Garton Ash Responds
Timothy Garton Ash doesn't name Nick Cohen in his latest CiF post, but I he should be read as refuting everything Nick says about him. NC:
And if, like Garton Ash, they turned away from democrats and insisted on treating European Muslims as children who can only be spoken to in the baby language of gobbledegook, what right did they have to be surprised if European Muslims reacted with childish petulance rather than the broad-mindedness of full adult citizens?
When a Muslim letter-writer in yesterday's Guardian tells us, with the aid of Qur'anic references, that Islam, properly understood, supports "the vital principle of freedom of speech", what possible interest have we non-Muslim liberals in arguing against him?
"[B]aby language of gobbledegook" anyone? (I can't find the letter in question; the Guardian site seems committed to hiding readers' opinion after one day.) Update 2/12/2007 Fallhammer in the comments found it.
While I in no way condone the repellent fascism and bigotry of Nick Griffin and David Irving, they are entitled to voice their obnoxious bile according to Islam's transcendent text. The Qur'an makes it incontrovertible that all people have the right to choose their own path and perspectives in life (2:256; 10:99; 18:29; 109:6;etc). It is therefore a fallacy that Islam denies the vital principle of freedom of speech. Our progressive Oxford organisation has always endorsed the concept of undiluted free speech. Either there is free speech for everyone or there is free speech for no one. Today abhorrent rightwing racists are targeted. Who will be proscribed tomorrow?
Dr Taj Hargey. Now, like Timothy Garton Ash, I think that arguing a proposition because some book says it is so is gobbledegook: but Dr Hargey's position is an admirable one. I don't care why he holds it, but I would like to see more support for that kind of liberalism. Dr Hargey appears not only not to be a 'rightist' - he is also clearly a good guy.
Garton Ash wrote in the New York Review of Books that journalists were more interested in her beauty than her ideas. 'If she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.' She was an 'Enlightenment fundamentalist', he continued, as bigoted in her way as the Muslim Brotherhood she opposed. On this reading, there is no moral difference between those who would subjugate women, kill Jews and homosexuals, place the dictates of a seventh-century holy book above the parliaments of free peoples... and those who wouldn't. Liberal intellectuals have no obligation to make a choice between religious fundamentalists and 'Enlightenment fundamentalists', and indeed could devote their energies to condemning the latter rather than the former.
BTW, I see nothing in there preceding "On this reading" which inclines me to believe that Garton Ash believes any of the things ascribed to him.
That distinction would, of course, no longer hold if being a devout Muslim were in fact incompatible with being a full citizen of a free society. I feel this is what quite a few participants in the current debate, both atheist and Christian, really believe, while seldom spelling it out so clearly. Yet the thought keeps peeping through, for example in the formula "Islam is incompatible with democracy".
"Islam is incompatible with democracy" is exactly what Nick's saying isn't it?