Marty Peretz?s Smear on ?Liberal Islam?

I tend to ignore Marty Peretz for a couple of reasons. First, I don?t think he is as virulently racist as many find him to be. Second, I think that when he says virulently racist things, it is childish attention seeking that is best ignored. He has criticized Palestinian violence and advocated for Israel?s right of self-defense; these are legitimate views. In the heat of a polemical argument he can let slip a statement that sounds like a justification of whatever collective punishment Israel imposes upon Palestinians; that is an illegitimate view. He has also been critical of the barbarism of the Gulf states; that is a view with which any civilized person is obliged to agree. Though I could certainly think of people I would rather see on the editorial board of Dissent, I haven?t yet started a petition to have Peretz removed.

So much for faint praise. I am breaking my rule of ignoring Peretz because his blog post of January 31 on ?liberal Islam? in Egypt is sloppy at best and disingenuous at worst. He cites the plainly ludicrous statements of Yousuf al-Qaradhawi as those of a supposedly liberal sheikh: ?We have to teach people the laws of the shari?a and explain them, before anything else….I think in the first five years, there should be no chopping off of hands. This period should be dedicated to teaching things.? Just what qualifies this particular sheikh as liberal Peretz never makes clear. Al-Qaradhawi has endorsed the presidential candidacy of Abd al?Munim Abu Al-Futuh, a former Brotherhood member who has said reassuring things about citizenship rights, but that may simply reflect the fact that no one else with ties to the Brotherhood is running for president. We might most accurately describe Al-Qaradhawi as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood?s old guard who hardly reflects the more liberal energies visible in elements of the youth branch of the organization.

And Peretz makes no mention of the consistently liberal statements emerging from Islamic scholars at Cairo?s Al-Azhar University. On January 10, Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, who holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Sorbonne, issued a statement on the basic freedoms that should be enshrined in the new constitution, including freedoms of ?belief, opinion, expression, scientific research, and artistic creativity.? Al-Azhar has consistently and repeatedly called in the past year for dedication to democratic reforms and to a constitution guaranteeing the equality of all citizens. Throughout his tenure, and especially after the revolution, al-Tayyeb has been overseeing efforts to correct Wahhabist notions of jurisprudence that have infected the Islamic world.

But Marty Peretz isn?t really interested in a good-faith effort to find examples of liberal Islamic thought. He is much more invested in trying to prove that ?liberal Islamism? is a contradiction in terms, and that we should fear and despise all branches of political Islam. That is a destructive conclusion at which one arrives by ignorance or a massaging of evidence.

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