Islam could be the solution to the West’s ailing ideology of secularism, writes Dr Abdul Wahid.
This week The Spectator magazine published an edited version of a speech made by France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, titled ‘Building an Islam of the Enlightenment’.
Macron bemoaned divisions in French society that he argued were a product of the attitudes of Muslims, as well as anti-Muslim ‘uber-secularists’ views.
He asserted ‘the problem is not secularism’ – insisting that the solution lay in his ‘neutral’ version of Secularism – as well as Muslims reforming their beliefs and values to conform with the secular beliefs and values of enlightenment Europe.
Macron’s statement that the problem is not Secularism sounds like a man protesting too much. It sounds like a man who feels he needs to defend Secularism – which is an extraordinary acknowledgement of how bad things are in terms of confidence in the system.
He also said, in a statement heavily publicised by the media that ‘Islam is a religion that is in crisis today all over the world’. The timing of making such a high profile speech criticising Islam at a time when France faces numerous other crises is also questionable. His speech predated the recent high-profile killing of a school-teacher.
Macron is not the first, nor likely to be the last, to peddle such rubbish.
It is rubbish that Secularism is neutral. It is not. It is the assertion of the supremacy of a distinct set of liberal beliefs and values over everything that does not conform with it. Ironically, he made that very point in the same article.
It is rubbish that even after acknowledging, in understated terms, France’s murderous colonial past, he does not mention the damage wrought upon the Middle East and Africa that exists till today – a major cause of the ‘crisis today all over the world’.
Marcon tried to describe the mix of factors that leads people to what he termed ‘separatism’ – but failed to acknowledge that the sense of injustice that the children of France’s colonised citizens still feel because his beloved secular system leaves them feeling second-class even after two or three generations.
Indeed, one could argue that Macron’s beloved secularism encourages division, hatred and discord in society by its celebration of the wanton mockery and insult of those things that many of your population hold dear. What starts as freedom of speech quickly morphs into the freedom to insult and incitement of hatred. France’s claims that propagating insulting cartoons of the Messenger of Allahﷺ is part of its tradition of free speech has to be set against the reality of these being regularly used as part of persistent state-sponsored propaganda that incites hate against Islam and its sanctities. When this relentless propaganda meets an occasional violent response, there is shock and dismay. Yet if people relentlessly taunted a wounded lion and occasionally met with a violent response, wouldn’t most people say the provocateurs shared some of the blame?
The origins of the problems Macron describes are not solely in the history of colonisation. That is but one manifestation of the problem. France’s structural discrimination and racism are another – as are an economy that swings from boom to bust producing massive economic imbalances; and a political system that has left an electorate outraged by the failure of politicians to look after their affairs during a pandemic of historic proportions.
Moreover, France’s failings are but one manifestation of a system shared by other countries – for these problems exist across Europe, in the UK and the United States. It is no coincidence that Europe struggles with the rise of the Far Right, at the same time as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has grown in the USA and UK. It is no coincidence that Covid-19 has exposed economic and racial inequalities as well as massive failings of the political system across the western world.
For all these countries have suffered under the secular pandemic of Capitalism for centuries – and have been deliberately infecting the rest of the world!
That is the origin of the crisis that Macron has failed to address.
So, why has he chosen to address this issue now through speeches and articles?
I believe it is for two reasons.
Firstly, the French government is currently facing heavy accounting for its mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic. In an extraordinary set of events, politicians face the threat of legal sanctions. It is as if France must salvage its secular honour by sacrificing its secular politicians, who were born out of its own secular system, in order to maintain some degree of trust in that system. Whether that is achieved remains to be seen. By addressing Islam and ‘Islamist separatism’, Macron will have hoped to deflect attention away from a very real political crisis. In France, where xenophobia is endemic, Islam and Muslims are easy targets and help him steal the thunder from critics like Marine Le Pen and the far-right.
Secondly, Macron is not a fool to have missed the glaring failings of the secular capitalist system that I have outlined (and more besides). As such the growing Islamic revival across the world means Islam is a threat. NOT a physical threat, but an ideological threat.
He must know that in this world it is not just power that matters but leadership – and leadership is for ideas. France, Britain and the USA did not just want to colonise the world through power – they wanted to lead through ideas.
Today, Europe and the USA – the leading secular nations in the world – have not led in terms of ideas as to how to tackle the pandemic. People in countries who were formerly impressed by liberal democracy look at Trump versus Biden, Macron versus Le Pen, and at Boris – and don’t see an ideal worth emulating. Unemployment and debt are rising – and queues at food-banks are growing. Liberal democratic states use illiberal or authoritarian means to curtail criticism and political challenge – whether from an Islamic, leftist or Christian perspective. The Capitalist world order has failed. It has left much of the world in conflict and poverty – and has not provided fairness, security or stability in its ‘homelands’.
Democracy isn’t seen to deliver for ordinary people.
Secular liberal states have shown that secular liberalism can be authoritarian and supremacist, like those they love to criticise such as Russia and China.
Just as discontentment has grown towards the current world order, a revival towards Islam has grown in the Muslim world – an amongst a Muslim diaspora living in Europe and the Americas.
It is against this background that I will be chairing an online conference on 31st October 2020, titled ‘The Return of the Islamic World Order’ – because the world is desperately in need of an alternative – and Islam can offer that alternative.
The conference aims to do three things. First is to set forth how Islam’s distinct political and economic ideas differ from the dominant secular ideas, and how – by following Divine guidance – human beings can avoid injuring themselves and others on such a monumental level.
The second is to illustrate to Muslims – who know and love their Deen – that these noble Islamic ideas and values cannot be realised without the establishment of a Khilafah on the Prophetic way – the political authority that Islam has given as the method to realise so many of its rules, laws and values.
The third is to remind Muslims that by establishing Islam in the form of a political authority at a state-level, it does not merely offer a solution for problems in the Muslim world – it offers and an example to humanity by arguing for the case on an international stage.
This challenge of ideas is what Macron calls a ‘crisis’. I guess it may be for him, as he feels the need to defend the system that has presided over such misery – and clearly fears the growing questions about an alternative.
Yet now is a time that the world needs to hear there is an alternative to this disastrous system. And despite the propaganda from Macron and others, we intend to let people hear about it!
Dr Abdul Wahid is currently the Chairman of the UK Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy, the Times Higher Educational Supplement and Prospect Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @AbdulWahidHT.