Huq Reviews "British Secularism and Religion: Islam, Society and the State"

Is there room for Islam in European pluralism?
Aziz Huq
November 19, 2010

It has recently come to the attention of some commentators that Europe and America have become more religiously pluralistic in the last few years. Even though in Europe it was a post-World War II hunger for a new low-cost surplus labor pool that drove this new pluralism, these commentators have come to the conclusion that grave errors were made. They are not happy about what they see as an unfortunate turn of events. In Italy, Oriana Falluci has warned from the steeples about Europe becoming a “a colony of Islam.” In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin now tolls the (eugenic) bell for the intellectual decline of a Heimat flooded with Turks. In Britain, Melanie Philips spies decline and fall in the slivers of a woman’s head covering. Ranging across the continent and globe, American commentators such as Bruce Bawer, and Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell mutter darkly around brewing revolution, discerning dire prospects in the darkening visages of Europe.

As troubling as this literature may seem—and I make light of it largely because mockery seems one effective riposte—it is also inflected by a deep and seemingly unwitting irony. These commentators tend to proclaim their embrace of liberal European values, even as they either explicitly or implicitly advance an agenda of exclusion, marginalization, and state-sanctioned discrimination with respect to European Muslims. To these commentators, those who argue that liberal values protect both the Christian and the Muslim are written off as dupes: Islam, that monolith that admits of no refracting gaze, simply cannot be assimilated to the liberal domain. Never mind that the chief attraction of liberalism (at least in the strand best exemplified by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill) is its universalism and its refusal to install arbitrary moral distinctions between human beings. To protect liberalism from itself, for these commentators, means to gut liberalism of the touchstone of its enduring appeal for the marginalized, the despised, and the forlorn.

Aziz Huq