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Posted by on Sep 8, 2007 in At TMV | 1 comment

The Role of Islam in the Netherlands

A great read at Radio Netherlands: an interview with progressive Malaysian Muslim thinker Farish Noor. Noor believes that “the moral principles of the Koran are valid for eternity, but that verses such as those calling for the discrimination of women and corporal punishment are no longer valid and have to be understood in their historical context.”

When he came back to Europe / the Netherlands (after five years), he was shocked by what he saw. He explained: “this country has changed so much that I hardly recognize it. There is no communication any more. Everybody is obsessed with his own pain and does not see the pain of the other anymore. I think it is because of the killing of Theo van Gogh [the filmmaker who was stabbed to death by a Muslim fundamentalist in 2004]. I think that has shocked the Dutch people very much.”

The main subject he talked about in the interview was the role of the Labor Party. Noor rightfully points out that the Labor Party finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they dare not criticize Muslims – not even ‘conservative’ Muslims – for fear of being called “anti-Muslim,” and on the other hand they dare no longer defend the fundamentalists based on the idea of multiculturalism either. He went on to say that Labor has, by doing so, allowed the conservative parties and right-wingers like Wilders to take monopolize the debate.

Noor explained:

I hope that what I have said will contribute to curing the Labour party of the idea that any criticism of Islam immediately puts them on the side of the secular right. Muslims are not a homogeneous group. There are progressive, conservative, fundamentalist and even fascist currents in Islam. The Labour party should ally itself with the progressive currents. And it should stop being afraid of criticizing conservative Islam. The Dutch Labour party is a progressive party and it is only natural if it allies itself with the progressive forces within the religious traditions of its followers.

Right-wing politicians and Islam critics imply that Muslims have to choose between fundamentalist Islam on the one hand and democracy and human rights on the other. Progressive Muslims like myself offer an alternative: We try to show Muslims and the rest of the world that you can be a Muslim and a democrat at the same time. By supporting us the Labour party can break down the right-wing monopoly in the Islam debate and create space for young Muslims to participate in modern life while maintaining their Muslim identity. Are you Muslim and gay? Then the Labour party should support your right to be both at the same time.

This does not mean that the party should turn its back on traditional Muslims. The party should protect the right of traditional Muslims to be themselves as long as they abide by the ground rules of secular democracy. Religious schools are not a problem but we cannot tolerate imams who tell their audience to beat up gays. Hate speech should be the limit.

When asked about Ehsan Jami – a former-Muslim and member of the Labor Party who, after leaving Islam founded an organization for apostates (and who was beat up as a result) – Noor said:

If someone decides to leave his religion, then this is his fundamental freedom of choice and the Labour party should support it of course. But the party has to be careful not to give the impression that it only supports apostates.

I wanted to meet Ehsan Jami, but unfortunately he could not make it. If there is one thing I would like to tell him it is that he should be very careful not to be used by the right wing by implying that the only good Muslim is an ex-Muslim. He should not forget that progressive Muslims like myself and many others have been fighting since a long time for the freedom of Muslims to leave Islam. And we paid the price for it. A friend of mine had his house bombed. I have lived with death threats for 10 years. People have come to my house to kill me. When people like Jami start to distort the debate in this manner, it may put back our effort 30 years.

This sounds all quite right to me. An interesting read. I’ve said many times that in the West we need to work with progressive Muslims, or reformers. Noor is one of those progressive Muslims, as is Ali Eteraz. We must criticize forces within Islam that want to implement, for instance, Sharia and who believe that it is perfectly fine to kill your daughter when she has an affair with a non-Muslim, but we must at the same time embrace Muslims who agree with us. Let us not ignore the fact that there are many Muslims out there who oppose the fundamentalists just as much as we oppose them. By forgetting about them we are, in fact, saying that the ‘real’ Islam is the Islam propagated by fundamentalists. Lets not make that mistake. In the end, the progressives have to convince the Muslim world that they represent true Islam.

I also liked Noor’s point that we should not act as if the only good Muslim is a former-Muslim. We’ve got to support apostates, but we also have to support those who are still Muslims and who adhere to a different interpretation of the Koran.

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