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A Reply to Jamie Kirchick’s Defense of “Islamofascism”

Putting aside the debate over whether Islamofascism is historically appropriate (Hitchens says it is) or pragmatically sound (Gen. Abizaid says its not), I found Jamie Kirchick's thesis that liberals are not adequately opposed to violence and oppression in the Muslim … Read More

By / October 30, 2007

Putting aside the debate over whether Islamofascism is historically appropriate (Hitchens says it is) or pragmatically sound (Gen. Abizaid says its not), I found Jamie Kirchick's thesis that liberals are not adequately opposed to violence and oppression in the Muslim majority world, to be quite unsatisfactory. My primary complaint is that in his post there seems to be little focus on keeping the terms "the left" and "liberals" straight. While JK starts, rightly, by putting Hitchens and Berman on the left, by the end of the piece, he's handed the left off to some ultra-post colonial academic. Why? Someone who apologizes for gay oppression is as much a member of the left as an apologist for big government is a conservative. Why honor him by pretending that he's "the left"? Further, I wouldn't be so sure that those who decry American excesses and unilateralism, cannot be opposed to violence and oppression in the Muslim majority world. In fact, if anything, many such people, located in our academies no less, were and are leading the charge against theocracy, anti-semitism, fundamentalism, and disenfranchisement in the Muslim world. This was why I found Horowitz' strange assertion that the academies aren't concerned with, let's say, the oppression of Muslim women, to be utterly laughable. For JK to implicitly buy into that is regrettable. It was at a university where I met Riffat Hassan, the well-known Pakistani anti-honor killing activist from the University of Louisville. It was at a university where I met Amina Wadud, the Quran scholar, who was the first woman to lead a mixed-congregation prayer in recent Muslim history and quite courageously challenged Muslim patriarchy. It was at a university where I met Abdullahi An-Naim, the Sudanese Islamic scholar whose message calls for the equality of men and women in and whose teacher was executed in 1983 for such ideas (and who has subsequently argued for Islamic secularism and is going back to Sudan). It was a university where I met Rafia Zakaria, the feminist activist whose commentary on issues affecting Muslim women is published in Pakistan and India (currently on her way to Pakistan). It was at a university where I heard of Laleh Bakhtiar who has now published a feminist translation of the Quran (and we know how important translations of the Quran are in the fight against extremism). It was at a university where I encountered the work of Ziba Mir-Hosseini, the Iranian activist whose speciality is Muslim divorce law, with a focus on women's rights in Iran. IT was an American university which was home to Haleh Esfandiari, the soft-spoken Princetonian who became a prisoner of conscience at Iran's Evin Prison. In fact, the universities have been on the forefront of supporting many Muslim reform projects, and the area of Muslim women is not the only one they have supported. It was at a university where Iranian dissenter and Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi went to make her speeches. It was at a university where Akbar Ganji, the Iranian dissenter, went to consult with leading left philosopher Richard Rorty. It was at a university where a Jewish Studies professor Deborah Lipstadt started to translate anti-holocaust-denial books into Arabic and Farsi. It was a university that gave shelter to Muslim scholars from South Africa whose homes were firebombed. Even that reviled leftist Juan Cole started up an Americana Translation project in order to send our classical liberal books – Hobbes, Locke and Jefferson – to the Arab world. Having met most of these aforementioned people, I know that they know their Fanon, quite enjoy Edward Said, have been influenced by the post-colonial left, and even reject the term "Islamofascism." Yet, I submit that most of them do more to combat the things that JK is rightly outraged about than he or I are doing (no offense). We liberals should be trying to make alliances with the most promising of such individuals, not marginalizing them. An internal critique of the left like the one JK engaged in his post, which does not bring to light the positive work of such people – such left-leaning people – sounds less like liberal introspection (which is what I assume its supposed to be) and more like the usual far-right polemic against the apathetic and naive leftist. The left is hardly apathetic to issues of Islamic theocracy and violence. Just one bit of proof lies in the fact that as we speak, Alternet — condemned by many liberals as a hopeless progressive site — has my piece on the Making of the Muslim Left on its frontpage.

Read Kirchick's Original post, and his Counter-Reply to this one.

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