What to do about the Muslims? It’s a question, writes Norton (Political Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, 2004, etc.), that non-Muslims have been asking, and the answers have been few.
If the question of a religiously observant Jewish enclave within European societies weighed heavily on thinkers of the Enlightenment, then the matter of a religiously observant—not to say fundamentalist—Muslim enclave within the secular West has excited much recent argument, principled or not. Norton observes, for instance, that for many thinkers, including the late Christopher Hitchens, the “Muslim question” is really the question of religion writ large, with the added twist of whether a secular society should be expected to tolerate those who would dismantle it if they came into power. The governments of the West, writes the author, “hesitate to include [Muslims], hesitate to extend them the rights and privileges of citizenship.” That is less true of the United States than of Europe, and if Muslims in this country suffer “discrimination, surveillance, detention, and imprisonment,” by Norton’s account, the worst offenders have been European nationalists such as Holland’s murdered agitator Theo van Gogh. While those nationalists have reacted to provocations such as the rioting in the Muslim world in the wake of apparently anti-Islamic cartoons in a Danish newspaper, then, Norton remarks, it has to be recalled that almost all the violence that ensued was visited by Muslims upon other Muslims in Muslim countries. Norton sometimes channels Slavoj Zizek in a knotty and not entirely satisfactory way, as when she offers a sort of semiotics of space at Abu Ghraib: “The Iraqis are confined in shackles, in cells, in a prison, in a country they cannot leave, whose boundaries they cannot close.” Mostly, though, she offers a sympathetic, tolerant and evenhanded view of events.
Is there a clash of civilizations, as Samuel Huntington maintained, between the Muslim world and the West? Norton’s response will be of interest to students of geopolitics and Islamic studies.