While we're on the subject of Islam and its blanket demonisation by some Western thinkers let's briefly consider People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West, by Waleed Aly. Aly is another Monash person, and one who has established a good local reputation as a spokesperson for Muslim thought.
He doesn't like being called a "moderate" partly, if I understand him, because it might imply that he is less religious, or has less faith, than other Muslims. I.e., it might suggest he is "only moderately Muslim". Since I consider piety and faith (not to mention humility, sexual modesty, and various other things like that) to be more vices than virtues, I'd consider calling him a "moderate" to be paying him a compliment, if that was its meaning. In fact, the word may imply no more than that someone is tolerant of other viewpoints and unwilling to use force. In any event, perhaps Aly would be prepared to accept being considered an educated, refined, liberal Muslim - or something similar. I'll call him a "liberal Muslim" until such a time as I hear that he dislikes that expression, too.
I'm going to give Aly's book a plug. It's really worth looking at what a highly articulate liberal Muslim has to say about the disastrous geopolitical relationships that exist today, involving Islam. While I have the sense that Aly is reluctant to acknowledge just how much of this Islam has brought upon itself, or to detail how oppressive Islam has been in the past, I clearly have my own biases. What I'm willing to concede to him - and I hope I'm right in doing so - is that classical Islam was no more oppressive to non-Muslims than was Christianity to non-Christians - even in recent centuries. It was more tolerant than medieval Christianity.
Indeed, I'm willing to accept that classical Islam was no worse than Christianity today, as experienced in many parts of the world. Step outside of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Western Europe, and the vicious dog of organised Christian religion still has plenty of bite; it hasn't been tamed everywhere.
Moreover - though Aly does not argue this in any clear way - there may be seeds within classical Muslim thought for the acceptance of liberal political arrangements. I really hope that this is true.
Aly does argue, explicitly and quite convincingly, that what contemporary Islam needs is not a Reformation but a Renaissance. We'd all be better off, he suggests, if more Muslims could rediscover the more enlightened elements in their own historical tradition. Unfortunately, to the extent that Islam has already been capital-R Reformed it has often been in a less tolerant and sophisticated direction.
Unfortunately, People Like Us does not have an index! Accordingly, I can't see whether it even mentions Hobbes, Locke, Jefferson, and Mill (or, say, Montesquieu). It does not discuss these figures, and none of their works are listed in the "Notes on sources" at the back. This is unfortunate, because I'd like to see someone like Aly engage effectively with the tradition of Enlightenment liberalism, with its emphasis on religious tolerance and individual liberty (especially liberty from the imposition, by way of the coercive power of the state, of specifically religious morality).
I'm going to come back to this issue in a later post, because right now it is critical that Islam find some genuinely liberal intellectual leaders who can provide reasons to endorse Enlightenment liberal values from within Islam's own traditions. Without this, I fear that we really are headed for the kind of civilisational collision that is so often written and spoken of (by people like Samuel Huntington, and now with the clear blessing - as it were - of Christopher Hitchens). That would be a disaster. Instead, we need to engage intellectually with Islam and try to find a modus vivendi.
On the other hand, there's no way that I (for one) will be giving up the central political ideas of Locke and Mill. There are some things that are non-negotiable and worth fighting for.