Sympathy for the…
Norm Geras’ blog has an excellent post on a recent Guardian column by Karen Armstrong. I thought it was excellent when I first read it, before Norm demonstrated what dazzlingly good taste he has by posting a, a, well, not to put too fine a point on it a rave review of B&W. I did a Note and Comment on Armstrong myself a few weeks or months ago, making a similar point. She’s too determined to be understanding and sympathetic and inclusive and non-Eurocentric and non-Orientalist about Islam, too unwilling to just give it up and be ‘judgmental’. Having read some of her memoirs and other books on religious subjects, I take her stance to have more to do with excessive sympathy for religion than it does with, say, multiculturalism or cultural relativism; but I don’t really know that, it’s just a guess. In any case, the effect is the same.
Armstrong’s diagnosis of the problem of terrorism is multi-factor, but it comes down to two threads: the fundamentalist-reaction-against-modernity thread and the Western-complicity-in-political-and-social-injustice thread. But prescriptively it’s only the second thread which counts. In this she is wholly representative of the post-9/11 liberal and leftist ‘doves’.
It’s interesting to ponder what the implications of taking the first thread seriously might be. Perhaps that’s why Armstrong drops it – why most people drop it. Because if you start to argue that we really ought to pay attention to what al Qaeda wants, i.e. give it to them, then one has to start contemplating the joys of living under an Islamic theocracy – an especially thrilling prospect for a woman. Gosh, I’m so spoiled, I’m so used to going out of the house whenever I want to, without having to ask a man for permission, let alone having to stay in unless a man I’m related to will come with me. It would be a bit of an adjustment, frankly, to have to start doing things bin Laden’s way.
And yet some people do make that argument, sort of, almost, partly. Or they hint at it, they gesture at it, they mumble about it, without actually coming out and saying Yes we should let people like bin Laden call the shots and if that means a little less freedom for half of humanity, well, so be it. At least I don’t know what else is behind all the reproachful noises people make about secularists and atheists refusing to take religion ‘on its own terms’. There is another post with similar comments from readers here.