Religious Freedom in the Muslim World: A Nuanced Appraisal

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by Daniel Philpott

In the West, there is a culture war over Islam. It has played out again and again on cable news, talk radio, the internet, and in newspapers at least as far back as the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In this culture war, there are hawks and doves. Hawks hold that violence and intolerance are widespread in Islam; that Islam is hardwired for these pathologies through its texts and doctrines; that Islam is inhospitable to liberal democracy; and that the West must gird up for a long struggle against the threat of Islam. Doves hold that Islam is pluralistic and diverse. Like all religions, it has extremists, but they are few. Where violence and intolerance do exist in Islam, they feed off local and historically contingent circumstances.

A more nuanced view is available. In this essay, I take a close look at the basis of claims regarding Islam’s violence and its peacefulness, its oppressiveness and its tolerance. The criterion I use for characterizing the texture of the Muslim world is the principle of religious freedom.

 

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Daniel Philpott is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. In April 2016, Dr. Philpott delivered a version of these remarks for the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University as the 2016 Charles E. Test, M.D., Distinguished Lectures. He based the lectures on a book that he is completing, Religious Freedom In Islam? Intervening in a Culture War.

First published in Public Discourse January 30, 2017

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