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Benador Associates Public Relations

WHAT THE WEST OFFERS ISLAM
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
November 21, 2005

November 21, 2005 -- PARIS

ONCE one of the seediest parts of Paris, the 10th ar rondisement (district) has acquired an Islamic flavor in recent years. Arab, Berber, Turkish, Bosnian, Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and black African shops and cafes bustle with customers; a daily market that extends the full length of a street reminds visitors of Casablanca or Algiers. There are numerous mosques, often just converted ground-floor flats.

What is remarkable is the rich diversity of the brands of Islam existing side by side in freedom and security. These include sects banned in almost all Muslim nations, where their members are persecuted, imprisoned and sometimes executed as "deviants." In one street, Pakistani shops run by Ahmadi, Jaafari and Salafi sects sit side by side; the owners have learned to talk together and even do business — something unimaginable in Pakistan, where militants of rival sects kill each other by the hundreds each year.

In this French haven of peace, you can live and practice your Islam the way you understand it — a gift rarely available in any officially Islamic country.

Such a gift exists because French society keeps the private space distinct from the public one. Your private space — home, business and place of worship — is protected by law, allowing you to organize and live your life as an individual in accordance with your beliefs and tastes.

The public space, however, belongs to everyone and thus to no one in particular. Everyone can claim a share, and use its facilities to advance his or her ideas, interests and political projects. But no one gets to arbitrarily impose a decision or exclude anyone.

All this, to be sure, appears alien to most Muslims who have settled here. They are taught not to recognize a distinctly private space, in which the individual or even a whole community can do much as they please provided they do not trespass on the rights of others.

The idea of religion as a private affair is abhorrent to most Muslims, for Islam aims to rule every single aspect of individual and collective life, from the most mundane to the most sublime.

On that basis, several Islamist groups in France have long tried to sow the seeds of anger in the community. Extremists regard France as part of the Dar al-Harb (the House of War), because political power is held and exercised by the infidel (kuffar). Moderates prefer the label Dar al-Sulh (House of Conciliation), implying a conceptual no-man's-land between war and peace. Still others use Dar al-Dawah (House of Propagation), which means that the chief Muslims are there is to convert the French nation.

All three concepts are based on the assumption that it is impossible for a Muslim to live in a society where secular law, not Shari'ah (Islamic jurisprudence), is in force. A Muslim could never regard himself as a Frenchman until France becomes an Islamic state.

So groups that claim to represent Muslims never use the adjective French. Rather, they call themselves an Association of Muslim in France or Council of Muslims of France. You are a Muslim who happens to live in France, never a Frenchman who happens to be a Muslim. Such an approach, of course, can lead, at best, to a form of apartheid based on faith or, at worst, to religious conflict.

When Nicholas Sarkozy, the bombastic French interior minister, decided to "solve the Islamic problem" a few years ago, he knew nothing about Islam. His ill-thought scheme created a Council of the Muslim Cult of France under ministry auspices and with public funds. In the ensuing electoral exercise, less than 1 percent of eligible Muslims voted.

The council has fostered the illusion that it is possible to blend the various Muslim schools into a single one within a church-like, state-supported structure. Yet it is impossible to develop a version of Islam acceptable both to all the Islamic schools present on French soil and to the French state. If such were developed, many Muslims wouldn't accept it, forcing the state to coerce any "consensus."

France and other Western democracies offer Islam an opportunity that it has never enjoyed since the first Islamic civil war during Ali's Caliphate: the possibility for Muslims to develop their own approach to their faith and to practice it freely and in accordance with their deepest beliefs. without fear or hypocrisy.

The West is the only place where all Muslim schools freely propagate their ideas and maintain their places of worships and seminaries without restriction. In Muslim-majority countries, the dominant school of Islam bans all other schools. Iran, for one, calls itself an Islamic Republic, but won't allow a single Sunni mosque to be built in Tehran, a city with at least 1.5 million Sunnis. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, sectarian feuds claim thousands of lives each year.

France and other Western democracies are also the only places where no Muslim writer is banned because he or she is branded as heretical or "deviant."

The key secret of the West's success in reshaping the world is the freedom of thought and expression that it has fostered since the end of the Inquisition — that is to say, since it realized that the abuse of religion for political purposes is a recipe for tyranny and terror.

For the first time in history, large numbers of Muslims, up to 40 million, live in societies where that freedom is equally available to them. The West offer Islams a space in which to flourish in all its rich diversity. Those who want to destroy this historic opportunity, by inventing a so-called European Islam or by urging Muslims not to feel at home in Western democracies, are guilty of a double betrayal of both Islam and the West.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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