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Moving Beyond The Left-Right Culture Wars: A Dilemma For Muslim Communities In The West

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The Muslim community in the West has to carve out its distinctiveness beyond the narrow social and political debates in society.

Speaking at the annual US Conservative Conference (CPAC) in early August, Hungary’s controversial prime minister Viktor Orban declared that Conservative Christians on both sides of the Atlantic had to unite to take back power. To rapturous applause, he spoke of the evils of illegal migration, globalism, transgenderism, feminism. and the clash of civilizations; a litany of conservative grievances echoed within European and America’s resurgent white nativist circles. Liberals, it is said, had conspired to weaken Western civilization, and it was the duty of all conservatives to defeat them.

The speech confirmed many of the objections propelling this movement into public consciousness, broadly characterized as an exclusivist white nativist grouping. In Europe, Orban has courted controversy for railing against multiculturalism, calling for secure borders against the ‘suicide’ of Muslim migration and recently speaking of the ills of mixing European and non-European cultures – a thinly veiled affirmation of racial hierarchy. Orban is not alone; across the crusading west, much of the social and political unrest we are witnessing reflects what some call a backlash against progressive liberalism. It incorporates several grievances, some real, some perceived. Dubbed a ‘culture war’, it is likely the next decade will be a polarizing one for the West, with some commentators talking of the potential for real civil strife and even civil war as opportunist politicians like Boris Johnson in Britain incite resentment for political ends.

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I have previously written that this movement acts as a conveyor belt. Politicians incite for their narrow ends, feeding on real resentments that come from a flailing west. In such combustible times, ‘retribution’ soon follows. The New Zealand Mosque attacker was fed on a diet of white alienation, contained within ‘The Great Replacement Theory’ – the idea that the white race would soon die out because of inter-marriage, the fall of Christendom, and birth rates within non-white races. This ‘genocide’, according to his manifesto, was exacerbated by a progressive establishment that had conspired to bring down the West. Such rhetoric is echoed in the social media postings of multiple mass shooters across the United States in recent months.

White Nativists in Suits and Armani Jeans

But whereas these assailants dress in army fatigue, those in suits do the rounds on respectable television channels and fill column inches that stir this cauldron of angst. Douglas Murray, a culture-war warrior, recently published ‘The War on the West’, looking to capitalize on the zeitgeist. He observes that dark forces have coalesced to undermine the liberal (small ‘l’) West. As I argued in a previous piece, Murray’s real aim is to forge a new alliance, not dissimilar to the clarion call of Orban, against all that look to undo the privilege the West has acquired through the systematic use of violence. For years, Islam was his invading army – today, as priorities shift, China poses an existential threat to Western universalism.

And let’s not forget the men that peddle these anxieties beyond traditional media. Jordan Peterson, an enthusiastic proponent of Murray, echoes this sense of crisis in the West and, like his more high-brow counterparts, offers his pseudo-intellectual prescriptions that feed this conveyor belt. As the astute researcher Yayha Birt points out, he represents one part of this White-nativist continuum. The angle of these pseudo-intellectuals is to focus on the worthlessness felt by young men in a society where their role is traduced. This is why in Britain, the vile Youtube influencer Andrew Tate commands respect within some young Muslim male circles – for he endorses a life of manhood and masculinity – a backlash against the new supine variety supported by liberal modernity. These are all different iterations of the same phenomenon, White nativism.

The Muslim Community’s Dilemma

Within this polarizing environment, the Muslim communities, primarily in the West, find themselves forced to take a position. This is not surprising, since much of what happens in the mainstream directly impacts our communities. Muslim parents worry about their children’s exposure to problematic social relationships and a growing sexual hedonism that undermines moral family values. In Europe, the growth of the interventionist state means that options right-minded believers may have had are slowly being narrowed. As New York Muslims flee to Texas to claw back some religious autonomy, some Muslims in Europe migrate to the Muslim world. But these options are the luxury of a few.

