Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Engaging critically with Islamists

with 2 comments

My recent “light reading” hasn’t turned out so well, but something from the cover (as far as I got) of Graham Fuller’s The Future of Political Islam struck me—in a good way.

According to reviewer Professor Fred Halliday:

Fuller argues persuasively that Islamic political movements are, above all, an engagement with the modern world, not a flight from it, and that it is possible to engage critically with their ideas.

I don’t yet know if this is really what Fuller argues—or if he does so persuasively—but if it is, I preemptively applaud him for his effort. As I have expressed previously, it is a common belief that Islam cannot be reasoned with. Or “engaged critically with,” for that matter.

This belief is tantamount to what I have called, in one case, “pleading insanity on behalf of … Islam.” And it may very well be one of the most destructive attitudes in Middle East foreign policy today.

I am not optimistic about reviewing Fuller’s book in the near future, but if the reader has some patience, I’m sure I will get to it eventually


Written by M. James

June 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Whether Islam can engage critically (by which I assume is meaning rationally by the rules of philosophical argument) vis-à-vis liberal philosophy, seems a subset of a larger problem. Within philosophy of religion we hear the debate whether Christianity can engage in rational argument with secular philosophies (the ethics of belief, as it is called, and the work by your William James and Josiah Royce).

    I am not sure this is a problem particular to Islam. Because of that, I wonder if it is safe to define the Western and Near Eastern dialectic as one of liberalism as against Islam or secular humanism as against Islam. It is the fact that secular humanist liberals have that same debate with their own Christians. What then would be the special points of contention between the liberal philosophers and their Islamist counterparts?

    Luc Issa

    June 24, 2012 at 10:02 pm

  2. I’d say that the special points of contention are geographical, not philosophical. Painted with the broad brush of political philosophy (ignoring the metaphysical minutiae for a moment), the differences between the Christian-secular and Islamist-secular debates are quite possibly nonexistent. It is merely the fact that the West feels the economic need to engage with the Muslim Middle East (at the moment) that makes this familiar debate as “important” as it is.

    So no, philosophically the problem is not unique, and it is certainly incorrect to attribute religious ethics to the Near East and secular ethics to the West. But I will emphasize that this realization doesn’t make the debate any less important.

    In order to avoid overextending myself—which I may have done already—I’ll stop here. To address this debate correctly would be the work of someone who is well read, and much more scholarly in temperament than myself.

    M. James

    June 26, 2012 at 11:05 am

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