Monday, August 20, 2007

The Muslim World's Embattled Secularists

"Who will defend the Muslim who doubts his faith? Who speaks for the man or the woman who might believe in Allah, by his or her own lights, but does not wish to worship? We hear a great deal in the West about the need for freedom of religion in the Muslim world, usually meaning for observant Christians and Jews. But what about freedom of non-religion: the liberty of the individual to think, to reason, to speak out loud rejecting the dictates of public piety? Few voices are raised, if any, in his or her defense.


Perhaps this was inevitable. Not so long ago, in mid-20th century, secularists were the great "modernizers": the leading intellectuals and artists, the ambitious military officers, the charismatic politicians and, yes, the dictators of the Arab world. They saw themselves and were widely seen, then, as the cosmopolitan voices of progress and, not least, of a proud and assertive nationalism.
Today Arab secularists are silent if not, in fact, silenced. The ideologies that once united many of them (Communism, Nasserism, Baathism) have been discredited by time and tyrants. The milder forms of intellectual liberalism – an openness to other cultures, faiths and ways of life; the questioning of opinions presented as absolute truths – find themselves branded as treason to some greater Muslim identity, or worse, as heresy."

Christopher Dickey, On Faith/Newsweek, July 2007

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