Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bernard Lewis at AEI

Bernard Lewis giving the Irving Kristol Lecture at American Enterprise Institute on Islam and the West.

You can watch it here.
Read it here.

There is a great great deal covered in this lecture. I want to focus on only one aspect, which is right near the end, the question of tolerance in a European context.

[Sidenote: When referring to the "third time" Lewis is arguing that current Muslim migration to the West is the third phase in Islam's attempt to conquer Christendom. Phase 1: the invasion, conquering of Spain up into France repulsed at Battle of the Tours 711. Phase 2: Ottoman Turks reaching in 16th and 17th centuries, the walls of Vienna, only to be pushed back and then eventually to lose completely to European colonialism. Phase 3: Khomeni Revolution 1979 Iran, al-Qaeda, Mujihadeen in Afghanistan throwing off the Soviets, Mass Migration to Europe].

On the issue of tolerance, here is Lewis (my emphasis).
When Muslims came to Europe they had a certain expectation of tolerance, feeling that they were entitled to at least the degree of tolerance which they had accorded to non-Muslims in the great Muslim empires of the past. Both their expectations and their experience were very different. Coming to European countries, they got both more and less than they had expected: More in the sense that they got in theory and often in practice equal political rights, equal access to the professions, all the benefits of the welfare state, freedom of expression, and so on and so forth.

But they also got significantly less than they had given in traditional Islamic states. In the Ottoman Empire and other states before that--I mention the Ottoman Empire as the most recent--the non-Muslim communities had separate organizations and ran their own affairs. They collected their own taxes and enforced their own laws. There were several Christian communities, each living under its own leadership, recognized by the state. These communities were running their own schools, their own education systems, administering their own laws in such matters as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and the like. The Jews did the same. So you had a situation in which three men living in the same street could die and their estates would be distributed under three different legal systems if one happened to be Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim. A Jew could be punished by a rabbinical court and jailed for violating the Sabbath or eating on Yom Kippur. A Christian could be arrested and imprisoned for taking a second wife. Bigamy is a Christian offense; it was not an Islamic or an Ottoman offense.

They do not have that degree of independence in their own social and legal life in the modern state. It is quite unrealistic for them to expect it, given the nature of the modern state, but that is not how they see it. They feel that they are entitled to receive what they gave. As one Muslim friend of mine in Europe put it, "We allowed you to practice monogamy, why should you not allow us to practice polygamy?"
I highlight that not as an argument for sharia, separate legal codes and so on--which I do not believe in. In fact, I don't believe in laws against head-dresses for that very reason: it creates a separate legal standing for one group over another. It is meant to inform--to understand that the call for these institutions and separate communal running of affairs is not simply only about radicalization or overthrowing "Christendom" (really post-Christendom in Europe). It makes sense given the history. I still think it has to be moved beyond, but it is not insane.

Does the West have any resources to bring relationship, to persuade (which I like over the fight image)? Lewis points out two: knowledge and freedom. As a corrective to those who only point out demographic decline among Euros and increase among Muslim populations; Europeans being lost in deconstruction, Muslims feeling their own strength growing by the day.

Lewis on the latter, freedom (emphasis again mine):
Less obvious but also powerful is the appeal of freedom. In the past, in the Islamic world the word freedom was not used in a political sense. Freedom was a legal concept. You were free if you were not a slave. The institution of slavery existed. Free meant not slave. Unlike the West, they did not use freedom and slavery as a metaphor for good and bad government, as we have done for a long time in the Western world. The terms they used to denote good and bad government are justice and injustice. A good government is a just government, one in which the Holy Law, including its limitations on sovereign authority, is strictly enforced. The Islamic tradition, in theory and, until the onset of modernization, to a large degree in practice, emphatically rejects despotic and arbitrary government. Living under justice is the nearest approach to what we would call freedom. But the idea of freedom in its Western interpretation is making headway. It is becoming more and more understood, more and more appreciated and more and more desired. It is perhaps in the long run our best hope, perhaps even our only hope, of surviving this developing struggle.
What Lewis has properly done there is noted the goodness (though imperfection relative to modern standards) of the traditional Islamic world. The problem is not the historical existence of Caliphate. It is that the Islamic world has never entered modern political reality. It has, especially in the Arab and Central Asian world, fought that evolutionary current with despotism. But as Lewis notes, the best hope is the ideal of modern political freedom (orange meme) which is why deconstructionist (green) relativist impulses alone are hurting Europeans (both Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and secular) chances for the future.

The only future is integration.


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