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Re: D’Souza



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Andrew, I agree that Kathryn’s interview with D’Souza merits a great deal of debate. D’Souza discounts the fact that “The radical Muslims are against modernity and science and democracy” and goes on to say:

The traditional Muslims are our best bet. Besides, they’re not asking us to live like them. They’re asking us not to attack their religion, which conservatives do with depressing regularity. They’re asking us not to force secularism and separation of church and state on their society, another foolish cause to which some conservatives subscribe.

Here D’Souza misses an absolutely crucial point.

The “War on Terror” is in a sense the struggle of a post-Enlightenment West against a medievalist Islam. But in the Islamic world, the “traditionalists” and even “moderates” are just as medievalist as the extremists in some ways. Pushing for the victory of secularism and separation of church and state in Islamic society, which D’Souza waves away as a foolish habit of ours, is indeed one of the keys to the entire struggle.

The idea that “justice” should have nothing to do with religion, but must come instead from REASON, is a cardinal principle of the Enlightenment, and part of the necessary bedrock upon which the democratic state is founded. And the idea that “justice” should be enshrined in a secular text of law and a constitution which together trump all other texts (including the Bible and Koran) and all other theories of justice, is equally a cardinal principle of the Enlightenment and of post-Enlightenment societies. It is a principle which the most conservative and religious Americans share. And yet in these beliefs we are almost as far apart from many traditional and even moderate strains of Islamic society as we are from the most radical. Finding self-styled moderate Muslims in Lebanon is easy. Finding moderate Muslims who proclaim that the Constitution of Lebanon trumps the Koran in cases of conflict is quite a different matter.

Worse, even though it is true as D’Souza says that radical Islamic scholars are not terribly concerned with “modernity and science” the trouble is that traditionalist Islamic society isn’t terribly concerned with those things either. Thus, Islamic civilization is not merely pre-Enlightenment but even in many ways pre-Renaissance.

Because so few radicals, traditionalists, or moderates in the Islamic world share Renaissance values — humanism, naturalism, and moral skepticism — we do not in fact have many real allies among them. And people who do not embrace Enlightenment values — secularism, separation of church and state, rule of law, minority rights, and deism instead of theism — cannot be real democrats. Friends we may find among them, but not allies–not really.



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