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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Islam: Victim of Westernization and Secularization?

         Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book, Infidel reaches a very controversial conclusion about Islam. She considers the religion as it is currently practiced, incompatible with modernity, democracy and western ideals. In order for Muslims to accept their environments in the west they must radically transform Islam. She describes the freedoms given to the people in the west as a gift to both women and children, and those unwilling to accept the gift are corrupting the land by “elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.” Hirsi Ali's sentiments and uneasiness about the way in which many Muslim women were still living in Holland, led to much criticize.

         While Hirsi Ali voice and approach to wanting to change things was loud, many Dutch intellectuals were uneasy about targeting immigrants and enforcing change. Her toleration for the preservation of culture and customs which she saw on the streets of Saudi Arabia deteriorated. She further criticized radical Islam with collaborated on Submission Part 1 with Theo van Gogh. The journey Hirsi Ali takes her readers on is not an easy one, she moves from a world of strong faith in Islam and Allah to a world as she says is of “reason.” Her personal journey strengthens her belief in female equality and criticism for radical customs of the faith being practiced in the west. She believes that the enslavement of women is just one of the many things which lies at the heart of the fanatical/radical interpretation of a religion which preaches backwardness and violations of basic human rights.

       In societies where there are people of different cultures and regions it is not always a big party, in fact, most of the times people fight. In most cases, religion is always the primary cause to any discussion, debate or argument in societies where more than one type of people live. It was mentioned before that tolerance of one another and each others way of living is a possible solution but not always the best and most effective solution. This formula ignores the people who take time to assimilate or become part of the normative culture. Not receiving the same attention, may trigger more and more people to do what it takes to be counted. Westernization and secularization make it harder for communities such as orthodox Muslims to find themselves living comfortably in nations in Europe because religion seems distant from both the government and the people. Religion and God is very much separate from the daily lives of the average citizen. This is something strange and alien to a devoted Muslim, who has accepted Sharia and Islam as the way of life. On the contrary, a country like the United States, was founded on the idea that church is separate from the state but still continues to have more and more people practicing a religion or believing in God. The reasoning offered by the article was because the “American model” promoted work ethic and how to make money. People do not have the time to decide whether to assimilate or not to the native culture because American culture preaches making money is what makes an individual American.

           It is interesting to question whether orthodox Islam and democracy can co-exist. Ayaan being a critic of Islam, would say you can have either or and not both. The incompatibility of both democracy and Islam co-existing would then filter out those people who could not find a balance between their faith and the culture and norms of their land. According to “The Dutch Model,” many people thought of Hirsi Ali to be intolerant of Muslim culture because she was angry and politically incorrect just like almost all other converts. However, her approach was that you can not be nice to your enemy and always make them your friend, she said the problem was within the institution and formation of Islam, for example “ the oppression of women is built into Islam.” If this was truly the case, then would the only solution to the problem be the eradication of all religions? If you were to ask Ayaan, she would probably respond yes. In the specific case of Holland and the dilemma the nation faces in situations where a person like Theo van Gogh is being murdered for expressing his freedoms, does multiculturalism and the “model of tolerance” truly make murder and violence acceptable? If this question was to be answered, Ayaan's view of voluntary assimilation seems to be the only solution. And if a person chooses he or she is not capable of returning the same religious and cultural tolerance given to them, then they should not be able to experience the “freedoms of the west.”

        In an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she mentions that “all humans are equal but not all cultures are equal.” This is a statement which is very true. Cultures are made by religions and people, and cultures are passed down over time. This means that no one culture ever remains the same, because it is always undergoing constant change. Humans however are the same in the sense that all share the capability to adjust themselves to their environments, even if they may want to or not. This is not the same with cultures, therefore cultural tolerance is always more prone to be under attack. The interviewer mentions clash of civilizations, this translates to all the religions and cultures in the West compared to the rest of the world. It is important to recognize how geographic orientation also matters very much in the way people behave and what they practice.

-Suveen S.

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