muslims? In its heyday, Islamic civilization contained many heterodox and heretical strains. In particular, Shiism, always a vehicle for minority protest, was rich in movements and cultural experimentation that sometimes electrified and horrified the Sunni Muslim world.

It is possible that Muslims living outside the Middle East will have a substantial role to play in revivifying Islamic civilization--in shedding some light on the convulsive path that one may still hope will lead from dysfunctional dictatorship through bin Ladenism to more peacefully self-critical, democratic societies. If Westerners appease Muslims who countenance violent intimidation, we are doing a terrible injustice to the liberal and progressive Muslims among us, who really would like to live in lands where people can say about the Prophet Muhammad what they have said about Jesus, Mary, and Moses. Among the Muslims of the United States and Europe, if not in the Middle East, there are many who have Western cultural sentiments and wit. The irreverent, religiously skeptical Western elite has Muslim members and Middle Eastern counterparts of equal intelligence and similar tastes. Islamic civilization may yet produce its Edward Gibbon, a sincere religious voyager who ends up scrutinizing the foundations of his civilization with a skeptical, cynical, and, at times, profoundly unfair irreligious eye. It would appear that if President Clinton had his way, a Muslim Gibbon would not be welcome in the United States.

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