Islam and identity

Former Observer Editor Will Hutton (a pro social democrat) writes on Islam and identity. The full column is worth reading, but some extracts are below:

The leading European theorist on Islam is Paris-based Professor Olivier Roy. In Globalised Islam, he argues that Muslims everywhere, but especially the minorities living in the West, are undergoing a crisis of identity that is easily misunderstood by both the West and Islam itself as being about the integrity of religious faith.

Roy’s belief is that the deep driver of Islamic fundamentalism, and murderous intra-religious rivalries is the interaction of this very particular culture and its norms with Western culture and norms.

Those who think that what we are observing is solely a blowback against Western foreign policy, the invasion of and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, vastly underestimate the profundity of what is happening – or the possibility of changing it by changes to foreign policy. The tensions between Islam, the British and the West have much deeper roots. Can Islamic theology and culture compete with the march of globalisation, Western values and their self-evident superiority in delivering a prosperity that Islam cannot match?

The West provokes Islam not by doing anything, although what it does is hardly helpful; it provokes at least some strands of Islamic thought simply by being.

The message from Roy and Malik is bleak. There is no quick fix. Nor should the West too readily accept at face value demands to accept Islamic dress codes, protocols over food, the cultural context of honour killings, Islamic schools and Sharia law. The virulence and sometimes violence with which these demands are made are not because of religiosity or genuine grievance which we should respect; they are ways of responding to a profound identity crisis and should be understood as such.

There are many years of tension ahead. There needs to be an equitable settlement between Israel and the Palestinians not because of hopes it will halt Islamic fundamentalism or but because we believe in equity.

To respond to jihadism by declaring a on was wrong; to make war on a crisis of identity is crass. Jihadist terror is a security issue. Peace will only arrive in the Middle East and Leeds when many more Muslims arrive at Hirsi Ali’s destination.

And that will only happen if the West never gives ground on its values, and never accepts it has sole responsibility for the tensions.

The violent engagement with modernity by some strands within Islam is inescapable. We should certainly avoid inflaming matters with injustices such as Guantanamo Bay. But we cannot and should not stop being ourselves.

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