Thursday, February 21, 2008


London: Islamic schizophrenia
Commentary by Herbert London

In every discussion I’ve ever engaged about Islam and the future, an ideological divide emerges over the willingness of Muslims to embrace basic human rights. On one side are those who contend the large majority of Muslims want the same rights accorded other groups around the globe, notwithstanding the influence of radical opinion. On the other side are those who contend human rights, even broadly defined, are inconsistent with sharia and therefore incompatible with Islam.

Concepts of freedom and equality are treated with suspicion among Muslims because these ideas are perceived as a threat to their cultural identity. For many, freedom is placed in the cauldron of colonialist policies. Therefore it is not a universal principle which flowered through the Rights of Man, but is rather a specific regional concept imposed by an imperialistic authority.

At the same time “freedom” is also viewed as the liberation from tyranny as well as the strategy for dealing with corruption, poverty, illiteracy and marginalization.

The consequence of these two value systems is ideological schizophrenia with democratic ideas embracing the general welfare, education and healthcare etc. and, at the same time, human rights are seen as a colonial ploy to undermine Islamic identity.

In the West, some contend Muslim societies do not possess the political background to comprehend democratic principles and human rights. Others argue that Islamic societies can only embrace human rights selectively, but do not, alas cannot, envision human rights as an indivisible system.

Still other critics maintain that Islamic societies are fundamentally different since human rights are rooted in Western heritage and cannot be appropriated by Arab nations. This view fits with the colonial interpretation of human rights and often leads Muslim scholars to search the past for home grown ideas and glories. It is a position that renders human rights a monopolistic practice of Western liberal heritage based on the assumption that human rights serve one overarching Western view of mankind.

Hence there is difficulty in creating a foundation for a political culture viewed as foreign and oppressive. The universal orientation of human rights including citizenship, freedom, equality and justice are mere words that invite cynicism, if not hostility. What the Muslim often observes in the human rights campaign is an attempt to undermine his identity and his religious frame of reference.


“Either we free them or they will destroy us.”

Pertinent Links:

London: Islamic schizophrenia

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