Political Responses to Islam

I just read avery good article by Andrew F. March, “Reading Tariq Ramadan: Political Liberalism, Islam, and ‘Overlapping Consensus’”. It’s the best short piece I’ve run into that addresses what political demands can be made of conservative Islam if it is to be accommodated in an Anglo-American style liberal multicultural system. Here are March’s basic demands that he thinks we can ask of Muslims living in the West:

  • that Islamic conceptions of morality can only be cultivated and encouraged within Muslim families and communities through noncoercive means;
  • that the public sphere in non-Muslim liberal democracies cannot be expected to accommodate all Islamic religious sensibilities by limiting freedom of expression;
  • that grievances with public authorities be redressed politically and with a long-term commitment to democratic political institutions;
  • that non-Muslim fellow citizens are recognized as eligible for bonds of political and social solidarity and that relations with them are regarded as relationships of justice (rather than contingent accommodation)
  • that Muslims can recognize the diversity and ethical pluralism of liberal societies as a permanent feature and not something to be ultimately overcome by a future Muslim majority;
  • that, whatever legitimate solidarity Muslims feel for the global community of Muslims, non-Muslim states of citizenship enjoy immunity from violence.

Now, this is not the only political possibility. I have my doubts about the Anglo-American liberal tradition, partly due to the incoherence of multiculturalism and partly due to an opposite universalist tendency in Anglo-American liberalism, which I also can’t fully agree with. In many ways I am more partial to the French secular republican tradition. (See Pascal Bruckner’s “Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?” for a somewhat overheated defense.) That too has some problems with naive moral universalism, but I tend to prefer its active, affirmative defense of secularity.

Still, French-style laicite is not a live option in Anglo-American societies, including the US. Given our political tradition, March’s views might be the best we can expect in the way of a vigorous position against illiberal aspects of conservative Islam.

(Thanks to Stuart Elliott for pointing out March’s article.)

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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