On the Muslim Question

On the Muslim Question

Anne Norton
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    On the Muslim Question
    Book Description:

    In the post-9/11 West, there is no shortage of strident voices telling us that Islam is a threat to the security, values, way of life, and even existence of the United States and Europe. For better or worse, "the Muslim question" has become the great question of our time. It is a question bound up with others--about freedom of speech, terror, violence, human rights, women's dress, and sexuality. Above all, it is tied to the possibility of democracy. In this fearless, original, and surprising book, Anne Norton demolishes the notion that there is a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam. What is really in question, she argues, is the West's commitment to its own ideals: to democracy and the Enlightenment trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In the most fundamental sense, the Muslim question is about the values not of Islamic, but of Western, civilization.

    Moving between the United States and Europe, Norton provides a fresh perspective on iconic controversies, from the Danish cartoon of Muhammad to the murder of Theo van Gogh. She examines the arguments of a wide range of thinkers--from John Rawls to Slavoj Žižek. And she describes vivid everyday examples of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims who have accepted each other and built a common life together. Ultimately, Norton provides a new vision of a richer and more diverse democratic life in the West, one that makes room for Muslims rather than scapegoating them for the West's own anxieties.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4635-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Ruth O’Brien

    Anne Norton’sOn the Muslim Questionupends established political and academic arguments. It is a Public Square book given its many compelling turns of phrase, like “as Jews became American, Americans became more Jewish.” Readers will be taken by surprise as Norton’s insights are explicated in simple language. The book is free of academic jargon and cultural studies clichés.

    YetOn the Muslim Questionis a Public Square book not just because of its aesthetic construction. It is political theory. It is breathtaking in its vision, its scope, and its ambition. Just as the Jewish question heralded a broadly humane...

  4. INTRODUCTION On the Muslim Question: Philosophy, Politics, and the Western Street
    (pp. 1-12)

    The Jewish question was fundamental for politics and philosophy in the Enlightenment. In our time, as the Enlightenment fades, the Muslim question has taken its place.

    The emancipation of the Jews was central to Enlightenment philosophy and politics. Enlightened statesmen endeavored to change the laws that had relegated Jews to second-class citizenship, and to end the pogroms that had filled Europe with terror. The freedom of Jews to vote, to participate in politics as equals, and to walk through their cities as equals accompanied the expansion of democracy and marked the achievement of liberal constitutions. As the West became more...

  5. Part I Muslim Questions
    • CHAPTER 1 Freedom of Speech
      (pp. 15-44)

      A clash of civilizations that saw the West as the realm of enlightenment, and Muslims in the realm of religion, custom, and tradition, has been part of spectacles in the Western public sphere since Ernst Renan lectured—and Jamal al Din al Afghani challenged him—in nineteenth-century Paris. Ayatollah Khomeini gave new life to these civilizational theatrics when he issued his notorious fatwa calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie. The clash has continued to be enacted in the production of the filmSubmission(a critique of the treatment of women under Islam), the murder of the film’s producer, Theo...

    • CHAPTER 2 Sex and Sexuality
      (pp. 45-66)

      Condemnation of Islam’s treatment of women has united conservative Catholics and nostalgic Stalinists, neoliberals and social democrats. This rare point of unity among philosophers and politicians more often found at each other’s throats does not, however, grow from a profound moment of Western cultural consensus. On the contrary, sex and sexuality in the West remain sites of enduring inequalities and fundamental disagreements. This is the terrain of the cultural wars, and underneath the seeming agreement on Islam, debates over sex and sexuality, equality and the sanctity of the family, the role of women, culture and rights, continue unabated.

      For both...

    • CHAPTER 3 Women and War
      (pp. 67-81)

      The construction of the Muslim world as hostile to women accomplishes several useful objects for the West, particularly the United States. Attention to the plight of women in the Muslim world turns the gaze of feminists and other potential critics away from the continuing oppression of women in the West. Western women are told how very fortunate they are. They may still be subject to domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault (even by Western politicians), but these assaults pale before the horrors of polygamy and forced marriage. They may still make only a fraction of what men make, but they...

