From the fatwa on author Salman Rushdie to the attack on the offices of French weekly Charlie Hebdo, the phenomenon of anti-blasphemy actions remains prominent in the Muslim world.
At first glance, the problem appears to be quite simple. For many years, there has been much talk about the conflicts between blasphemy and free speech within Islam. Some go further and argue about the “intrinsic hostility between two civilizations: Islam and Europe,” as the philosopher Talal Asad puts it.
It is quite easy to say that Islam suffers from a lack of tolerance and that Muslims are anti-freedom, anti-democracy, pro-despotism and pro-fanaticism. However, this generalization ignores not only the number of branches of Islam and diversity of views among Muslims, but also the sociopolitical foundation of the problem…
…The notion of religious actions is more problematic than is popularly supposed. It is not merely a divine spiritual matter, which is separated from social political actors. Rather, it is nested within and shaped by other human dimensions. As a result, the sociopolitical background can change any religion – to be more tolerant or more fanatical, for example. Sociologist Bryan S. Turner describes this situation in Christian society:
Given the growth of parliamentary institutions, welfare legislation and commitment to egalitarian ideology, it is small wonder that contemporary Christians cannot accept a description of God as an autocrat. Jesus, once our lord and master, has become Superstar.
This process took a long time in Western societies to become today’s accepted nature of great tolerance and coexistence. The West paid the price through centuries of religious, sectarian and political wars.
Meanwhile, the status of the Muslim world has declined continuously in the contemporary period. This is due to various reasons, including ongoing political instability, the failure to build a state of institutions and a real civil society and destructive imperialist interventions.
Western colonial powers handed the Middle East to a series of tyrannical governments. Failed attempts at building a nation-state have led to the rise of chauvinism and military regimes, which mostly have been supported by the great Western powers.
The recent popular revolutions have resulted in the rise of criminal Salafi gangs. Many were supported by the West for different reasons, such as confronting the Soviet Union in al-Qaeda’s case, or anti-Israel regimes in Islamic State’s case…
It’s all our fault, as usual, that Islam appears not to be a religion of peace.
The author drags in 13th century mystic Rumi, who wrote and acted barely like a Muslim at all. Rumi contradicts the Koran, and he’s more popular in the West than in the Islamic world.
Rumi lived in what is now Turkey. It seems Turkey — not only was it never a Western colony, it was an imperial power itself for centuries — is now moving in quite a different direction.