Nice declaration, but…

The Secular Islam Summit earlier this month appears to have produced “The St Petersburg Declaration,” which expresses some very agreeable sentiments.

Normally I’d endorse it, and encourage others to endorse it as well. But I find it hard to support an event organized by some thoroughly vile neocon figures such as Michael Leeden, is dripping with hard-right US and Israeli nationalist connections, and so far seems to be celebrated by the right-wing press who are not generally allies of secularism but miss no opportunity to bash Muslims. This isn’t good. I don’t know if this is a case of Muslim reformists trying to use the neocons, the neocons trying to use the critics of Islam, or something nastier. But as far as I’m concerned, the whole event and its results are tainted, regardless of the superficially attractive rhetoric produced in the declaration.

It’s also disturbing that the Center For Inquiry, normally a relatively sane outfit and a reliable supporter of secularism and religious skepticism, is in bed with all these neocons where Islam is concerned. Just because someone presents themselves as “bravely” criticizing Islam, that doesn’t mean that they do a good job of it! CFI risks being suckered in by some unscholarly people with some ugly political agendas that have little to do with urging reform and freedom of inquiry in Muslim lands.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17378939547816646201 Adam Lee

    This guilt-by-association strategy ill becomes you, Taner. Who cares what the political affiliations are of the people supporting this summit? What we should be asking is whether the people who actually attended the summit produced a declaration that promotes political aims we reject.

    I see nothing in the St. Petersburg Declaration itself that offends my principles. On the contrary, I think it takes a commendable stand for free thought and secular values, both of which are things the Muslim world badly needs more of.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Adam Lee: Who cares what the political affiliations are of the people supporting this summit?

    We should care because declarations such as these are political documents. It is a legitimate question to ask what the lofty sentiments expressed actually mean, at a concrete political level. (Think, for example, about how elastic and near-meaningless a term such as “democracy” can be without relevant context and background information.)

    There are also more practical reasons to pay attention to such matters. Presumably, such a declaration should appeal to a secularist, liberal constituency within the Muslim world. (Not a huge population, but not vanishingly small, either.) It won’t; the neocon, rankly Islamophobic background it is associated with will generate nothing but suspicion. The primary use I see this declaration being put to is quite cynical. Western conservative culture warriors can use it to bash intellectuals from Muslim backgrounds. If you’re not wholeheartedly positive about it, well, you must be against free inquiry and women’s rights etc. for Muslims. And if you come out for it, you get branded by the Islamist side in this unholy culture war as a dupe of Western neocons. I’d rather not impale myself on that fork, thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04699296428920303928 Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    How do people on different sides of one issue ever agree on anything, if they apply the Taner Edis criterion? “Mr X and I disagree over issue A. Since some people may interpret my agreement on issue B as an assent to A, I can’t be seen agreeing with Mr. X on anything s/he says.”

    Gee, Mr. Edis, I bet Mr. Ledeen prefers breathing an atmosphere of 79% N(2), 19% 0(2) plus trace gasses to breathing an atmosphere of chlorine, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. Bon appetite.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04699296428920303928 Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    I googled “Michael Ledeen” (it’s not “Leeden”) and found this:…

    http://www.aei.org/scholars/filter.,scholarID.35/scholar.asp

    He looks pretty accomplished to me. What’s “vile” and “neocon” about that resume? Is “neocon” automatically “vile” to Mr Edis

    About communist involvement in the early civil rights movement, H. L. Mencken once wrote: “The way to defeat the communists is not to fight them when they are right.”
    Beware the reflexive partisanship which prevents agreement where it would otherwise occur.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02676321490856223383 ts


    He looks pretty accomplished to me. What’s “vile” and “neocon” about that resume?

    Yes, of course, his resume is the final word on whether he’s vile or a neocon.

    Add a little juice to that bulb of yours and check out his Wikipedia article, at least.


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