    • CHAPTER 4 Terror
      (pp. 82-93)

      There are two fears in the fear of terrorism: fear of the many and fear of the one. The fear of the many sees the West (or the Western) besieged by an Islam that, this time, breaks through the gates of Vienna to occupy the heart of Europe. The fear of the many encompasses both “the demographic problem” and the arrival of boatloads of economic and political refugees. The fear of the one is a fear of the damage that can be wrought by a single man or woman: the terrorist or the suicide bomber. The battle is fought not...

    • CHAPTER 5 Equality
      (pp. 94-117)

      The writings of the late philosopher John Rawls capture both the common sense and the aspirations of much of the modern, liberal, secular West. Rawls belongs in an Anglo-American cultural context. His work is most at home in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, but has a significant following throughout the European West. He had, however, universal ambitions. InThe Law of Peoples, Rawls laid out a plan for justice among peoples. “The Law of Peoples,” Rawls wrote, “extends the idea of the social contract to the Society of Peoples, and lays out the general principles that...

    • CHAPTER 6 Democracy
      (pp. 118-138)

      In the dark of December, as 2010 turned to 2011, the people of Tunisia rose against their authoritarian regime. As winter turned to spring, the Egyptian people flowed into the streets chanting. They faced down water cannons on the bridges of the Nile and built the heart of the nation in Tahrir Square. As I write this, people are battling authoritarian governments in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. They chant, “shaab hurri, shaab hurri,” calling themselves into being as ashaab hurri, a free people. Each of these revolutions has called for democracy. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya democratic institutions are...

  6. Part II In the Western Street
    • CHAPTER 7 Where Is Europe?
      (pp. 141-163)

      Pope Benedict XVI, the head, if not of Christendom, at least of one of its larger sects, has affirmed in Germany and Bulgaria, in speeches and in writing, that Europe has Christian roots. That is true, but not the whole truth. Europe has never been quite synonymous with Christendom. Europe has also been the home of the greatest threat to Christianity: atheism, the faith Žižek called “Europe’s greatest legacy.” Modern Europe orients much of its politics around shame. Europe remembers the Jews who shaped it, were persecuted and killed in it, exiled from it. The practice of democratic assemblies and...

    • CHAPTER 8 “Islamofascism” and the Burden of the Holocaust
      (pp. 164-175)

      The Holocaust left the West with a grief too great to bear, and a shame too bitter to acknowledge. The affirmation that this must never happen again put in place laws against National Socialist parties and Holocaust denial. A collective commitment to remember and bear witness marked the West with memorials, great and small, visible and invisible, speaking to the eye and to the mind.

      As the generations passed, grief remained and shame declined. We of the West become not the civilization that gave the world Nazism, but the people who defeated it. All Europe becomes Allied. The laws against...

    • CHAPTER 9 In the American Desert
      (pp. 176-194)

      Americans believe that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Those convictions have been challenged. The realization of those principles has been, and remains, a struggle. Yet the belief is real, the demands it places are great, and it drives not only sentiment but policy.

      There is room here. There is room to flee your past and become something new. There is room enough to keep the old ways safe. There are Arab Americans and Pakistani Americans, Muslims from every corner of the globe. There are new converts and the children...

    • CHAPTER 10 There Is No Clash of Civilizations
      (pp. 195-228)

      The “clash of civilizations” is an article of faith, accepted by Left and Right, by politicians and philosophers. Samuel Huntington gets the credit for the clash of civilizations now, but there were earlier, and more eminent, partisans.¹ That understanding animated Ernst Renan’s literary debate with Jamal al Din al Afghani in nineteenth-century Paris. It has a long and distinguished history. But it is not true.

      Where we meet Islamic civilization in the West, we find not a clash but work on a common life. The evidence for this may be sparse in the work of scholars or the speeches of...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-232)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 233-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-266)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-268)