This immense pressure the community is subject to has led some to support the political right; Orban or Trump may have some objectionable views, but it is claimed that they are fighting for the same social causes we believe in. At the same time, many, especially young Muslims with a different set of priorities, have signed up to the left’s promise of equality and fairness in the hope that they can find security away from the racism and Islamophobia that emanates from conservatives. A trade-off is made, which camp will act in a way that best serves Muslims, but this trade-off comes at a high price.

Young Muslims are forced to embrace many of the thick values that accompany social liberalism, and those that hook their fortunes on the political right must accept the second-class status that comes with such a Faustian bargain. In Britain, Conservative Party Member of Parliament Nusrat Ghani was sacked as a government minister because of her ‘Muslimness’–  the message was simple: Muslims who want to get involved with the party must dispense with any displays of Islam or support for Muslim causes. Within time, Muslims appear to parrot the talking points of the culture wars. Feminism and toxic masculinity, abortion, and a woman’s right to choose; spark an explosion of polarizing debate, most pronounced on social media. These disputes are rarely productive and, like in broader society, help to further divide Muslims on political, gender and generational lines.

How we navigate the minefield that is western political polarization will say a lot about the Muslim community. Both the left and the right harm us and, more importantly, damage how we understand our faith. Unless we discover our distinctiveness, we will be co-opted into this battle.

Our current predicament is not surprising; since the demise of the Ottoman Caliphate, Muslims have had to define our faith in the shadow of dominant ideologies. Embracing liberalism came with the promise of eternal progress and prosperity; those that rejected it, to safeguard their families, had to gradually adopt a host of ‘strict’ Islamic opinions to carve a division between themselves and the corruption around them. This only furthered the generational divides as young people exposed to Western norms saw little in this defensive version of Islam to help them.

It is not rare today to find Muslim scholars and influencers that outlaw women’s education because it ‘”leads to fitna”- a catch-all term that supposedly gives them the right to turn the allowable (mubah) into haraam (forbidden), or employs the most obscure and often harshest views in a vain attempt to secure the imaan of young people. At the same time, many young Muslims, even those that profess to remain steadfast in their deen, incorporate the logic of the left in their engagements; trans rights are personal, women and men have equal roles and responsibilities, Islam and socialism are at one, motherhood is secondary to pursuing careers – positions that are at odds with any sincere reading of Islam.

This is not how fiqh is developed; classical scholars were at pains to understand the reality (tahqeeq al manat) as it was and then look to Islamic text to find a solution; not change Islam to respond to or confirm foreign ideologies. Islamic scholarship is not about adopting strong or soft opinions to placate the times; instead, it aims to find the solution from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) regardless of how it may be perceived.

Beyond the Left and Right

Both the left, whether this is represented by liberals or socialists, and the conservative right, have a different ideational framework by which to view life. As the Muslim academic Professor Joseph Kaminski argues in his scholarly book on Islam and Liberalism, there may be congruencies with Islam in some areas, but this should not be misunderstood to be an endorsement of Islam. These philosophies are peculiar to the European experience. Yahya Birt, a convert himself, laments with incredulity how some white Muslims have detached themselves from an ummatic paradigm that places Islamic justice at its heart and looks to eradicate racial barriers, and instead have jumped head-first into the White nativist reservoir, calling for ‘Islam for Europeans’ and endorsing positions on migration that would not be out of place in any right-wing party. At the same time, many young Muslims on campus ally with the left on social and international causes, only to incorporate their mores and eventually their ideas. I recently came across a young Muslim who told me with little sense of contradiction that he was a practicing Muslim, a social liberal, and a socialist in economics.

How, then, should the Muslim community move forward? There is a dire need, especially for young Muslims, to fully appreciate and find a compelling critique of the Western traditions. When Imam Ghazali was troubled by the absorption of Greek philosophy and how it undermined Islamic thought in eleventh-century Baghdad, he sought to systematically deconstruct and critique its fundamentals and expose it as antithetical to Islam.

Many today are sleepwalking into the morass of Western civilization and are being consumed by its culture wars. There must be a programme incorporated into traditional classes on tarbiyyah, especially when children reach an older age, to address these thoughts in a reasoned way.

