Sunday, April 02, 2006

Liberalism and racism

Liberalism is presented as the answer to us Muslims. If we become liberal, then we may become acceptable. There are, however, several reasons why some of us have held back from adopting liberalism or attempting to help form some kind of liberal Islam.

First of all, there is the connection between liberalism and imperialism. Enlightenment thinking was not conducted in a vacuum. It was conducted within the context of empire-building and helped provide the intellectual infrastructure for imperialism and its consequences. So there is a historical context. As such liberalism can not be disassociated from its economic context: capitalism. That is, that individual freedom was advocated alongside empire, as it is being advocated today. It was Marxism that challenged this dishonesty.

Secondly, it is quite clear that forms of anti-Muslim prejudice are being framed within liberal discourse. That is that liberalism is being used for example by the British National Party to re-articulate its racist case except that it now goes something like this: ‘We should not tolerate Muslims because they are not liberal enough’.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for Muslims of South Asian descent, liberalism is not enough to prevent racism. Take the indices of discrimination and disadvantage across education and employment. There has been slow progress in the last ten years and for some strange reason advocating for one’s rights simply doesn’t work. Instead, people get fidgety and annoyed as if some rule of social etiquette has been broken. So asking liberals to be liberal is not acceptable by social convention.

These are three reasons why liberalism remains unappealing.

There is a fourth. Liberalism in its present garb states that people are allowed to change their religion because they should not be confined by ‘accidents of birth’ however they are not allowed to change their nationality. That is, if a Tunisian decided that he wanted to become British then he is not allowed to. Racism increases at any hint of the borders being loosened, and this racism is usually (today) couched in liberal terms about their ways of life and their lack of involvement or citizenship.