Tolerance a two-way street

May 24, 2012

I cannot tell from Maleiha Malik's review of Martha Nussbaum's The New Religious Intolerance to what extent this may be true of the book, but the critique is deeply flawed ("Signposts to a brave new world", Books, 26 April). It patronisingly assumes that Islamic immigrants are simply the passive recipients of in/tolerance rather than active participants in such debates. It also assumes, relatedly, that religious discourse, and Islam in particular, is merely a cipher whose particularities have no real effects.

That is quite untenable. As scholarly work by Jan Assmann, Regina M. Schwartz, Garth Fowden and Rodney Stark has shown, a strong commitment to monotheism - upon which Islam prides itself - strengthens insider/outsider distinctions, discourages compromise, and generates and populates the categories of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy. What then if "a pluralist account of religious freedom" and "a more inclusive society" is not practised by the party to be tolerated and included?

I would add that although there is indeed a reactionary racist crowd, it must remain possible to raise such legitimate questions and concerns. Those who would suppress discussion by too easily crying "Islamophobia" or racism are themselves betraying the legacy of the Enlightenment.

Patrick Curry, London

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