Thorns, Stones, Whatever…

Madeleine Bunting takes on the ‘muscular liberals’ in today’s new Berliner sized Guardian:

How do we talk peacefully with people with whom we might violently disagree? Not easy, but essential. Ken Livingstone’s engagement with the Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has proved a thorn in the side of the muscular liberals. But the idea of submitting all potential interlocutors to an ideological approval rating will mean we end up talking only to ourselves.

It’s a valid point. We do need to understand those who have different ideas to ours. Blatantly ignoring what they have openly and repeatedly said would be a mistake, which is why it’s disappointing that Bunting has done exactly that.

She fails to mention that the ‘thorn in the side of the muscular liberals’ as she approvingly describes al-Qaradawi incited the murder of a gay person because of his sexuality as recently as last month according to gay rights group Outrage.

“The scholars of Islam, such as Malik, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad and Ishaaq said that (the person guilty of this crime) should be stoned

We do need dialogue, but it would be much more helpful to this progress if flacid liberals like Bunting hunted around for interlocutors from the Muslim world who spoke up for the rights of sexual minorities instead of defending a dialogue with scholars who call for rocks to be thrown at them until they die.

Harry adds: Is not the problem with Bunting’s piece a misunderstanding of the whole ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis? I confess that I haven’t read Samuel Huntingdon’s book but I have read a few critiques of it and as I understand it he talks of ‘the Muslim world’ as a fairly uniform block and constructs a sort of cold war thesis around that notion. Bunting does not name who her ‘Muscular liberals’ are but we can take a rough guess at who she is talking about (mostly people who are quite flabby actually). Those on the left who have taken a militant line against Islamism and terrorism reject the notion that there is a uniform, unchanging ‘Muslim world’. In fact their arguments constantly appeal for support for progressives in countries with large Muslim populations against the most reactionary elements. They notice and then take sides on the ‘clashes’ happening within the ‘Muslim world’.

In fact I would argue that it is those who take a soft line on Islamism, who veer close to cultural relativism, who are guilty of viewing Islam and Muslims as a block a la Huntingdon. They believe dialogue with al-Qaradawi is useful because they view him as a ‘leading Muslim scholar’ and not as the reactionary supporter of murder that he is.

There is a strong and increasingly vocal opposition to al-Qaradawi in the Middle East from people who objected to him giving his ‘blessing’ to suicide bombers and throat-slitters in Iraq.

The difference between the ‘Muscular liberals’ and the likes of Bunting and Livingstone is that we would rather support Qaradawi’s opponents in the Muslim world than the racist, homophobic, backer of terrorism himself.

As for the charge, half-made, of ‘pandering to racism’ and throwbacks to ‘Victorian liberal imperialism’ – I’ll leave you to make your mind up whether a view of Muslims which ignores the debate within their societies, fails to recognise that there is a split between progressives and reactionaries inside those countries (and indeed the British Muslim community) and rather values dialogue with conservative religious leaders and sees the reactionaries as the ‘real Muslims’ is more enlightened than one which recognises the diversity.

David T adds:

I hadn’t really read Bunting’s article properly. I’ve started treating her articles in much the same way that I treat newspaper horoscopes: reading them results in a loss of 5 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

However I’ve now read it and I see that it is significantly devoted to a new book by leading Revolutionary Communist Party theorist, Frank Furedi. Say what you like about the RCP, but you can absolutely count on them to be “muscular liberals”. Indeed the whole RCP project centres upon the urgent necessity to defend fundamental liberal values against the sort of wishy washy relativism which is both typified and promoted by Bunting.