These [worlds] were. . . contrasts, but [my reading at the time] wasn’t a fundamental, conscious thinking-through of these two different systems. I wasn’t engaged in a meta-process of judging my moral system. I was just, as a teenager, thinking, “I wish my life was better.”
I UNDERSTAND FREUD WAS ANOTHER INFLUENCE. I came across Freud in 1994 [in an introduction to psychology course at the University of Leiden]. In [the] average Muslim household we had no access the study of the individual mind. As Muslims we first and foremost identified ourselves as a collective, as believers in God and part of the Ummah [the global community of all Muslim peoples] and part of a clan, part of a bloodline. So we were never cut off as individuals.
One of the things that struck me was, “Where is the practice of psychology in the Muslim world?” If you Google that, you will see that [the results are] very limited. Individuals like Freud who devote their life to trying to understand what goes on in the subconscious of the individual. . . we didn’t have that.
But he didn’t influence me more than he influenced the average Westerner because. . . in political science in Leiden you couldn’t just read Freud and take him at his word. You also had to read the critics of Freud and then you, as a student, had to come up with ways of saying, “Well, here are things that I think are plausible about Freud, but here are things that I find implausible.” So I’ve always been very careful, because of that training, to say I’ve been influenced by this thinker or that thinker. For me, I would say the greatest influence has been simply the process of critical thinking, which is absent in Islam.
IS ISLAM COMPATIBLE WITH WESTERN IDEALS OF FREEDOM, PLURALISM, AND EQUALITY? I would say
the biggest difference is that,
in the Western world, religion and politics have been successfully separated — as in, we don’t live in a Christian government. You can say some of the members of the government are Christian-inspired but it is basically a secular government.
In Islam there is no separation. For most Muslims it’s very difficult to make that separation, conceptually, because that would be disobeying God. It would be finding yourself on the fringe of blasphemy if you state that politics and religion should be separated.
EUROPEANS ARE STARTING TO SEE LIMITS IMPOSED ON THE FREEDOMS OF MUSLIMS WITH THE SO-CALLED FRENCH HEADSCARF BAN, THE SWISS BAN ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF NEW MINARETS, AND EFFORTS TO BLOCK THE CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW MOSQUE IN COLOGNE, GERMANY. ARE SUCH MEASURES JUSTIFIABLE OR DO THEY COMPROMISE THE VERY PRINCIPLES OF A FREE SOCIETY THAT EUROPEANS SAY THEY ARE TRYING TO PROTECT? As European liberals, we were determined to protect the individual rights — be they religious or otherwise — of individuals within our own boundaries and who fall under the national law. And in doing so, we’ve come across two conflicting practices. On the one hand, women and men who want to assert their religious belief, even when they fly in the face of the majority. . . you can be tolerant of that kind of self-assertion. On the other hand, we were faced with Islam as an international political movement, whereby symbols like the minaret and the burqa, the beard — all of these can be seen as slogans or political symbols.