I remember last year when the HuffPo article Muslims are the True Feminists came out and I thought it was a joke. In the past, I had considered creating a feminist character who wrote articles for them claiming that the only way to be a true woman was to have an abortion in order to prove that they would publish anything. But alas, they did publish it. And the author does point out some true things, such as the liberating power of modesty. But what is interesting is that this article was seen as explicitly empowering by left leaning types who sympathize with social justice, despite having selections like this:
So I urge my Free the Nipple gal pals to take a look at your Muslim sisters and collaborate with them to create a feminism that treats the female body as a temple and not as a toy. Let us see feminism in a different light—through modesty and the courage to savor our sugar. Let us call on the Muslim feminists of the world.
In other words, don’t fall for stupid ideas, such as the idea that displaying your body nudely on the Internet is a rebellion against the male gaze. To overcome such stupidity, she argues, feminists should look to the traditions of Islam.
Now, I’m no Muslim and I don’t think that hijab chic is the answer to issues of self-esteem and women’s rights. But the argument isn’t utterly insane. But what is weird is that the argument was accepted and applauded by people who write endless articles connecting modesty with rape culture, body shaming, and eating disorders when Christians care about it. One article even goes so far as to say that Jesus doesn’t care how people dress, despite the Biblical call in several places for men and women to be modest with their dress. Why is modesty enforced by Muslim men (by legal penalties) a sign of feminist liberation, but modesty recommended in Christian circles a deadening force of patriarchal oppression? I mean, even in very secular cities, the main restriction on women’s dress is that they can’t walk about topless…but most women don’t want to anyhow as people naturally tend to cover erogenous zones in circumstances in which they aren’t soliciting a mate.
All of this is, of course, well known. My point in rehearsing it here is neither to compare Islam unfavorably to other religions, nor, for the moment, to suggest that any of the facts rehearsed reflects inherent (as opposed to historically contingent) features of Islam, though I will address that question below. The point is rather this. Western Christianity has largely accommodated itself to liberalism. Give or take a few standout episodes (such as the French Revolution), it has less political power now than at any time since before Constantine. And the more any of its tenets are out of sync with liberalism, the less likely even prominent churchmen are to talk about those tenets in public or to put much emphasis on them in private. Christianity, in short, has effectively been “tamed” by liberalism. And yet liberal Christophobia has only increased. You might think, then, thatIslamophobia would be an even greater tendency within liberalism, given how very much farther out of sync contemporary Islam is with contemporary liberal mores and policy. And a few prominent left-of-center voices — Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Bill Maher — have indeed been highly critical of Islam.
But in fact most liberals exhibit exactly the opposite tendency. Probably many liberal readers of this article, including those happy to rehearse the purported sins of Christianity, will have been made uncomfortable by the list of facts about Islam rehearsed above. To say anything which might seem in any way to put Islam in a bad light is to risk having flung at one the now-routine accusation of “anti-Muslim bigotry.” The tendency is to downplay every aspect of historical and contemporary Islam which is irreconcilable with liberalism, to search out and call attention to aspects which are (or can be interpreted as) favorable to or at least compatible with liberalism, and to insist that the latter alone are representative of “genuine” Islam. In his New Criterion article, Minogue noted how Christophobia has been conjoined with an “extraordinary solicitude for Islamic sensibilities in Western states since 9/11” — since 9/11, take note. Despite 9/11, and indeed, one is tempted to say evenbecause of 9/11. Every new jihadist attack seems, as if by a kind of reverse inductive reasoning, to make some liberals even moreconfident in their judgment that there is no essential connection between Islam and terrorism, and that Islam and liberal values are ultimately reconcilable.
The concomitant of Christophobia, then, seems to be not Islamophobia but rather a kind of Islamophilia, and the condemnationof Islamophobia as itself a manifestation of the purported evils of traditional Christianity. Nor is it only in liberal perception of current events that Christophobia and Islamophilia are conjoined. As Minogue also observed, one of the ritualistic liberal expressions of Islamophilia is an incessant “apologizing for the Crusades” — this despite the fact that the Crusades, while far from morally spotless in their execution, were essentially defensive responses to medieval Islamic aggression, as actual historians of the Crusades like Jonathan Riley-Smith andThomas Madden never tire of demonstrating. Modern Westerners apologizing for the Crusades is like Eliot Ness’s descendents apologizing to Al Capone’s descendents for some of Ness’s men having gotten a bit rough with some of Capone’s men.
Feser has some reasons as to the apparent compatibility between Western Liberalism and Islam. My thought is that for both sides it’s strategic and naive. Leftists find in Islam a useful rhetorical tool to use against Christians and Christianity. But because they don’t believe that anybody sincerely believes their religion, they think that once Islam is on the rise, it can be modified (it won’t work). Similarly, Muslims who genuinely believe that dar al Islam should encompass the world see liberalism as a tool against Christianity without realizing that the deep hatred that leftists typically have for tradition and hierarchy could eventually be used against them.
Anyway, any layer of this commentary might be wrong, it’s impressionistic at best.