Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ali vs. Husain in Westminster, UK

This debate is worth hearing at least twice, because it deals with issues rarely addressed in debates between believers and unbelievers, or for that matter, in any context.  Essentially, this is a debate over whether Islam should be revived, reformed, or refused.  Ed Husain says, “I’m not here to defend Muslims, I’m here to defend Islam,” while Ayaan Hirsi Ali counters with “I am not here to defend Islam, I am here to defend Muslims.”  This is to say that Husain is a liberal believer and former fundamentalist who claims that his faith may yet undergo an ideological renaissance with serves to elevate the thinking of Muslims throughout the world, while Ali is a humanist and former believer who would prefer individuals who identify as Muslims to elevate themselves by choosing reason over faith.

It seems obvious enough to me that both Ali and Husain are correct on most of the vital issues they discuss, such as civil rights and secular law, and they disagree only on whether faith itself is worth having and maintaining.  I consider this an open question, although it seems clear enough to me that secular democratic societies cannot liberalize unless the religious faiths of the citizens do so as well.  The foreign policy question for us westerners must be how best to encourage majority Muslim nations to allow for both liberal faith and religious infidelity, in other words, how to create free and open civil societies rooted in the cultural context of Islam.  I do not know how to address this quandary, though I am fairly certain that bombing people into the Stone Age (a common enough sentiment here in the Bible Belt) is not the answer. 

Interestingly, Husain and Ali seem to agree that there is a narrow path which might allow for Muslims to create their own free, open, civil societies, by focusing on earlier textual traditions within Islam.



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