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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another


Will Hutton on the Limits of Diversity

We cannot and should not respond with an unrigorous, soft multiculturalism that pleads such values are equivalent to our own and legitimate within their own cultural context. Nor should we fall into the trap of stereotyping Islam as universally menacing. Rather, I am at one with Professor Brian Barry, the finest egalitarian since Tawney, who, in Culture and Equality, argues that what lies behind the Western position on human rights and democracy is the Enlightenment proposition that men and women are intrinsically equal and have equal rights to dignity and self-realisation.

Thus, the West has to object to Islamic sexism - whether arranged marriage, headscarves, limiting career options or the more extreme manifestations, female circumcision and stoning women for adultery. We cannot give ground in the name of multiculturalism. As Barry argues, this is to deny values that are right, and in which democracy and respect for human rights are ultimately grounded. We should certainly respect diversity, but we cannot abandon or qualify our own beliefs in the process.
Hutton walks a tightrope trying to balance his faith in multi-culturalism with a desire to make some defence of the Enlightenment values he values.

Not good enough for Faisal Bodi who writes:
The other reaction, epitomised by Will Hutton in yesterday's Observer, has been that Islam must assume a post-Enlightenment view of the world, failing which it must be dragged there kicking and screaming. This is the more troubling attitude, because it negates the prospect of genuine coexistence and presupposes a horrible clash of civilisations.

This is not to brush over the differences between western and Islamic value systems and their epistemological foundations. They are real. But in western liberal societies the choice is between a peaceful engagement and survival of the fittest or a likely violent conflict brought about by the imposition of secular liberalism over Islam.
Hutton, for all of his even handedness recognizes that an un-Enlightened Islam is a dagger at the throat of the core values of the West. Bodi wants to believe that a parallel structure is possible. Bodi is, I fear, dreaming.

The issue is not the mainstream of Islamic culture. There is no doubt at all that mainstream Muslims can and will adapt to the 21st century in whatever nation they find themselves. Rather, the issue comes down to the tiny fraction of Muslims who admire and follow bin Laden and his ilk. These are the gunmen, the homicide bombers, the poisoners and the WMD enthusiasts who are perfectly prepared to kill scores if not tens of thousands of people to attain their goal of an Islamic world.

The strategic goal of the West must be to eliminate that tiny fraction and the influences which have created it. Tactically, the West can hope it will be able to prevent mega terror and homicide bombings through diligent police work. But a purely tactical approach will, eventually fail. At best a bomber will get through, at worst a co-ordinated chemical, biological or a dirty bomb attack will occur. That possibility will continue so long as the Wahhabist and other radical forms of Islam continue to flourish.