Saturday, 11 June 2016

Renan Revisited > Theodore Dalrymple. On moderate Muslims and the likelihood of Islamic reformation

The ever insightful Dalrymple. 
.... The moderates [Muslims] want, in effect, to reduce Islam to a private confession whose ethical standards are more or less those of, say, a fairly liberal Canadian. In other words, they want to preserve Islam in the modern world by liberalising it and making it compatible with Twenty-First century values. From my personal standpoint, this is laudable and even brave in the circumstances; but there is one enormous flaw in the whole scheme. If the ethics of Islam become those of any reasonably decent person in a liberal democracy, what need of Islam at all? It will become merely a collection of rituals whose irrationality and therefore needlessness will soon become clear under the withering fire of rationalist criticism. Its holy book will be shown to be a literary artefact, a compilation, like any other such book (and by no means the best of the genre, either). Soon nothing of Islam will remain.
In this sense, the extremists seem to me to have the better of the argument. They have understood that, where the survival of their religion is concerned, it is all or none. They have seen what happened to religious faith in England and France once such faith was treated as a merely private matter, freely subject to criticism either serious or mocking. And since they are instilled with the notion that there is in Islam an essence that is uniquely precious, they cannot accede to the scheme of the moderates, which will lead to its de facto extinction. The extremists, then, are more consistent, far-seeing and realistic than the moderates, though morally grossly their inferiors.
Islam is uniquely precious to them because they have nothing else to be proud of or to hang on to. Whatever its glorious past, Islam has had a bad past few centuries; it has contributed nothing to the stock of universal advancement. This would not matter but for its claims to unique truth. How is it that a doctrine, or family of doctrines, claiming all-sufficiency, has actually been so barren of contribution to progress? It is Islam, then, or nothing.
Moderate Moslems and moderate leftists share a similar problem. Both believe that their world outlook has something uniquely precious about it, but perceive that in fact the world can get on perfectly well without it. What, then, remains of the precious contribution of their worldview? It is not uncommon in France to see articles about the future of the left now that radically egalitarian transformation of society has been ruled out. What can it argue for now? Recognition of polygamy, incestuous marriage or the rights of necrophiliacs? Whatever it is, it will not be sufficient to justify or support a whole worldview; rather, the left will be reduced to a state of permanent querulousness about this or that supposed injustice, one succeeding another. For underlying the self-conceit of the left is a belief in oppositionism as such: and as it is more blessed to give than to receive, so it is more blessed to oppose what exists than to support or sustain it. The left starts out from a belief in original virtue, especially its own; therefore it must preserve itself and its world outlook, however difficult this may be.

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