Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interesting Panel Discussion on Islamism and Modernity

This moderated panel between writers/think tank fellows is one of the more thought-provoking reads about contemporary Islam-related issues.

Especially worth noting is the idea that most Western intellectuals aren't debating hardline Islamist authors/speakers enough to help stem their growing influence in Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

The strictly intellectual debate is itself good, and one should never give up the idea that on certain questions, it is possible to convince people: it is possible to engage in debates and win. If you follow the rise and fall of Communism, you realize that Communism arose because Communist writers won—or appeared to win—certain debates. Many people were influenced; some here were influenced in different ways. Then serious counterarguments were raised by some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. If you would have asked in 1948, is it worthwhile arguing with Communists or Stalinists, a lot of people would have said no, there’s no point; they’re utter fanatics, and they’re not going to listen. But those counterarguments won. It took a long time, but they did eventually triumph, and in this form: the Communists themselves came out against Communism.
Someday—and I hope Ms. Miller’s optimism is correct—the Islamists themselves will come out against Islamism. I don’t have her reportorial experience in the Middle East, but in one respect I share her optimism, and this has to do with Iran. We can see now that the Islamist militants—the very people who led the revolution of 1979 to create the Islamic Republic—are thinking their way through the contradictions of their own ideology, and some of those people are beginning to end up on the liberal side of that argument. The whole experience of the twentieth century should tell us that those people are going to win eventually. I wish the United States would act differently from the way it does, but ultimately it’s up to them. So these arguments do have a meaning, and intellectuals can play a role. Intellectuals are usually wrong, but some of them are sometimes right; and the ones who are right sometimes win.

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