Thursday, March 15, 2007

Garton Ash and Hirsi Ali

Timothy Garton Ash tries to clear the air with regard to his attitude towards Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He's been criticised at signandsight, in this month's Prospect and at Slate by Christopher Hitchens for his lack of support for her and for calling her an "enlightenment fundamentalist". He claims that he does support her and, in fact, agrees with her on many things, but not on Islam. There, he prefers those who, from within, have a more liberal and enlightened view of their faith.

In part, his view is mere pragmatism and to be respected as such. After all, it is not as if a billion plus people are going to take Hirsi Ali's path. The hoped-for reform has to occur from within and be led by figures who are respected by their audience. That is essential, but it is not sufficient.

There is also the part that the West must play. Ash has attracted a lot of criticism because he sounds suspiciously like so many Western fellow-travellers of the Cold War. It wasn't the understanding, compromising both-sides-have-a-point doves who brought that conflict to a close; it was the Hawks. Islam is not the Soviet Union, but the fear is that, if we are to sit back and wait for Muslims to make Islam fit for the modern world, we'll end up with a world just fit for Islam.

One of Ash's commenters, aside from accusing him of a monolithic view of Ali, makes her point about the role of the West.

While I haven't read her book, I attended one of her lectures, and she explicitly rejected the caricature of her views as presented here. She was pretty clear in her argument, which is basically that there are parts of Islam that are compatible with Western values, and there are parts of Islam that are not. And what the West needs to do is draw a clear line as to which aspects of Islam are acceptable in free societies, and which are not; and to make this clear, first and foremost, to Muslims that choose to live in the West. The hope being that if the West can stand firm on its basic values, a new type of Islam ('enlightened' or 'reformed' or whatever you choose to call it) would have a chance of succeeding, starting with Muslims in the West and then spreading to Muslim countries.
A good test of Ash's modernising Muslims will be their reaction to the St Petersburg Declaration.

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