Friday 9 January 2015

What Western Muslims have a right to expect from their fellow citizens

Following yet another act of terrorism by Muslim extremists, a lot has been said about what we can expect from moderate Muslims in the way of condemnation and prevention. So much has been said about it that I think there is very little left to say. If you would like to read an example condemnation, here is one, from the Muslim Council of Britain. The quoted passages in this post are from the same statement. The first section condemns the attack on Charlie-Hebdo as strongly as a few paragraphs can be expected to manage. The last two paragraphs dwell on quite reasonable and realistic concerns over the consequences the attack might have for Western Muslims.  It is indeed a good time to consider what we owe the Muslim citizens in our societies:
Nothing justifies the taking of life. Those who have killed in the name of our religion today claim to be avenging the insults made against Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. But nothing is more immoral, offensive and insulting against our beloved Prophet than such a callous act of murder.
  1. I'm glad religion says the above, because the law does too, that's what counts with me. Our Muslim fellow citizens should be able to expect that we will do everything in our power to uphold the law. The laws which protect our right to criticize Islam without reprisal also protect the right of Muslims to worship and go about their daily lives, as visibly Muslim as they please, without fear of harassment or violence, to themselves or their property. They have a right to expect our utter condemnation of any breaches of these laws and our every effort to prevent or prosecute criminals. Equally, they have a right to expect that the media, the police and society in general will take crime against Muslims as seriously as crime by Muslims (which is currently far from the case).
  2. It is practically certain that however much condemning and preventing we do we will fail to stop all criminal action against Muslims, just as they will fail to stop all criminal action by Muslims. We should unilaterally recognize these limitations to our power and refrain from holding the fact against each other as individuals or organisations wherever it's obvious that all reasonable efforts have been made. Our Muslim fellow citizens have the right to expect that we will criticize those who refuse to accept such limitations (particularly while being easygoing about their own).
    In the coming weeks Muslims will face the test of having to justify themselves and their place in Western society.
  3. I'm an atheist, blasphemies which are taboo to Muslims are virtually meaningless to me. I also adhere to the values of participatory secular democracy. Consequently, there is one all too frequent form of speech which arouses me to just as much revulsion and condemnation as Muslims tend to show in the face of rude cartoons of Muhammad. I'm referring to the act of calling someone's citizenship into question over a matter of difference or disagreement. It's unconscionable, and the kindest thing I can think is that those who do it understand nothing about the social values they're purporting to promote. Our Muslim fellow citizens have the right to expect that we'll affirm their citizenship, their membership in our society and their participation wherever we see it contested.
  4. It is also a fact that the possibility, indeed the probability, of multiculturalism is indissociably linked with the freedoms we enjoy in a Western secular democracy. If we want to keep those freedoms, we owe it to ourselves as well as to our Muslim fellow citizens to uphold the values of multiculturalism on principle and establish any limitations we think are necessary through the channels of debate and democratic change. It is very obviously true that some Muslims as well as some non-Muslims are quite active in attempting to limit other people's cultural and personal freedoms. When their behavior is not flat out illegal, it should be criticized, when it is illegal it should be prevented and prosecuted.
    In addition, while Muslims must engage with fellow citizens in a spirit of dialogue and friendship, we must all come together to seek unity and defy the terrorists whose only aim is to divide us. The best defence against closed minds is for a truly open society, welcoming of all.
  5. It would be pointless to claim that there are no areas of social or ideological conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim Westerners, but Muslims have the right to expect that we will try to settle those conflicts through forums of public debate, and not insist on doing so through personal interactions in everyday life. We all have the right to expect that social, political and religious debates in everyday life take place with the consent of the people who participate in them and are carried out with civility. We can all re-affirm the values of respect and tolerance of each other as people by displaying those values in practice.

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