On, appropriately enough, July 4 of this year, via Twitter as @hhassan140, Hassan Hassan (“HH” below) offered a provocative summary of an article on Islamists and the Arab Spring by Hussein Ibish (@ibishblog, “HI”). A colloquy between Hassan, Ibish, and myself (“CM”) ensued, its terms anticipating the same arguments, and the same situation, that informed that tweet of Hassan’s at the head of my “1st Précis.”
In the following transcript, I have condensed some separate tweets into single paragraphs and have added some simple corrections and clarifications, but have otherwise left the dialogue unaltered.
HH [linking to HI’s post]: To view MB [Muslim Brotherhood] ideology as anything other than a profound threat to all non-Islamists is unforgivably naïve…
CM: Isn’t that what Islamists (and other non-liberals) believe about ideological liberalism?
HI: The difference is that liberals would allow Islamists freedom, whereas Islamists will deny that [to] the liberals. But sure, there is mutual antagonism and suspicion.
CM: The liberals would allow the Islamists the freedom to accept liberalism, under (illiberal) compulsion. The call to “non-naivete” regarding the MB is preparation for that eventual illiberal “necessity.”
HI: I don’t think you can equate Islamist authoritarianism with liberal insistence on individual rights. The thing is, liberalism allows Islamists to practice their religion freely without oppressing others.
CM: That rests on the liberal/modern separation of politics and religion – the rejection of which defines Islamism.
HI: That’s true. But societies are heterogeneous. So, religious politics are by definition going to be discriminatory. Discriminatory means unjust.
Clearly we have a right to fight for maximal choices, justice for most people. Weird to conflate Islamist impulse towards authoritarian oppression of non-Islamists w/ liberal systems of freedom.
CM: It appears “weird” only from a one-sided assumption of the truth or superiority of liberalism.
HI: Yes, given that societies are heterogeneous, there is an inherent superiority to systems that accommodate this. I don’t know why you find that so problematic an observation or morally equivalent to privileging some identities.
CM: I find it problematic because 1) it is evidently very concretely problematic, 2) I find it one-sided and incomplete.
HI: What system would you propose for heterogeneous societies if not one that maximizes individual choices?
It was at this point that I pleaded the impossibility of providing an adequate response on Twitter. Mr. Ibish agreed, and invited me to expand on the subject in some other venue.
This blog is my only “other venue.” I do not accept, however, that the essential political or political-philosophical questions, the July 4th questions, should be reduced to Ibish’s terms. Further posts under the provisional category title “Cairo and Philadelphia” will perhaps most easily be understood as a series of inadequate excuses, a multi-part apology, for my failure to propose the alternative system that Ibish requested. We can also perhaps (of course?) understand such an apology as that proposal, but in the form that the author hopes would qualify it as truly “alternative.”