Building a critique of Western thought, of all its iterations and permutations, has to be built on an objective and serious study of its ideas. Too many internet personalities seek to caricature liberal or conservative views, hoping that young Muslims will steer clear of their excesses. Building straw men, however, only takes the argument so far. In an era of muscular liberalism, schools and university educators see it as their duty to unlearn a Muslim’s attachment to Islam.

It is also essential to not over-pathologize how these ideologies impact individual behaviors. Today, feminism and liberalism are seemingly found in every activity by keyboard warriors. When a woman asks for her rights, she is “responding to feminism,” or when a Muslim man shows emotion, he has been “emasculated by liberalism”. The problem with this approach is that it hinders a much-needed discussion about these ideas’ impact on our worldview. But it also then makes these terms meaningless. These unproductive approaches harden opinion and serve little purpose in furthering thought in our community.

 

But beyond this, it is the responsibility of all Muslims to walk back from falling prey to the culture wars. As the West turns in on itself, the Muslim community should act as an example of people that are confident in what they believe and practice, undisturbed by the noise around them.

 

Related reading:

Response To Jordan Peterson’s Message To Muslims

Response To Jordan Peterson’s Message To Muslims

The False Promise Of Identitarianism

The False Promise Of Identitarianism

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Muhammad Jalal is a lecturer in Politics and hosts the podcast The Thinking Muslim. He delivers a regular course for young Muslims exploring the thoughts of Islam and Liberalism, and is currently working on developing content on the same subject for the Sapience Institute. He writes for numerous online journals including Traversing Tradition and CAGE. He can be found on twitter @jalalayn.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Green Lantern

    September 22, 2022 at 11:01 AM

    With all the hype created in the name of feminism, feminists have been able to enact their unjust one-sided demands through various laws which are increasingly being misused to harass men. For example, estranged wives are claiming maintenance even when they have wilfully deserted their husbands or are capable enough to earn and courts are freely favouring women. Question arises, why does a woman need to be maintained by a man when both are equal? Women are also seeking 50% share in husband’s earned and inheritable property. This is a legal short cut to make fortunes overnight by marrying a rich man on one day & part ways with half of his assets on the next. Backed by such preposterous laws women have started making mockery of the sacred institution of marriage and merely exploiting it to make quick money.

    Feminists need to understand that their hypocritical attitude and anti-male laws are just spoiling women rather than empowering them. To empower someone you need to give them responsibility rather than providing unfair means to fulfill their demands. While working towards the betterment of women, feminists should ensure that women don’t misuse the privileges endowed to them to wreak havoc on men. False cases of dowry, rape and domestic violence need to stop. Feminism is about women’s supremacy over men who struggle through their entire lives to meet the expectation of being a ‘provider’.

  2. Reader

    September 28, 2022 at 11:41 PM

    @Green Lantern, be fair and honest their are many real instances of abusive behavior of women by men whether it be in cases of rape, domestic violence, denying of inheritance, not providing adequate child support ( not just a financial sense, but the abdication of parental responsibility). This as well as the rampant sexualization and islamophobia many sisters face are topics that do need to be addressed, not from an outside paradign but through Islam and for the Muslim community.

    As for feminism being about women’s supremacy over men who struggle their entire lives to provide for families frankly this is just a talking point. The majority of ppl in the completely opposite camp always talking about feminism are not immigrant dads working tough jobs that they are often vastly over qualified for to provide for kids, but rather men who often have degrees, or trade skills and are relatively comfortable. Ironically seems theirs an overlap between that description and those of many internet feminsit ideologues as well.

    In reality we need to stop parroting points and instead work from our own paradigm to help.

  3. Nimaz

    October 4, 2022 at 3:56 AM

    Young Muslims are compelled to adopt many of the social liberalism’s heavy values, and those who succeed politically on the right must suffer the inferiority complex that comes with such a Self-enforcing bargain.

  4. Imam

    October 4, 2022 at 4:00 AM

    This is not shocking because a lot of what occurs in the public sphere has an immediate influence on our communities.

  5. rumani

    October 4, 2022 at 4:03 AM

    Additionally, it’s important to avoid too essentializing how these ideologies influence person’s actions.
    Nowadays, internet trolls seem to incorporate liberalism and feminism into every action.

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