Islam and the Eclipse of Liberal Tolerant Reason

The body bags have returned and the tears of widows and fatherless children wet the ground, accompanied by rallying cries of justice, truth and fairness to all who died in the Mamasapano skirmish. Outside the inevitable facts: the death of SAF commandos, the slain civilians, the casualties of the Moro rebels and the obvious lack of culpability from the Aquino government, what seems to be relevant for to-day is how the whole event defined the contours of Filipino democracy and the fiery intellectualization that arise from sociological and anthropological output. Provoked by the myriads of data and the intricacy of their samples, much of the theoretical output has been to the exaltation of diversity and the project of multiple discourses.

Again Islam has become the centre stage of political and social upheaval. From Syria to Paris and to Maguindanao, the social topoi of discussion become singularly focused: on what grounds can we tolerate Islamic peoples? To this the right-wing spectrum has a clear answer: no assimilation, no tolerance. What is ironic in this statement is that its uncompromising tone is similar to liberal obstinacy to compromise, facing different social issues, demanding unbridled secularism, human rights for all, abortion rights for women and so on. The language between liberal and right-wing tones bear the same behaviour and we can argue that the losing end belongs to liberal discourses of tolerance and the protection of human rights. Any liberal and left-leaning individual faces a deadlock in front of the Muslim, the subject of distanciation, cultural wonder and sociological dissection.

While I do not argue against the expertise of those who study Islam and I even affirm that Islam as a religion is as diverse as Christianity, it is clear that when faced with Islamic fundamentalism, the whole liberal reason of tolerance falters. Europe is presently dealing with a rising anti-Islamisation of its public space, some even bordering on neo-Nazi xenophobia. Liberals speak the gospel of secularism, while we in the left deplore American imperialism and interventionism in local affairs; but faced with a home-grown radicalism and the growing numbers of Islamic militants, inspired by the successes of ISIS (like the ASG and the BIFF) and ready to shout Allahu Akbhar and die for their religious beliefs, the liberal is assailed by right wingers and fascists of tolerating evil.

By understanding the accusation, one can understand one’s own position. The exaltation of diversity in cultural and philosophic circles gave rise to an intellectual deadlock. While we revel at the genius of “multiple rationalities,” in governing the particulars, seeking to include them within the dominant discourse, the whole movement from multiplicities to the education and governing of minorities within the dominant discourse of National identity suffers from an inevitable short circuit, faced with the Muslim’s denial of participation within the dominant discourse. The deadlock so far is intellectual since alternatives are sparse and thinking submits itself to concede; Islamophobia is thus born.

Whenever we talk with the persons around our everyday mundane social universe, the succumbing to Islamophobia is the disavowed admission of defeat and loss of trust within the capability of our thinking to grasp the Muslim. Slavoj Žižek was right to say that fundamentalists (referring both to authentic fundamentalism and to false fundamentalism) are not simply those who reject the liberal ethos but already see themselves within the liberal universe and have rejected its conclusions. It is thus a “no,” a no against the attempt to be part of some national identity, even if it affirms its own diversity. The attempt to educate them to participate in the dominant discourse is seen as a threat to its own identity and it seems our theory is still unable to respond to the acclamation of the no to diversity. So when a professor exclaimed that he is confused whether to be happy or angry when ISIS declared the caliphate (an attempt to return to the olden days of the Islamic caliphate before European colonialism), the confusion is an honest one. The confusion is genuine and applies to some of us who see Islamic fundamentalism as a product of the no.

Is there a fitting response? The question submits itself to thinking and becomes a tough nut to crack and at that point it seems that the other alternatives—be that as it may—seem to be obviously right. How about the facts? How about history and the identity of the Moro people? These are relevant factors but what I find lacking at least within the theoretical grasp of our present reasoning is the response to the fundamentalist no. We are all then prisoners, asking our captors what they do not want to surrender (here I am referring to a scene from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down) even when faced with the full military might of power. Their answer: “and what, adapt American democracy?” a simple decline yet the gaping mouth of wonderment is appalled by the awe-struck response that lack a rational basis. Their no is a no without strings attacked but a downright no to our offers.

In face of denial, one can grasp and look at one’s position. We can grieve for those who died and those who were caught in the crossfire. We can of course be uncompromising in the belief that “not all Muslims are militants” and rest assured we are right. However, faced wth a theoretical deadlock in the no, the practical sphere presents itself as another inevitable point of contention. We must not tolerate evil but we cannot tolerate the evil we succumb to in the defeatism to the no. Alternatives from the centre and the right will arise, but the left must not hold back and assure itself that it does not fall prey to seek compromise with its own agenda. While we grieve for fallen soldiers ad innocent children both locally and globally, we cannot tolerate its counter-balance in the acceptance of exceptionalism of secular and liberal reason (which Terry Eagleton observed in Christopher Hitchen’s support for the War in Afghanistan and Iraq). The remnants of our exaltation of multiplicity should give way to the thinking that liberal scholarship already faces its eclipse in this present matter and that the possibility of alternatives becomes hard to swallow as well. Yet, without being defeatists, we can only be open to a strict re-criticism our own base position. Is this a response to the no? Perhaps the answer is complex and requires us to a re-examination; what submits to thinking is our thinking and the dreams that follow from it.

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Islam and the Eclipse of Liberal Tolerant Reason

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