What if Muslims don't want to become "liberals"?
Posted by Shadi Hamid
It's easy to make fun of those who overhype the supposedly impending imposition of sharia law within the United States. The Muslims are not taking over, at least not anytime soon. There’s, um, like, 1 percent of us in the United States. At the same time, though, we shouldn’t pretend that there aren’t tensions or tradeoffs. There are. There was the recent case of Muslim students asking for female-only swim hours at the George Washington swimming pool. Not the end of the world. But my friend Evan Hill raised concerns about the precedent and said so on twitter. What ensued was an interesting foray into the tensions, both real and imagined, between the practice of Islam and the norms of an ostensibly secular society (The tensions between freedom, liberalism, and democracy is a challenging one to have over twitter).
What if there was a Muslim-majority district in the US and Muslims asked that the local beach be closed off for a couple hours every week to allow observant Muslim women to swim? There are other hypotheticals, most of them unlikely, but some perhaps plausible. All other things being equal, Muslims seem somewhat different than Christians and Jews. At this point in time, Muslims, for a complex set of reasons, seem to be somewhat immune to the sort of secularization that so many Western liberals (and, oddly, Christian conservatives) seem to want for them.
In Europe, there will come a time when cities like Berlin become plurality or majority Muslim. Well, then, what if you have a majority in the local council of a German town who want to restrict alcohol licensing for religious reasons? These tensions are more evident in Muslim-majority countries, where we seem unable to consistently support democracy, precisely out of fear that more democracy will bring with it less liberalism (and more opposition to American foreign policy). This might be a trite way of putting it, but what if Muslims don’t want to become “liberals”?
I’ve always felt that this was the best definition of a “democrats” (small-d) – those willing to support democratic elections even, or particularly, when they’re sure people they really, really don’t like will win. At least as far as foreign policy is concerned, this is a test that many – too many – Americans have failed.