Nor is it racist or offensive for Western governments to ensure that all their citizens have the same rights in divorce proceedings or domestic disputes, or that the laws on polygamy apply equally to all. It may be anti-libertarian, but it is not racist, for Western local governments to require that cab drivers accept passengers carrying dogs or bottles of liquor. Often, applying the law equally means that some end up dissatisfied, but the West has learned the benefits of having a government of laws and not of men.
Freedom of intellectual inquiry is a highly prized Western value; Islam, like all other religions or philosophical ideas, will have to live with criticism in the West. Period. Sometimes that criticism will take an annoying or deliberately provocative form. Too bad. Our rules work better than anyone else’s ever have to foster hope and prosperity for the people. There’s a reason we don’t get into blood feuds over verbal provocations: because it’s stupid and destructive. Governments owe it to their people, and individuals owe it to their families and friends, to refrain from such counterproductive pursuits.
Muslims versus “Islamists”
Millions of Muslims have lived successfully in the Western societies that honor these principles. The issue is not whether Islam is better at promoting some other idea of social harmony and value. The West must not be the battleground for settling that question. The issue for the West must be that what we believe in and have cultivated works well, and accords with our most basic beliefs about the rights and dignities of humanity. We find it to be a good, productive, and necessary way to live – we find it to be moral and honorable – and we will enforce it on our territory. Muslims who choose to live among us will have to respect our code.
Most of them have, over the years. Most of them will continue to do so, and be good citizens whom we are happy to have as neighbors – if we provide the safe space in which they can make the choice.
The predators seeking to void that space are the Islamists. To make policy decisions that safeguard the quiescent space of freedom, we must distinguish between Muslim people, many of whom are prepared to worship and proselytize in an atmosphere of freedom and non-compulsion, and Islamism as an ideological, political-authoritarian motivation. For the sake of the West – indeed, in my view, for the sake of all mankind – there has to be a method of making this distinction rhetorically.
The future of Islamism…
I call ideological advocacy for sharia “Islamism,” and associate it where justified with radical violence. But the most important trend today is what I call “state-Islamism,” which is the specific focus on taking over the governments of armed nations and imposing sharia from the halls of political power.
Iran effectively launched this trend in 1979 and the Taliban continued it after the Soviet troops left Afghanistan. In different ways, Erdogan has been putting his own stamp on this trend in Turkey; and Hizballah, Fatah, and Hamas have been maneuvering into more-or-less-governmental positions on the territories over which they hold sway. Algeria, Somalia, and Yemen have all dealt for decades with factions aspiring to impose sharia from the seat of national government; other African nations like Nigeria and Kenya are seeing such factions emerge. Now Morsi is busy imposing sharia on Egypt, and Tunisia looks virtually certain to become a sharia state as well. The fight for Syria is a fight over the imposition of sharia – and if the Islamists win there, Iraq and Jordan will be on borrowed time as non-sharia-subverted states.
The more established the state-Islamist trend becomes, the more important it will be for Western nations to have a well-defined policy for preserving, in our own social and civic arrangements, our Western heritage of freedom. Men live their lives on territory, and territory must be held for particular values if those values are to thrive and set an example. Sharia is antithetical to our heritage; Islamists, in their various methods, oppose and attack that heritage, meaning to exclude it, gradually, from territory around the earth. It will become only more important over time for us to have a way of talking about this.